Springfield State Journal Register

May 16, 2006

Illinois representatives respond to immigration proposals


WASHINGTON - President Bush's proposal Monday night to resolve the chronic problem of illegal immigration by securing America's borders and providing a guest worker program won support from central Illinois Republican congressmen, but skepticism from the state's Democratic senators.

Delivering the Democrats' televised response to Bush's speech, Sen. Dick Durbin said all Americans agree that "we must act now to secure our borders and fix our broken immigration system. But we don't need a military solution to break a political stalemate. We need leadership."

The Senate's second-ranking Democrat said his party is "willing to support any reasonable plan that will secure our borders - including deploying National Guard troops. But Americans don't want a plan that's been cobbled together to win political favor. This cannot turn into another long-term deployment with no clear plan."

"Democrats believe that any deployment of troops on our border must be short-term, with clear start and end dates," Durbin said, asking for information on where the Guard troops the president proposed would come from and when they would be replaced by trained Border Patrol agents.

Durbin also called for a plan by which "people who work hard and play by the rules should have a chance to earn their way to citizenship if they pay a fine, learn English, pay back taxes and go to the back of the line." But he rejected "amnesty," as did Bush.

The Senate started debate Monday on an immigration package that would include a citizenship plan similar to what Durbin described.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who represents part of Springfield, said he has always supported putting troops on the border.

"You can't move this debate forward unless the public and my constituents are convinced that we're controlling the border," Shimkus said. "They're just not going to buy any further tinkering until something is done."

It's not just illegal immigrants, but also drug traffickers and terrorists, who are coming across the border, he said. "It really is a national security debate."

Illinios' other Democratic senator, Barack Obama, said, "The first priority of any immigration reform should be to secure our nation's borders. In that respect, the president's proposal has merit as a temporary solution."

But, Obama added, "we also know that border security is only one side of the equation. Comprehensive immigration reform cannot succeed without a plan to bring the undocumented out of the shadows and offer them a path to citizenship after they pay a substantial fine and back taxes, learn English, satisfy a work requirement and pass a background check."

Rep. Ray Lahood, R-Peoria, who also represents part of Springfield, found the president's address "very comprehensive, not partisan at all." He said he thought Bush was "trying to get something passed in the Senate" that would do something about the 12 million illegal aliens already in the country.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Dixon, said Bush's deployment plan "is the shot in the arm that we need to strengthen our borders and protect our families."