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Pro-immigration groups  stumble on targeting Kirk

Sen. Mark Kirk. | File Photo

Sen. Mark Kirk. | File Photo

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:15AM

WASHINGTON — It’s lovely that Illinois business, labor, political and religious leaders are putting aside their differences to unite to push Congress to pass immigration reform, but their strategies are not working; look no further than Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) opposing the Senate even taking up the immigration bill.

And though the pro-immigration movement in Illinois likes to brandish its bipartisan approach, the facts are that no Illinois Republican in Congress — the six GOP House members and Kirk — is a solid yes when it comes to supporting immigration reform.

On the Democratic side in Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez are national leaders in their respective “gangs” trying to forge bipartisan deals to get an immigration bill passed. Eleven of the 12 Illinois House Democrats are in the yes column, and I could see Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) coming through to make it a dozen.

The business group saw its Kirk strategy melt down this week while it continues to be timid about targeting Illinois GOP House members.

I understand; it’s hard to talk about being a bipartisan immigration organization when your main Illinois congressional lobbying targets are Republicans.

Former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar and other honchos on the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition have been talking to Kirk and his top staffer since shortly after the group was launched last April. They knew Kirk had concerns about border security but were never given a signal that he would try to block the entire bill.

Or maybe they just don’t “get” how to approach Kirk.

The day after the Sun-Times ran a story with some comments from Edgar asking for Kirk’s support, Kirk on Tuesday voted twice against letting the immigration bill advance for full debate on the Senate floor, which is taking place this week.

I asked David Bender, an IBIC Steering Committee co-chair — and the Logan County GOP chairman — on Thursday if they were blindsided.

“I don’t know if we were blindsided,” Bender said. “We were more surprised.”

Kirk was one of only 15 Republicans to vote against the Senate debating immigration reform, a move that shocked and mystified Democratic and GOP Kirk-watchers. Kirk sided with the most conservative hardliners — the ones seen as hostile to immigration reform — when he could have voted to let the bill advance and then work to change it.

On Wednesday, Kirk set what may be an impossibly high bar for his backing for immigration reform.

Before supporting a path for illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become citizens, Kirk called for the Senate to adopt a controversial border security proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that as I write this has little chance of passage.

A group of Democratic Latino elected officials — aldermen, state representatives and a Cook County commissioner — held a press conference in Chicago on Thursday to implore Kirk, according to a release, to “stop practicing the politics of stupidity and support immigration reform.”

If Kirk ignored the pleadings of establishment GOP business figures, I can’t imagine he will be moved at all by a bunch of Democrats calling him out.

The Democratic-oriented SEIU on Friday will be sending protesters to Kirk’s Chicago office. That tactic may get them face time on TV — but it shows they don’t have a clue as to how to approach the eclectic Kirk.

Kirk made a risky move in casting those two “procedural” no votes on Tuesday. He did not have to. Kirk could have worked to toughen border security while the bill is in play.

There is some thought that Kirk wanted to move to the right after backing gay marriage and gun-control measures. Maybe. If so, those votes come with a political cost. At the least, Kirk created a record Democrats will use against him in 2016, no matter if he ultimately supports immigration reform.

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