NORMAL – While Donald Trump made headlines this week with his visit to Mexico and the roll out of his 10-point immigration reform plan, neither Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk nor his Democrat challenger Tammy Duckworth agree with Trump's plan.
Trump's 10-point plan calls for deporting criminal illegal immigrants, implementing the E-verify system, ending sanctuary cities and completing a wall on the nation's southern border.
Both Kirk and Duckworth back "comprehensive" immigration reform, they told state agricultural leaders at the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable Candidate Forum in late August.
Illinois Farm Bureau’s 80,000 members are calling for "commonsense solutions" for the immigration dilemma in 2017. The Bureau wants reform to "provide incentives to keep experienced guest workers in agricultural jobs and provide opportunities for new immigrant workers in the future."
The Bureau argues that immigrants are beneficial to Illinois' economy because -
- Over 57,000 immigrants are employed in the Midwest agricultural industry in crop production, labor-intensive dairy and live stock operations and food processing and handling. Midwest-based agribusinesses also depend on high-skilled immigrant engineers, scientists and technicians.
- Immigrants are nearly twice as likely as U.S.-born to start new businesses.
- Illinois’s undocumented immigrants contribute over $500 million in state taxes each year.
- 90% of patents created at the University of Illinois have at least one immigrant founder.
Kirk, who has held the Senate seat since 2010, described himself as “pro agriculture.”
“I have been with you,” he said. “I am for you.”
Duckworth, in her second term in the U.S. House, described farmers as “key to the strength of this nation.”
“A key pillar of strength of this nation is our agriculture,” she said. “It is just as important as military strength. A nation that cannot feed itself is a nation that cannot lead the world.”
Both candidates presented their ag platforms and fielded questions on various ag-related topics, including:
- Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement: Duckworth explained currency manipulation concerns among tool and die manufacturers in her district. “While I don’t agree with TPP as it stands, I am open to negotiations with it,” she said. “I support fair trade and I will do everything I can to support agriculture.” Kirk said he supports TPP. “Two-thirds of world GDP is in the Pacific Rim,” he said. “We need to make sure Illinois agriculture has access to those markets.”
- Expanding trade relations with Cuba. Duckworth supports expanding trade with Cuba, and co-sponsored the Cuba Agricultural Export Act, which would repeal restrictions hindering trade between the two countries. Kirk remains in opposition, citing concerns about the Castro brothers.
- Immigration. Both said they support comprehensive immigration reform.
- Death tax: Duckworth said she is “open to looking at the inheritance tax.” “I’m willing to see if we can do a carve out for farmers and for a very specific reason that makes sense,” she said. Kirk said he remains against the death tax, which he said “threatens the very existence of a family farm.” “I don’t think if you work your whole life with your income being taxed your whole life, you should be taxed again,” he said.
- Renewable fuels: Duckworth urged the Environmental Protection Agency to get the 2017 Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements “back on track” to levels approved by Congress. “You can count on me to be your ally,” she said. Kirk described himself as “pro-biofuels.” “I voted that way constantly to make sure we defensed the Renewable Fuel Standard,” he said.
- GMO labeling. Both support creating a national standard for labeling foods made with genetically modified organisms.
Story content provided by FarmWeek – Deana Stroisch