Rauner defends veto of visa help for immigrant crime victims

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday defended his veto of legislation to hasten paperwork that immigrant crime victims need to stay in the U.S. despite earlier approving welfare assistance for immigrants in similar circumstances.

Republican Rauner told The Associated Press that the 2016 law he signed was "good humanitarian action" and did not suggest conditions of a "sanctuary state," which he opposes.

The law, which took effect in January, provides state-funded health care, cash and food assistance to immigrant victims of human trafficking, torture and other serious crimes while they await federal visas to avoid deportation.

The legislation vetoed on Friday would also assist victims of domestic violence and other crimes by requiring police agencies to take action within four months on certificates which immigrant victims who cooperate in criminal investigations need to apply for the visas. Advocates for immigrants have said police are slow to respond to requests for the certificates.

"That bill would have required our local police to apply for visas to allow people who claim to be victims of crime but who are not needed to investigate the alleged crime, requires them to get visas to stay anyway," Rauner said. "That is encouraging possible illegal immigration."

Rauner is currently trying to shore up conservative support in his re-election bid this fall.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat and the legislation's sponsor, noted that Rauner's signature on the 2016 law provides welfare assistance to immigrant crime victims awaiting visas, while the bill the governor vetoed would merely accelerate the visa process.

"We're talking about people who are victims of horrible crimes: human trafficking, slave trade, torture, female genital mutilation," Cullerton said in an email, adding he would seek a meeting with Rauner to change his mind. The General Assembly endorsed the legislation in May by veto-proof majorities.

The visas, created by Congress in 2000, allow an immigrant to stay in the U.S. for three years, said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. That provides time to apply for more permanent residency.

In his veto message, Rauner called the deadline of 90 business days for police to complete the certificates an unfunded mandate that "ties the hands of law enforcement" and would delay necessary deportations.

Tsao said it's unreasonable to think that authorities would be unable to verify a crime victim and fill out a five-page form within four months.

"He's providing state-level benefits at some cost to the state for human trafficking and domestic violence survivors on the one hand and on the other, he's saying these survivors should not have standards in place in order to receive the documentation they need in order to pursue federal protection," Tsao said.

If police can't document that an immigrant was in fact a crime victim, no certification would need to be provided.

"They don't have to support the application," Cullerton said. "Law enforcement can provide any relevant information on the form, including their belief that the victim wasn't helpful in investigating or prosecuting the crime, or that there are some other circumstances that make the victim a poor candidate for a visa."