By Kim Geiger
Gov. Bruce Rauner Monday signed into law one bill that would protect immigrants who are in the country illegally from being detained solely because of their immigration status and another that would automatically register many Illinoisans to vote.
The Republican governor's approval of the controversial immigration legislation marks a victory for immigrant advocates and a defeat for the more conservative members of his party, who had lobbied against it.
Known as the Trust Act, the new law would prohibit state and local police in Illinois from arresting or detaining a person solely because of their immigration status, or based on a federal immigration detainer. The law would, however, allow law enforcement officials to hold someone if a judge has issued a warrant.
"This was not an easy bill to pass, let's be clear," Rauner said, praising the bill as "a very reasonable, decent outcome."
He said he had sought out the opinion of law enforcement as he was contemplating whether to sign or veto the bill.
"I asked them, 'Should I sign this bill, should I not sign this bill?'" Rauner said. "They all said to me: 'Governor, this is a reasonable compromise. It will help us do our jobs better; it will help us keep our communities safer.'"
Rauner entered a bill signing ceremony at Mi Tierra restaurant in Little Village to cheers from at least 200 supporters of the measure. Outside, an opponent carried a sign that said, "Illinois victim families say no sanctuary state."
The governor's approach to the the immigration bill signing was an indication of his efforts to walk the line between his conservative base and the more moderate constituencies he'll need in order to win reelection in 2018.
Rauner faced an intense lobbying campaign over the bill and warnings last week that he might lose support from conservatives if he were to sign it into law. State Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Republican from Lebanon outside St. Louis, said "this could be the last straw" for Downstate voters who have backed the governor if Rauner failed to veto the bill.
So before the governor inked his signature to the legislation, an array of supporters, including members of the law enforcement community and business advocates, appeared on stage to demonstrate broad support.
"Contrary to popular belief, this bill does not turn Illinois into a sanctuary state," said Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, a fluent Spanish speaker who kicked off a slate of more than a dozen speakers with remarks in both English and Spanish.
Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz said the legislation "reinforces local, county, state ability to work with the federal government and our federal partners to protect the neighborhood." He and others said that the legislation will allow immigrants to reach out to local law enforcement without fear of being punished for their immigration status.
Earlier Monday, Rauner signed the voter registration bill, which would add Illinoisans to the voting rolls when they get or renew a driver's license. He vetoed a similar plan last year, but this time Democrats made changes to try to assuage some of the governor's concerns.
Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar, of Decatur, a chief sponsor, noted that the legislation had been in the works for more than two years. He thanked Rauner "for keeping his promise to sign this legislation," but gave credit for the bill's success to the advocates who'd pushed for it over the years.
"The legislative process that's been undertaken by grassroots organizations throughout the state of Illinois has been a true exercise in democracy when it comes to this legislation," said Manar, who added that "we would not be here in this position to present this bill from the legislature to the governor without their work."
Rauner cast the legislation as a product of negotiations between lawmakers and the governor's office, which had raised concerns last year about the measure conflicting with federal law, and about the potential for errors and fraud. Rauner said he had used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite the measure last year to address those concerns. In fact, he had vetoed it outright but spelled out his reasons in a lengthy veto statement.
"The General Assembly came together, worked with us, made the changes that we were recommending, and now I think we have a good, strong piece of legislation that makes it easier for everyone who's eligible to vote to be able to vote," Rauner said Monday.
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