Although immigration is regulated at the federal level, states often pass laws that impact immigrants on a more local level. Since Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker took office on January 14, 2019, he has signed several measures intended to make Illinois an even more welcoming place for the state’s immigrant population. They include:
1) Executive Order–On January 24, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Executive Order 2019-07, entitled “Executive Order Strengthening Our Commitment to Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers.” The executive order notes that Illinois is home to 1.8 million immigrants, and that immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are critical to the state, contributing to its culture and economy. The executive order expands access to welcoming centers and informs immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers of the state programs that promote their human and civil rights as well as social and economic opportunity.
2) State Legislation—In June and August 2019, Governor Pritzker signed four pieces of legislation enhancing protections for Illinois’ immigrant families that took effect immediately. They are:
• The Private Detention Facility Moratorium Act (House Bill 2040) bans immigrant detention centers in the state of Illinois, halting the proposed federally run center in Dwight, Illinois. House Bill 2040 prohibits state, county, and local government from entering any agreement or making any financial transactions with a private detention facility, and it makes Illinois the first state in the U.S. to ban private civil detention centers.
• The Keep Illinois Families Together Act (House Bill 1637) prohibits local law enforcement agencies from engaging in federal immigration enforcement under a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that allows local law enforcement officials to identify and remove undocumented residents from the U.S. The Illinois law prohibits law enforcement participation in the ICE program and ensures that all witnesses and documented or undocumented individuals can come forward and report crime to their local police.
• The Retention of Illinois Students and Equity (RISE) Act (House Bill 2691) allows undocumented and transgender students to receive Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and institutional aid at public institutions. An estimated 3,500 additional students will qualify for a MAP grant as a result of House Bill 2691. Citizenship status and registration in selective service are required for federal financial aid. As a result of House Bill 2691, any Illinois resident is now qualified for state financial aid. It further allows students who used MAP grants to help pay for at least 75 credit hours to continue receiving scholarships rather than cut them off until they attain junior status.
• The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (Senate Bill 1290) prohibits landlords from evicting or retaliating against tenants based on citizenship or immigration status. The law prohibits landlords from intimidating tenants by disclosing or threatening to disclose their citizenship or immigration status to any person, entity or immigration or law enforcement agency. A landlord engaging in prohibited conduct can be subject to a tenant’s civil action and be responsible for actual damages for injury or loss suffered, a civil penalty up to $2,000 for each violation payable to the tenant, attorney’s fees and other relief.
3) Grant of Clemency. Miguel Perez was a lawful permanent resident and U.S. Army veteran who immigrated to Illinois as a child. Perez joined the U.S. Army in 2002 and served two tours in Afghanistan, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury after an explosion. Perez returned from his army service with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that still requires medical treatment.
In 2008, Perez was convicted of a non-violent, drug related offense and served 7.5 years in prison before being released in September 2016. Following his release, Perez petitioned the Illinois Prisoner Review Board seeking a pardon that could prevent his deportation from the U.S. Perez’s parents and two children are United States citizens and live in Illinois. Deportation would also mean that he would not have access to his Veterans Administration benefits while in in Mexico. The Illinois Prisoner Review Board subsequently recommended clemency for Perez, however, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner denied the petition, and in March 2018, Perez was deported to Mexico without prior contact with his family and was left at the Mexican border nearly penniless without clothing or shelter. Governor Pritzker granted Perez clemency in August 2019.
As a result of the recent Illinois legislation and the granting of clemency in the Perez case, Illinois has taken steps to improve the quality of life for its immigrant population, making it more immigrant-friendly than many other states in the nation. Hopefully Illinois’ positive, pro-immigrant policies can serve as an example that other states will follow. For more information on recent immigration legislation and developments in either Illinois or elsewhere and their impact on immigration, please contact an attorney at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan.