Luis Gutierrez and Mark Kirk discuss immigration reform

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Representatives Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) gathered on Feb. 18 to discuss the future of immigration reform. The panel was hosted by The Chicago Council on Globe Affairs and the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and took place at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court in Chicago.

After months of ongoing debate between Democrats and Republicans on immigration, the issue has taken a backseat to healthcare, invasion of privacy and government scandals. But Gutiérrez started the panel with a few hopeful words.

“So many people in America feel that comprehensive immigration reform is dead. I think, if anything, our presence here on this panel this morning says it’s alive and well,” he said.

The bipartisan panel only disagreed when it came to border security, but both parties had a firm belief that the government had an obligation to pass a reform soon.

Emanuel shared with the audience the economic benefits of immigration reform. “Just shy of 45 to 46 percent of all new small businesses are [run] by immigrants. So if you’re pro small business, you have to be pro-immigration reform,” he said.

Gutiérrez also addressed how immigration will help the country financially. “We need to continue welcoming immigrants to fulfill the kind of jobs and responsibilities that they fulfilled in the past and keep our economy strong,” he stated.

This past June, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform that gave undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a five and 10-year path to citizenship. The bill would also fund nearly $50 billion for border security. House Republicans, who are the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, have not acted on this bill and have proposed other stipulations under the bill, one being the controversial legalization of qualified immigrants without the future of citizenship.

Kinzinger talked about our current immigration laws. “I don’t think there’s anybody—right, left, or center–no matter what, that would not raise their hand if I asked you, ‘Do we have a broken immigration system?’” he said.

Both Kinzinger and Kirk spoke about what needed to be done for Republicans to agree to immigration reform. “When we consider this bill, the key was getting the commitment from the president to double the border patrol,” said Kirk.

After the discussion of national security, Kinzinger spoke about the bigger picture.

“This isn’t left versus right. This is about America. This is about the future of our country,” he said.

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