Elgin council hopefuls want federal immigration assistance

Published: 3/4/2009 12:07 AM

A year ago, Elgin city leaders requested greater access to programs and initiatives offered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Today, city leaders are still waiting for a response.

Some of the 10 candidates running for three Elgin City Council seats April 7 believe the city should work with other communities to demand answers and take action that will give local law enforcement more authority to identify illegal immigrant criminals eligible for deportation.

"I would definitely be in favor with enlisting help, getting a uniform type of coalition to go to ICE and say 'Look, this isn't a city of 100,000 asking, it's a coalition of 3.2 million,'" said John Prigge, one of seven challengers hoping to unseat incumbents Juan Figueroa, Robert Gilliam and John Walters in next month's election.

Other challengers are Richard Dunne, Brenda Harris Khan, Shane Nowak, Linda Quezada, Lenora Scruggs and Bruce Trego.

Walters said applying for ICE access has been one of the most frustrating tasks during his 22 years on the council. ICE officials keep making up excuses, he said, delaying action and not returning calls.

Figueroa said other cities are waiting too.

"We're at the mercy of the Congress of the United States of America," he said. "They're the ones who need to fix the illegal immigration issue in this country."

Illness kept Gilliam away from a recent candidate forum on immigration issues and he could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Other challengers offer different takes on the issue.

Dunne said the city has not sent ICE a letter demanding action and is calling for a face-to-face meeting between city leaders and the federal agency. Scruggs said people need to write their Congressional leaders to spur action and

Nowak sides with Prigge on what he called an important issue.

Quezada, however, said illegal immigration is a national issue.

"I understand that we've waited some time," he said."However, I don't believe we're being ignored."

Khan said ICE is overwhelmed and the government should set up another agency specifically to help cities.

Trego said there's more important issues facing the city.

"War on drugs, war on terrorism and now we're going to have a war on illegal aliens," he said. "We wonder why our taxes are so high. It's because we're out there fighting everything and we're expecting all sorts of services."

ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro wrote via e-mail Tuesday that the city has submitted a written request for assistance, and the agency is complying in several areas.

"ICE will continue to cooperate with Elgin on public safety initiatives that fall under ICE ACCESS, such as Operation Community Shield to target illegal immigrant gang members and Operation Predator that targets sex predators, among others," she wrote.