Updated: June 3, 2013 2:14AM
The U.S. Senate, controlled by Democrats, probably can pass comprehensive immigration reform this summer without support from Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.
But he should give it. He is, after all, senator of a state with the sixth-largest immigrant population in the country.
So far, he has said little about reform, and most of his comments have centered on border security.
“Sen. Kirk has long said that any immigration reform proposal must first restore the American people’s confidence in their government’s ability to control the border,” spokesman Lance Trover said in an email. “Once that confidence is restored, Sen. Kirk believes bipartisan reform can improve our broken immigration system.”
Does Kirk take into account that net migration from Mexico is currently zero? The Pew Hispanic Center attributes this to many factors, including heightened border enforcement. This shows the U.S. is on the right track there.
Moreover, the immigration bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee calls for $6.5 billion for additional border security over 10 years.
All this should help restore Kirk’s confidence, but how do we know? For the most part, he’s not talking. And saying little to nothing looks bad when you represent a state with a population as culturally diverse as Illinois’.
“The silence is deafening,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Benito’s group has tried getting some discussion time with the senator without success.
“We’ve been scratching our heads,” Benito said. “How do we get a meeting?”
Aside from wanting increased border security, Kirk is in favor of awarding citizenship to veterans with combat infantry or action badges. That’s a good start.
He used eloquent words in April to describe in a statement why he supports same-sex marriage. Staying mostly mum on immigration reform gives the impression he will vote against it.
In Congress, there is something to be said for momentum. The senator, well-liked and respected by his peers, can fuel it. Or he can try to fade into the background like Illinois Republicans in the U.S. House.
They, too, have been relatively quiet on immigration reform, along with Democrat Daniel Lipinski of the 3rd District, Benito pointed out.
I called or emailed all of them through their staff for comment. Only a spokeswoman for Rep. Peter Roskam called back.
I didn’t hear from the office of Lipinski or Reps. Rodney Davis, Randy Hultgren, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock on Thursday or Friday.
Roskam’s spokeswoman referred me to interviews in which he said he prefers piecemeal reform as opposed to a comprehensive bill. Such a lengthy process likely would result in a slow death for reform. He must know that.
“Illinois has a long history in a bipartisan way of being pro-immigrant,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of the 9th District said last week in a meeting she and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had with the Sun-Times editorial board. “If you think about the Illinois Legislature under Jim Edgar and George Ryan, that was always true.”
But politics have changed since then. Republicans have earned a reputation for forcing nasty gridlock in Congress. That’s the legacy that Illinois Republicans in the House and their constituents could have to live with.
Kirk isn’t like them. He has spoken up on hot-button issues of our time such as gun control and gay marriage.
It’s disappointing that on immigration reform he doesn’t have much to say.