Immigration big issue for Illinoisians

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Mar 26 00:58:10 UTC 2007

Survey: Immigration big issue for Illinoisians

March 24, 2007
By Ben Lefebvre Staff Writer

It's a safe bet that the fifth page of the Illinois Policy Survey released
recently by Northern Illinois University's Center for Government Studies
holds nothing new for Carpentersville residents. According to the survey
of more than 1,200 Illinois residents age 18 or older, 32 percent said
they consider illegal immigration a "big problem,"  with another 34
percent of respondents saying it is at least "somewhat" of a problem. The
Illinois Policy Survey, an annual report that measures opinions on such
issues as the economy, education and other social issues, also asked
people their opinion on making English an official government language.

Almost 70 percent of respondents said they think English should be
designated the official language of Illinois. (They're in luck -- it was,
in 1969). In the collar counties, 63 percent said it should be their local
government's official language.

[Moderator's note: when I graduated from high school in Illinois in 1955,
the official language of Illinois was "the American language." I  guess
they decided English was better in 1969. (hs)]

Two-thirds of respondents said businesses that hire illegal aliens should
be punished. The survey, conducted by telephone from November 2006 to
January 2007, has a 3 percent margin of error. Michael Peddle, associate
professor of public administration at NIU and co-director of the survey,
said the heat generated over the illegal-immigration issue caused the
center to explore it further in this year's survey.

"I think the results are persuasive that people want something to be
done," he said. "This has been on the local and state radar." But amid the
debate, there's also the question -- how big is "a big problem?"

Statewide solutions

Metro Chicago had more than 1.5 million foreign-born residents in 2005,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Studies published by groups such as
the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, an immigration policy
group in Chicago, estimate there were about 400,000 undocumented
immigrants from all countries throughout the entire state in 2005.  "I
think everyone can agree that illegal immigration is a problem," said Fred
Tsao, the coalition's policy director. The debate, he said, is "a matter
of what we do, how we address the situation and how we address the people
who are already here." Case in point: The legislative proposals
circulating around Carpentersville and other municipalities calling for
English to be designated the official governmental language. Proponents of
official English laws argue that cutting off foreign-language public
services will force immigrants to learn English.

Others, such as Tsao, argue that it would instead further marginalize
communities that already may feel cut off from the mainstream. "The
appropriate response is to provide resources to teach people English," he
said. "But it comes down to whether there's going to be any money." Tsao
pointed to the so-called "We Want to Learn English" bill. As passed in the
Illinois General Assembly, the bi-partisan bill allots $25 million for
English as Second Language courses for low-income immigrant residents to
be taught at churches, community centers and other local sites. Funding
the program is another matter, however, as the bill is currently sitting
in the appropriations committee.

Last year saw an explosion in immigration-related legislation around the
country. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 84
such bills were signed into law, more than double the amount of 2005.
Illinois last year passed laws requiring the deportation of undocumented
immigrants found guilty of crimes and adopted five resolutions related to
illegal immigration.,2_1_AU24_SURVEY_S1.article

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