WEST LOOP — The mayor and a leading Chicago congressman pledged Friday to rally undocumented immigrants eligible to take advantage of President Barack Obama's executive order issued last month on immigration reform.
"This is a unique opportunity the president presented, and we have to make the most of it," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel Friday after addressing the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition in an office at the Civic Opera House. "The light doesn't go green for another 178 days. So we've got to get ready to make sure everybody's prepared."
"Not one person has been freed from the fear of deportation, because not one person has got their work authorization" under the new plan, added U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago). "So our job is to get them their work authorization."
To that end, they'll start by registering 500 people already signed up to take that first step toward legalization at an event set for Dec. 13, but both emphasized it will take the involvement of businesses as well as colleges, universities, schools, doctors, clinics, churches and other social agencies to spread the word on the exact process of how to move toward legal status.
"You all have a role to play," Emanuel said. "This is not the city's responsibility. This isn't the state's responsibility. We're gonna put our shoulder to the wheel, but collectively we have to take advantage of this.
"The president provided not the certainty that 4 to 5 million would get this," he added, "but the opportunity for 4 to 5 million to get this."
Emanuel said he told the president last week during an appearance on immigration at the Copernicus Center: "We owe you now execution."
Obama's executive order largely addresses longtime undocumented immigrants who've had children here who are U.S. citizens, even as the parents continue to face deportation. Emanuel said the reforms were necessary "so they can pick up a report card, go to a soccer game or a play after school, because they're not living in fear."
The mayor and Gutierrez said they'd be leading outreach efforts to get the word out on the process and eligibility, but that they'd also be on the lookout for those seeking to take advantage of the confusion.
"The mayor is gonna use all the resources of the city to go after those people who would victimize us," Gutierrez said. "But what's really important in this conversation is we're gonna set an example for the right way to do it."
The mayor said he would step up enforcement "to make sure nobody's taken advantage of" by "shady operators out there."
Emanuel added, "If somebody's stepping forward, we gotta make sure there are legitimate operators helping them." He said businesses have a self-interest in legalizing immigrant workers, and that colleges are universities are largely untapped reservoirs of immigrants who would benefit from permanent residence in the United States.
Emanuel cited how a third of the patents coming out of the University of Illinois are from immigrants, especially with the university having the largest population of Chinese exchange students in the nation. He also said that between 33 and 40 percent of new city applications for small-business licenses were typically from immigrants.
"People have been waiting years for this moment. We want to make sure all the information's available," Emanuel said, adding that increasing the number of legitimate agencies and social-service organizations giving reliable information would likely reduce the chances of fraud.
"If the institutions are aggressively out there, there is no space for the bad actors," Emanuel said.
Emanuel has repeatedly said he's out to make Chicago "the most immigrant-friendly city" in the nation and that immigrants are a source of economic and cultural vitality.
Both emphasized the success of the plan would influence whether Congress acts on comprehensive immigration reform.
"If we run up the numbers," Emanuel said, "that is the best down payment toward getting immigration reform.
"If we underperform, a lot of people are gonna realize there's not the momentum for immigration reform," he added.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: