Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is at the forefront of two major issues facing the nation as well as his hometown, immigration reform and gun violence.
Emanuel has been a vocal supporter of a new law that makes temporary driver's licenses available to undocumented immigrants in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the law on Sunday at the Instituto del Progreso Latino, and immigrant education center in Chicago, making Illinois only the fourth state in the nation to grant undocumented immigrants driving privileges. Around 250,000 immigrants are estimated to be eligible for licenses in Illinois, the largest state to implement such a law.
Jordan Fabian spoke to Emanuel after the bill signing ceremony about the new law and the gun violence that has continued to plague many of Chicago's immigrant and minority communities. Excerpts.
1. ABC/Univision: It is unprecedented for a state the size of Illinois to pass a law like this. Why in your view it so important for the immigrant community?
Mayor Emanuel: We passed two landmark bills. One for the DREAMers to get their college diploma and the other for driver's licenses. And, so I think as Illinois goes, so goes the nation. We did it in a bipartisan fashion, which was noted today.
We were signing the bill in a school. People were not coming from Mexico, the Mideast, India, Poland, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Eastern Europe or Ecuador to get a driver's license. They came to get their kids an education, because it is there that the dream is created and it is there that opportunity is provided. This is driver's license legislation; it allows parents to drive their kids to school without worrying about safety, but instead thinking about their child's education. That is what is symbolic.
I'm proud we did what we did. It promotes public safety. We took our own future into our own hands in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. While Washington debates immigration reform, we can do what we can do to push this ball forward.
2. There are critics of the law who say that the licenses can be susceptible to fraud. When you have met with those types of people, what have you said to them to assuage their fears?
We put a lot of security precautions in the bill to deal with that. But that can be true today of any document, whether it's a Social Security card or a regular driver's license, or a passport.
This is about taking people from outside the shadows and making sure they abide by the law by getting tested, getting an insurance policy, and learning how to drive. That makes public safety and highway safety more complete and comprehensive.
That's the means. The end? Giving parents the ability to drive their kids to school. That's where the dream is started. That's why my grandfather and my father came to this country along with so many others throughout this city. We're a city of big shoulders, but it's built on the shoulders of immigrants.
3. You've championed Chicago and Illinois as the most immigrant-friendly place in the country, but you haven't always been known as a champion of immigration issues in the Hispanic community. For example, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) didn't endorse your candidacy in 2010.
You should have heard what he said here. I am very comfortable with my record and more important than my record, I am very comfortable with the story of my family, which is the story of so many other families who have come to Chicago.
4. Right. But what for you has changed over the past couple of years that you have now been more vocally supportive of these immigration issues?
Nothing has changed. I have always stayed consistent about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and if you look at the history of our city, we're the most American of American cities. And as I go through all the neighborhoods, Jefferson Park, Rogers Park, Humboldt Park, it's the story of generation after generation of people who have come here so their children could accomplish something they could not do themselves. And that's why I believe in it, it rejuvenates who we are and is consistent with who we are as a city.
5. I wanted to ask you about another issue that affects immigrant and minority communities in your city, which is the kind of gun violence that we saw over the weekend. Do you think possible new gun-control laws could make your city safer?
I'm for criminal-background checks and making it comprehensive. Making the Brady Bill more expansive and mandating a five-day waiting period for whenever a gun purchase is done so we can keep the guns out of the hands of criminals.