Illinois activists and leaders gear up for impact of President Obama's immigration action



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CHICAGO — Illinois has one of the nation's largest immigrant populations and some of the most immigrant-friendly policies. But the state's influential activists say President Barack Obama's sweeping immigrations changes were "bittersweet."

Obama travels to his home state next week to detail his executive actions, which potentially shield as many as 5 million immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally from deportation.

Here's a look at where things stand in Illinois:

OBAMA'S ACTION

Obama used his executive powers to make sweeping changes to U.S. immigration laws, saying during a speech Thursday night that enforcement would focus on "felons, not families."

Those who stand to benefit the most are immigrants who've been living in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or permanent residents. After background checks and fees, those individuals will be able to obtain work permits. Obama is also expanding a 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants.

The move could impact less than half of the estimated 11.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The announcement infuriated Republicans, who said Obama overstepped his presidential authority. Obama said lawmakers should approve a proposal to overhaul immigration laws that is stalled in the GOP-led House.

ILLINOIS' RECEPTION

The mood at a viewing party in Chicago's heavily-Mexican Pilsen neighborhood was celebratory and somber.

Activists who made Illinois a leader in immigrants' rights movements said many families no longer have to live in fear. But others who said action was long overdue were frustrated because many others won't see benefits.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights launched a website for updates — http://www.ILisReady.org — and planned weekend celebrations. Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan warned of potential scams in the wake of the announcement, such as demanding fees for fraudulent immigration services.

Illinois' Democratic leaders, including some who have played key roles in national reform efforts, praised Obama.

"President Obama is using his pen to help the country and we celebrate his courage," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has long pushed for an overhaul and helped mobilize activists.

But Illinois Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, said in a joint statement that the plan ignores the U.S. Constitution and does "more harm than good."

ILLINOIS IMMIGRANTS

Six states including Illinois are home to more than half of the immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, according to a November study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

However, the immigrant population in Illinois dropped by about 30,000 between 2009 and 2012, to about 475,000 people. Researchers attributed the change to fewer immigrants from Mexico crossing the border.

Illinois already has some of the country's strongest policies benefiting immigrants.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to make Chicago the nation's "most immigrant-friendly city." Illinois has a private scholarship fund for immigrant students who are living in the U.S. illegally, and last year began offering immigrants living in the country illegally drivers' licenses

WHAT'S NEXT

Obama is scheduled to visit the Chicago area Tuesday and meet with residents, White House officials confirmed.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said Obama's actions were "a necessary first step," but the outgoing governor didn't detail what it would mean for Illinois.

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner — the state's first Republican governor in more than a decade — said he favors a comprehensive overhaul but hasn't discussed specifics. He didn't address Obama's actions directly, saying Thursday that he believes Obama and Congress should work together.


Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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