Giannoulias, and Kirk spell out (some) immigration stances

Published: 9/19/2010 12:01 AM

In the days before a major immigration vote, the Democrat running for U.S. Senate is touting his support for the proposed law, while his Republican opponent has not yet made a decision.

While Democrat Alexi Giannoulias says he supports the DREAM Act, Congressman Mark Kirk is undecided.

The proposal - aimed at helping children who are in the United States illegally become citizens - is one of the flash points in the contentious debate over illegal immigration. While Democrats have generally pushed for ways to increase paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Republicans and other conservative groups have pushed for tighter controls on who comes into the country and a crackdown on those who come here illegally.

It's a line that puts Kirk, a Highland Park Republican who bills himself as a moderate, in a bind.

And because Kirk will likely be placing a vote on the issue in the coming weeks, if the legislation passes the Senate, his words are far more weighted than Giannoulias', who does not hold office in Congress.

Pointing to his parents' immigration from Greece, Giannoulias said the law will help lead undocumented immigrants to a "responsible path to citizenship" and help prevent families from being torn apart. He said it's also important to improve the visa process so the U.S. does not bring "the best and brightest here to study and then kick... them out once they have their diploma."

Kirk - who has been lobbied recently by immigration reform groups, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to support the act - has not said how he will vote on the measure. Campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Kirk had not yet taken a position.

The campaign, however, did announce last week the upcoming release of its first Spanish-speaking TV ad, in which Kirk - fluent in Spanish - speaks of helping Latino families who want to start their own businesses and combat gangs.

First proposed by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Utah Republican Sen. Orin Hatch in 2001, the DREAM Act would give qualifying undocumented youth a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.

The vote, supporters say, will be an important step toward a bipartisan solution to the country's immigration system, which both Democrats and Republicans including Kirk and Giannoulias say needs major reform.

Kirk and Giannoulias both say the country should sharpen border control efforts.

Last year, Kirk noted in a Daily Herald election questionnaire, he voted in favor of providing $10.1 billion for customs and border protection, including funds for border security fencing, infrastructure, technology, and border patrol agents. He noted he previously voted to fund unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras.

Kirk said if elected to the Senate, he would "continue to fight for stronger security until the federal government and our border states can certify that we are in control of the border. ... But until we control our border, hold employers accountable and properly engage Mexico, no immigration reforms will work."

Similarly, Giannoulias says he supports "efforts to protect the integrity of our borders by adding personnel, infrastructure and technology at our ports and borders."

He said he thinks the federal government must increase its enforcement of existing immigration laws and hold accountable companies that provide jobs for undocumented immigrants.

Neither candidate supports Arizona's new controversial immigration law.

Kirk said he understands "the anxiety felt by border state citizens and the motives behind initiatives like Arizona Senate Bill 1070, however, no state can address this problem alone. Border security is a federal problem that must be addressed by the federal government."

Giannoulias said he thinks Arizona's immigration legislation is unconstitutional and something that "will only lead to racial profiling while overburdening local law enforcement and creating politically-driven lawsuits."

He says a strong federal law "would ensure a fair and constitutional approach to immigration reform."

The candidates are locked in an extremely tight race for the seat once held by President Barack Obama. The election is Nov. 2.