Illinois Governor Temporarily Freezes $3.4 Million in Immigrant Integration Funding

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In an attempt to decrease the state’s $1.6 billion deficit, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently froze $26 million in government funding for social service programs; according to the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Rauner’s funding cuts will affect programs that provide aid for HIV and AIDS programs, smoking cessation programs, and immigration integration services.

Gov. Rauner was recently elected, and as a spokesperson for the office has explained to the Tribune that the Governor decided to make these cuts after “inheriting” a $1.6 billion debt. Rauner has refused to raise income taxes, and he has refused to borrow more money and increase the deficit even more; the sacrifices he has made, however, will be at the expense of many Illinois residents who already struggle with plenty of financial and legal problems.

Currently, Rauner has frozen $3.4 million in funding for immigrant integration services, although other programs benefiting immigrants, like the Latino Outreach program and the state’s transportation department, have also had state funds put on hold.

Following the announcement, Breandan Magee of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights stated that the lack of funding will likely have disastrous consequences for a substantial group of Illinois residents. Dozens of government-funded programs in Illinois helped about 102,000 legal immigrants apply for citizenship just in 2014 alone, and countless low-income immigrants depend on services like nutrition classes and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes — services which are likely to disappear without funding from the government.

“There are 299 jobs across 60 different immigrant-services agencies at risk,” Magee explained in response to Gov. Rauner’s announcement. The Governor also expressed his intentions to eliminate funding for immigrant integration programs altogether by 2016, meaning that these programs (previously operating on budgets of about $6.7 million) will have their budgets cut by about 50%.

According to a recent article by Newsweek, those 60 agencies are frantically trying to ameliorate the damage caused by Gov. Rauner’s decision. The state of Illinois has been providing extra funds for these programs since 1997, and many programs won’t be able to operate for much longer without help from the local government.

“Illinois is just one of many states forced to make cuts that really hurt families with what appears will be a disparate impact on the neediest of all persons, those with the challenges of managing HIV and AIDs, those who are addicted to life-endangering smoking, and those who are legal immigrants facing challenges unique to our country’s first generation,” said Susan Cho, Attorney at Susan Cho Figenshau, P.C.

Gov. Rauner’s office has since released a statement in defense of the budget cuts, arguing that although immigration “helped make America the greatest country in the world,” the previous Illinois administration left him with no choice but to make sacrifices concerning the $1.6 billion deficit. Rauner’s office stated that it will work with immigrant agencies and determine which “prioritized essential services” need to receive funds over the next year, although no promises have been made regarding state funds after 2015.

“The issue is whether this latest round of cuts causes a disparate impact for immigrants as compared to others among us who are coping with extraordinary hardships. As an attorney, I lack data and facts to know whether a disparate impact befalls immigrants in connection with these cuts,” said Cho.

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