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Groups lobby Republican House members on immigration reform

About 25 protestors stood outside Genevoffice U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren Wednesday ask him support immigratireform legislatithpassed Senate June. | Kalyn

About 25 protestors stood outside the Geneva office of U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren Wednesday to ask him to support immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in June. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 17, 2013 8:27AM

GENEVA — While members of Congress are home in their districts during a five-week summer recess, advocacy groups are using the time to push Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives to consider voting on legislation that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

This week, two groups visited the Geneva office of U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren to talk to him about the immigration bill that passed the Senate in June.

Advocates say support from Republicans like Hultgren is key to getting comprehensive immigration reform to pass through both houses this legislative session.

But Hultgren and other House Republicans say while the current immigration system needs to be reformed, it’s not necessary to pass one 1,200-page bill.

“Immigration reform is not a race, it is about getting it right,” Hultgren said in an emailed statement Thursday. “I truly believe the best approach is to examine reform piece by piece through the normal legislative process. Immigration reform is too complex and important to not examine each and every issue, starting with border security and enforcement.”

Picking apart the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate isn’t sitting well with some, like the labor union Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board, part of Workers United, which sent about 25 protestors to Hultgren’s office Wednesday.

The union represents about 1,000 workers in Hultgren’s district, organizers said, including those at Suncast in Batavia and Amcor’s Batavia plastics manufacturing site.

The group marched through the parking lot and stood along West State Street holding signs, banging drums and yelling through microphones as passing cars tooted their horns. Four protestors met with aides to the congressman.

When they emerged from the office, Richard Monje, a vice president for Workers United, said Hultgren did not support the comprehensive bill.

Monje wasn’t surprised, but he had held out hope.

“I didn’t know how hard his position was going in,” Monje said. “I always try to hold an open mind.”

Monje said he and other workers are “very concerned” that the debate over immigration reform has turned away from the constituents the bill would help and turned into an ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.

The Senate’s bill includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally.

It also includes provisions to tighten border security, raise the cap on visas for high-skilled workers and allow undocumented immigrants to register with the government to apply for provisional legal status and work permits. After 10 years they could apply for a green card, after passing a criminal background check.

Hultgren said he favors securing the border before implementing any new visa programs, “or we will be forced to undergo another overhaul in five to 10 years.”

A spokesman for Hultgren said his constituents support securing the border before tackling other issues.

John Kavalunas, a 62-year-old resident in Hultgren’s district, visited the office Thursday with five others as part of an effort of the Illinois chapter of Organizing for Action, a nonprofit that was established to support President Barack Obama’s campaign. It now organizes voters around issues such as climate change and immigration reform.

Kavalunas, who supports the Senate bill, said he felt like his opinion was the minority in Hultgren’s district. He said the office was vague about which parts of the larger bill the congressman supports.

“I’m frustrated there hasn’t been more reaching across the aisle,” Kavalunas said.

On Wednesday, protestor Irma Garcia said she voted for Hultgren in the last election because she thought he’d done good work in the district.

But she said she was disappointed that when she asked for his support on immigration reform that she wasn’t getting it.

Garcia sees the comprehensive bill as a 10-year investment — if reform passes now, immigrants who are able to gain citizenship and their families will repay the legislators who passed the law with votes.

“It depends on the job they do,” Garcia said in Spanish. “If they do a good job, they will have the support. I’m going to tell my children about this.”

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