In an effort to educate its residents, the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Carol Stream hosted a forum on immigration reform Jan. 21 that discussed issues with U.S. immigration laws and the steps that need to be taken to fix them.
Titled "Welcoming the Stranger: Perspectives on Immigration and Immigration Reform," the event featured three speakers and a question-and-answer session for attendees. It was organized by a series of groups, including the Evangelical Immigration Table, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, World Relief, and Bibles, Badges and Business.
"Nearly everyone agrees that there's a lot of problems with our immigration laws," said Glen Ellyn resident Matt Soerens, field director of the Evangelical Immigration Table and U.S. church training specialist at World Relief.
At the forum, Soerens discussed how obtaining a visa takes time, and how visas are offered only to specific groups of people. For example, employer-sponsored immigrant visas favor highly skilled applicants with an advanced degree, whereas many industries that rely on immigrant workers would not hire those types of applicants.
"There have been a lot of jobs, more than the number of visas that are available," Soerens said.
This imbalance has led to people unlawfully entering the U.S. for years, at which point they become a part of the economy.
Contrary to common misconception, about 75 percent of these workers have taxes taken out of their paychecks and put into the Social Security system, but they are not eligible to receive those benefits when they turn 65, Soerens said. They also pay other taxes.
Being a part of the economy illegally leaves immigrants open to abuse, he said.
"They're here in violation of law, which is a problem in itself. It also means that they become uniquely vulnerable to crime, to labor abuses, but they're unlikely to report those offenses," Soerens said. "We even see a lot of situations of human trafficking. The majority of victims of labor trafficking in the United States are undocumented and that's not coincidental."
Mike Langer, pastor at Glen Ellyn Evangelical Covenant Church, described his experience working at a now-closed Wheaton restaurant that employed illegal immigrants.
One employee used two names to clock in, so that he could work 80-hour weeks. However, he was not paid overtime for doing so, Langer said.
After forum speakers addressed the issue, Cholly Smith from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provided attendees with a look at what the U.S. government is doing to address illegal immigration.
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill on immigration reform, while the House of Representatives is considering breaking immigration reform into five different bills, said Smith, the chamber's manager for the Great Lakes region.
As part of reform talks, members of Congress are not suggesting amnesty for all illegal immigrants, Soerens said. The question is the appropriate penalization, such as fines for most and deportation for those who have committed serious crimes, he said.
The U.S. deports about 400,000 immigrants per year, and there is a cost to taxpayers throughout the deportation proceedings, Soerens said.
Forum speakers suggested audience members help with the reform process by speaking to their representatives, including U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, who was represented at the event by his senior constituent advocate, Michael Trajkovich.