Illinois Republicans warm to legal status in immigration reform

Two young Illinois GOP lawmakers, Reps. Aaron Schock and Adam Kinzinger, have announced they support some form of legal status for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Another Illinois Republican, Rep. John Shimkus, has also expressed some support for providing illegal immigrants with a path to legally move into the U.S. workforce.

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Schock’s remarks appeared to go the furthest, arguing that illegal immigrants should be able to receive citizenship — a sticking point for many Republicans. 

“We need a clear path to citizenship for workers who are already here, and a fair and efficient on-ramp for those who want to come here,” Schock said in a video statement that aired at an event Tuesday hosted by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. 

Schock, said in his video that it’s been 30 years since Congress has taken significant action to change the immigration system.

“Some workers have been waiting 10 years for permanent status. That’s long enough,” he said. “Quite frankly, I think if a man or a woman likes their American job, wherever they were born, they should be able to keep that job.”

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Kinzinger did not go as far as Schock on citizenship, but suggested some people should receive legal status under certain conditions. 

"Our broken immigration system is holding our nation back," he said in a separate video aired at the same event.

Young people who serve in the military, for instance, should be thanked with legal status, Kinzinger said, adding the U.S. should also “nurture and retain” young people’s talent and work ethic, “not expel it.” 

“We must work hard to come to an agreement on how to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows, legally entering the workforce and becoming part of the American melting pot that makes our country great,” he said. 

The congressman emphasized that the first step in the reform process should be focused on improving U.S. borders.

In a statement obtained by Crain’s Chicago Business, Shimkus said his stance on immigration reform hasn't changed, but he seemed open to some legal remedies. 

“We also have to address the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already here by moving them legally into the workforce, not by granting them unconditional amnesty," Shimkus said. 

Their statements speak to GOP support for immigration reform despite the current deadlock on the issue on Capitol Hill.

At the event, former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), now a K Street lobbyist, also said he backs immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a vocal proponent of reform, said in a statement Wednesday that he is “encouraged” by his colleagues’ comments.

“I invite Representatives Schock and Kinzinger to sign the discharge petition to demand a vote on the bipartisan bill to finally fix our broken immigration system,” Becerra said. “It’s time to turn words into action.”

The bill introduced last year, H.R. 15, is sponsored by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.). Several Republicans last fall endorsed the measure, including Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).

Last week, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), another Republican urging Congress to act, warned his colleagues they must propose a reform bill by August or President Obama will take executive action.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, meanwhile, is currently reviewing the country’s deportation guidelines and will reportedly announce a relaxation of current standards.