Rahm, Gutierrez want Chicago to be model for immigrant benefits

Chicago Democrats are hoping to make the Windy City the model for enrolling illegal immigrants into whatever new benefits the Obama administration might adopt.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) joined forces Wednesday with roughly 50 civic leaders to launch a comprehensive strategy for signing up those immigrants who might become newly eligible for any new benefits coming out of the administration.

“When an announcement comes, we will make sure Chicago is ready, that the community institutions in our neighborhoods are ready, and that we can efficiently inform our community about what is being announced and can help our neighbors sign up," Gutierrez said in a statement after the meeting.

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The Democrats are hoping to prevent the enrollment bottleneck that followed Obama's 2012 launch of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted work permits to certain qualified illegal immigrants brought to the country as children. Thousands of applicants lined up on Chicago's Navy Pier, surprising advocates and leading to some delays in processing.

The community leaders attending Wednesday's meeting at Chicago's City Hall included immigrant rights advocates, clergy members, education leaders and legal services experts.

“We value the voices of these important leaders and we have a landmark opportunity to set an example and lead the nation on this issue,” Emanuel said in a statement.

The meeting comes as Obama is weighing changes to his immigration policies in the face of congressional inaction on the issue. The president earlier this year asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to examine ways to manage deportations "more humanely."

Obama delayed the results of that review for several months to allow House GOP leaders the time and political space to move immigration reform legislation this summer, as the Senate had done last year. But with Republicans deeply divided on the issue, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) opted not to consider any proposals.

With Congress idle on the issue, many Democrats and immigrant rights advocates have called on Obama to take big steps on his own to rein in deportations for the sake of keeping immigrant families together.

They are urging Obama to expand DACA to a broader population; expand work opportunities for those in line for green cards; and allow relatives of U.S. citizens who are in the coutnry illegally to seek permanent residency without having to leave the country first. 

An announcement from the administration is expected sometime in September. 

Gutierrez, for one, said he won't be caught off guard this time around.

“Chicago voices have been among the loudest calling for immigration reform," he said, "and now that Republicans have blocked all legislative avenues, Chicago will be a leader when it comes to implementing administrative action.”