Eager to take advantage of the immigration reform that President Obama announced last month, Chicago area politicians are rallying the city’s business community as a key component in reaching out to undocumented residents who could gain legal status. Focusing efforts to get work authorization for undocumented immigrants is now a top priority they say.
Speaking to a group of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez told the audience that the battles faced by undocumented immigrants are far from over.
“The light doesn’t go green for another 178 days. So we’ve got to get ready to make sure everybody’s prepared,” Mayor Emanuel said, alluding to the estimated six months between the president’s announcement and implementation by the United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS).
Because of the lag between the president’s statements on immigration reform and the overhaul of immigration rules on the part of USCIS, “not one person has been freed from the fear of deportation,” Rep. Gutierrez said. “So our job is to get them their work authorization.”
While the politicians beat the drum on immigrant registration, both also said businesses, educational, civic and social institutions as well as professionals of all stripes each has a role to play in order to reach the appropriate demographic.
“You all have a role to play,” the mayor told the coalition. “This is not the city’s responsibility. This isn’t the state’s responsibility,” he said. While the city will “put our shoulder to the wheel,” ultimately the task at hand is a shared responsibility. “The president provided not the certainty that 4 to 5 million would get this,” he added, “but the opportunity for 4 to 5 million to get this.” In explaining the urgency, the mayor said, “If we underperform, a lot of people are going to realize there’s not the momentum for immigration reform.”
As the politicians noted the importance of institutional leadership on reform, they also said the move toward reform opens the door to fraud as some will most certainly seek to take advantage of confusion and misinformation. “If somebody’s stepping forward, we’ve got to make sure there are legitimate operators helping them,” the mayor said.
Mayor Emanuel said the reforms were necessary so immigrants “can pick up a report card, go to a soccer game or a play after school, because they’re not living in fear.”