U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley | Sun-Times Library
Updated: March 3, 2014 3:15PM
Though he once was a mere aide to an alderman, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley isn’t above making a little joke now at the expense of the City Council.
Quigley says he invited Ameya Pawar to be his guest at Tuesday’s State of the Union speech because, being an alderman, he’s “probably the black sheep” of his Indian immigrant family.
Not that it wasn’t impressive when Pawar defeated the candidate endorsed by Rahm Emanuel in the 2011 election in the 47th Ward, becoming the first Asian Council member.
But Pawar’s sister is a doctor of physical therapy. His cousin — who’s a first-generation American like the alderman — is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force.
The extended Pawar family serves as a reminder of “how much talent comes from immigration,” Quigley says.
Other House Democrats from Illinois also chose their guests for Tuesday’s speech by President Barack Obama with an eye toward promoting immigration reform.
It’s a cause that seems permanently in limbo. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio says the House will vote only piecemeal immigration bills rather than a broad overhaul.
Quigley believes there are at least 300 votes for major changes to the nation’s immigration laws in the 435-member House, where 233 Republicans form the majority. The biggest roadblock, he says, is Boehner’s unwillingness to risk alienating about 35 tea party Republicans who are strongly opposed to allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status or become citizens.
“They’re not all nuts,” Quigley said of his Republican colleagues. “It’s a minority of the majority. The tip of the dog’s tail is wagging the body politic.”
What Quigley terms “mainstream, moderate Republicans” often favor immigration reform. The last amnesty for undocumented immigrants was in the 1980s, during Republican icon Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also favored the Senate bill.
Then there’s the long-term political calculus. Many Republicans fear their party could be badly impaired among the fastest-growing voter bloc: Hispanics.
“Mainstream Republicans know if they don’t pass immigration reform, they can’t ever win back the White House,” Quigley said.
Unlike Quigley, many immigrant-rights advocates don’t pin all the blame on Republicans. There are plenty who also focus their frustration on Obama and other Democrats — particularly Emanuel.
Last month, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette mocked Emanuel’s announcement that he would participate in a 24-hour fast for immigration reform. As Obama’s White House chief of staff, Navarrette argued, Emanuel “helped put comprehensive immigration reform on the back burner.”
For Pawar, immigration reform won’t be enough if it opens the door further for just “the best of the best” from other countries. Which he says the Senate bill would do, by basing admission largely on skills while killing the family visa program that allowed his extended family to come here from India.
“The way it’s written, my dad would have never been able to sponsor his brothers,” Pawar says.
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