CHICAGO (AP) — A new, wide-ranging group of Illinois-based businesses, politicians and others said Monday that they hope to recruit 300 CEOs and 1,000 small businesses in the state to push for "common sense" bipartisan immigration reform.
The Illinois Business Immigration Coalition includes leaders from Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. as well as Motorola Solutions Inc., the University of Illinois, trade groups and immigration-rights advocates. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel backs the coalition.
The group's push comes as Congress gets ready to hammer out the details of a potential immigration law overhaul. Business and labor leaders last week agreed on a broad outline.
Caterpillar CEO Douglas Oberhelman spoke Monday at a kickoff event in Chicago, and said the heavy-equipment manufacturer has trouble filling both high- and lower-skill jobs and that immigration reform could help. The company, he said, regularly puts interns from abroad and who are working on degrees at U.S. universities in higher-skill positions.
"They want to stay and make a real contribution to our company and our country," he said. "But it's not easy. The process is tedious. Some Caterpillar employees from China and India have been waiting more than eight years for a green card that would give them permanent residency. These are valued employees, and we lose them."
Emanuel said the group needs to be a large, statewide and bipartisan coalition, something strong enough for lawmakers in Washington who are facing what they may see as "a tough vote" to know they have widespread support back home.
"There's a lot of forces that don't want to see this happen," Emanuel said. "This is a huge opportunity for us and we should not let it get squandered because of politics."