CHAMPAIGN — An immigration reform bill likely will pass Congress this year, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said Monday.
Shimkus represents Illinois' 15th Congressional District, which includes much of Champaign County outside of Champaign-Urbana, plus all of Vermilion, Ford, Douglas, Edgar, Coles and Moultrie counties. His district has all or parts of 33 of Illinois' 102 counties.
"I think that both chambers, both sides, are moving together toward a reform," Shimkus said. "The issue is now about legal process. I think you owe it to the people who follow the rules to be first. At a minimum, folks who may have come here illegally but have kids who are legal by birth, at a minimum I would say they go to the end of the line. You can't incentivize if we're a country of rules. Don't reward the people who broke the law and give them a free pass to the head of the line. That's probably where most of the debate will be."
Shimkus said "the election and the demographics" have determined that immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, will happen this year. He said he does not favor returning illegal Hispanic immigrants to their country of origin.
"They are people of faith. They are people of strong families. They have a strong work ethic. They will be additive to our country and our society, but we just have to do it right." he said. "I've been pretty hard on border security and legality issues, but I think everyone knows that financially you couldn't (send immigrants back to their home country). Secondly, how do you split families, especially those who have legal children? It just tears at people's hearts, so it's not going to happen."
Shimkus, who graduated from West Point and was in the first class to have female graduates, said he supports the Pentagon lifting its ban on women serving in combat roles.
"They have to be able to meet the qualifications of the special operations units. Are there some women who could? The answer is yeah. Would I want to meet them in a dark alley? No, they'd probably kick my rear end," he said. "But we have to be very careful, especially in these special operations units, that the standards don't get reduced."
Over the last decade, Shimkus said, "there have been a lot of stories of women in combat already, so to say they can't do it is wrong."
And he dismissed the notion that male soldiers would be extra-protective of female comrades.
"The bond of military warfare is that closeness to your buddy in the foxhole, and I don't think it's a matter of whether it's a buddy guy or a buddy girl. You fight for the unit," he said.
Shimkus also said:
— He is staying out of the race for the Republican nomination for governor for now.
"Most of them are friends, and who knows if others get in?" he said. "All the ones who have actually run for office, from (Sen. Kirk) Dillard to (Treasurer Dan) Rutherford, to (Sen. Bill) Brady to Aaron (Schock), I know them all. They're all friends. We'll see how they go. You don't want to jump early because you don't know who's really going to do it."
Downstate Republicans will not oppose a moderate Republican from the Chicago area as the GOP nominee, he said.
"I've talked to a lot of downstate reps and senators who know that we have to win. So I think they're open to a suburban, more moderate candidate to win. As long as that moderate isn't a scary moderate," he said.
— He isn't interested in running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Dick Durbin, and he thinks Durbin will run for a fourth term in 2014.
"I really can't take on anything more," said Shimkus, who has been in the House since 1997. "I have no illusions that just because I've represented so many counties that I have support. You know what my (name identification) would be statewide? Probably 3 percent, if I was lucky."
He said he believes Durbin will run again, especially if there is a chance that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, now 73, retires after the current term. That would allow Durbin, now the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, to succeed Reid.
"I think a lot of people think this is it for Harry Reid, and so it's a fight between him and (New York Democrat Charles) Schumer. And if he thinks he can beat Schumer, he'll stay. And someone told me he thinks he can beat Schumer. So I think he'll stay."
— The biggest economic problem for communities in his new district, including Danville and Rantoul, is the state's financial condition and its business climate.
"If there is uncertainty in government, capital will not locate there. If there are high taxes, they're going to go to less taxes. If there's high regulation states, they're going to go to low regulation states. If we want these communities to grow we're really going to have to change our approach to business, mostly at the state level," he said. "Why would anyone want to come here when this state government is going to be downgraded again?
"In my congressional district I'm surprised when people don't relocate. Some are just good-hearted, some have infrastructure that is just too expensive to pick up and move, but when others do move it sends a signal."
— He believes legislation to name a new bridge across the Mississippi River for the late St. Louis Cardinals star Stan Musial "is going to happen."
"Musial was not just a great baseball player, but a great human being, a family man and a devout individual. He was an unblemished icon in a period where we pretty much have blemished icons," said Shimkus, a Cardinals fan. "I think we can do it. It's wonderful. Do you really think in this environment the public would want something named for a politician?"