In 1996, Congress enacted a Republican-oriented immigration reform law that made sense. It made it easier to deport aliens who commit crimes here, limited the number of legal immigrants, and for the first time in U.S. history, prohibited states and municipalities from giving public benefits to immigrants. This provision was predicated on the idea that our immigration system should not become a magnet for those seeking welfare.
Congressional hearings made clear what was widely known: immigrants use public aid in disproportionate numbers. But, like a lot of good sounding laws, this one had loopholes for “emergency” aid and allowed states to avoid it altogether if they passed aid laws which “affirmatively provided for eligibility” for immigrants. The idea was that states could do so as long as they put their citizens on clear notice that they were going to allow non-citizens to receive public benefits.
After the federal law was enacted, the Illinois General Assembly reauthorized the two most popular programs in immigrant communities: “All Kids” and “Moms and Babies,” which as their names suggest, provide cash to pregnant women and newborn infants. The re-enacted Illinois statutes did not “affirmatively provide for eligibility” for noncitizens. Rather, they just omitted the requirement that recipients be “citizens” of Illinois or the U.S.
All applicants need to do to sign up is claim they are Illinois “residents” and provide an address in the state which does not need to be corroborated by a drivers’ license or other state-issued Identification document. This facile maneuver in Springfield worked. Nobody noticed what was going on because Republicans were fearful of offending Hispanics and the laws have been giving millions of tax dollars in defiance of the federal ban for more than a decade.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel feels Chicago can openly defy the federal ban too. He established an Office of New Americans which exists to provide every form of public aid the City offers to immigrants- no questions asked. The city’s website proclaims the mayor’s desire “to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world.” Why? He does not say.
Does he believe federal immigration laws don’t apply here? Apparently so. Recall also that Cook County and the City of Chicago are official “sanctuary” jurisdictions, meaning by law they refuse to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in identifying illegal immigrants when making arrests.
Neither the Chicago police nor the Cook County prosecutors or prison officials will ask anything about the immigration status of people in custody, unless ordered to do so by a federal judge. So any illegal immigrant in the state’s largest county is effectively in no danger of removal by DHS unless he or she commits a federal crime and ends up in the hands of the F.B.I.
This massive resistance to federal law should be a great issue for Republican candidates for Governor. But in this sensitive time as immigration reform is debated in Washington, I don’t expect they will do so.
When will Republicans take the side of law enforcement and the rights of the taxpayers?
Howard W. Foster is a Chicago attorney specializing in immigration law.