Cook County commissioner, panelists talk local and national immigration reform

Bailey Williams, Reporter

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and two other experts led a panel on immigration reform Wednesday night, addressing local issues as well as the congressional stalemate on a bipartisan deal that would outline a path to citizenship.

Garcia said federal lawmakers need to evolve on modern issues, and immigration reform is no different.

“Our legislators refuse to recognize the world as it is today,” he said. “They want to strive for what existed then. That’s a part of the mindset that is keeping us from coming to terms with the world today.”

The discussion at Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., focused on how immigration reform benefits the economy, which elements of it most need attention and what role the state can play moving forward.

Panelist Emily Love, an immigration lawyer in Evanston who deals primarily with Spanish-speaking clients, was the first to discuss President Barack Obama’s efforts concerning immigration reform. Love also gave specific examples that she has seen of individuals and families affected by the lack of immigration reform.

Love went on to cite studies she has read, which assert that the cost of not passing immigration reform is higher than doing so.

“Congress’s failure to pass immigration reform is costing our economy in productivity, tax dollars,” she said.

Panelist Silvia Villa, who works with the Illinois Department of Human Services, spoke about Illinois Welcoming Centers, which offer educational services and employment training to immigrants. In response to questions on whether Welcome Centers are located near Evanston, Villa explained that there were not any yet, but discussions to open one in the northwest Chicago suburbs will start next month.

Throughout the panel, Garcia emphasized his frustration with Congress over its lack of action concerning immigration reform.

Near the end of the discussion, Garcia spoke of the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in June. The bill, which would provide a 13-year track to citizenship, moved to the House, where a stalemate ensued because of an unwillingness to confront the problem, Garcia said.

“The most important aspect of the bill that passed the Senate is that it offers a pathway to citizenship,” Garcia said.

Responding to a question about the most urgent parts of immigration reform, Garcia said the country needs to accommodate families and communities without a sense of security that most Americans take for granted.

The goal of the talk was to connect residents with local leaders, said Jon Horek, who is helping put on a series of panel discussions for the Democratic Party of Evanston. On Wednesday, the second of the event of the series, titled “The Future of Your Evanston Lakefront,” will be held.

The event also focused on Spanish-speaking immigrants. The three panelists spoke Spanish fluently and included translations of their English responses. Additionally, the audience of fewer than 50 people contained a number of individuals who fluently spoke Spanish with the panelists.

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