Illinois Democrat Loses Fight to Penalize Businesses That Help Build Trump’s Border Wall

The Border Patrol secures the border fence line in Arizona. (Donna Burton/U.S. Border Patrol photo)

Illinois state Rep Will Guzzardi, a Democrat from the Northwest side of Chicago, failed to win legislative approval for a bill that would have required state pension funds to divest investments in companies hired by the Trump administration to build a border wall.

“If Trump wants to build his wall he can, but our taxpayer dollars aren’t going to support it. Those aren’t our values,” Capitol Fax reported Guzzardi wrote in an email to his legislative colleagues.

As for what exactly the values of Illinois might be, Guzzardi said he was inspired by a joint statement from California’s legislative leaders the morning Democrats woke up to the news that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States.

“We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity,” the California Democrats wrote. “We will not be dragged back into the past.”

Trump has promised to build a 2,000-mile wall and/or fence along the nation’s border with Mexico. He has also promised that Mexico will pay for the $25 billion project.

“I think it’s really important to note Illinois rejected this agenda overwhelmingly on Election Day,” Guzzardi told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Secretary Clinton won all over this state and counties, and I think it’s important to represent that Illinois values were made very clear and now is the time for us to stick up for those values.”

But Guzzardi was unable to convince enough of his colleagues.

His legislation received only 56 votes, not enough votes for passage. The bill was put on postponed consideration, which means it’s probably dead for the rest of the legislative session.

Guzzardi’s House Bill 6628 would have amended the Illinois Procurement Code to prohibit a state agency from entering into a contract with a business that contracts with the federal government to build a wall along the border of Mexico and the U.S.

It would also have amended the General Provisions Article of the Illinois Pension Code and required the Illinois Investment Policy Board to make its “best efforts” to identify all companies that contract to build a border wall and include those companies in the list of restricted companies distributed to each retirement system and the Illinois State Board of Investment.

Guzzardi said the border wall debate hits closer to home in his district than one might think given the more than 1,000 miles from the Northwest side of Chicago to the U.S. border with Mexico.

His is a predominantly Latino district with a lot of undocumented families. There are also children in families covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program who, Guzzardi said, have not been to Mexico since they were 6 months old.

“And Donald Trump is talking about deporting them,” said Guzzardi. “That is very scary to the families in my neighborhood and frankly scary for everyone who lives in our community.”

Neither Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) nor top legislative leaders, including Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan, took a position on the idea of keeping state pension money out of companies building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

But Rauner urged a calmer tone in the immigration debate.

“The rhetoric needs to tone down and everybody has to take a deep breath in order to start to be positive together,” Fox News reported Rauner said.

That wasn’t good enough for Guzzardi.

In an email to his colleagues Nov. 21, Guzzardi said it was time for Rauner to take a stand on the issue.

“He’s trying to have it both ways. Trying to stay moderate on immigration and other issues while also not alienating his Trump base by actually criticizing the man’s rhetoric, his appointments, etc.,” Guzzardi wrote. “We can’t let him do that. We need to make him decide if he’s with Trump and his agenda or if he’s with the people of Illinois.”

Critics of Guzzardi’s plan said the legislature’s time would be better spent working on a solution to the myriad budget problems facing Illinois. One of the biggest challenges is the state’s $130 billion underfunded pension liability.

Mark Glennon, the founder of Wirepoints, a Chicago financial news service, used the words “embarrassing” and “silly” to describe Guzzardi’s proposal.

“First of all, the pensions should be honoring their fiduciary duties to maximize returns, and they shouldn’t be pursuing a political agenda like this,” Glennon told Chicago City Wire.

Glennon also said that Guzzardi’s bill, if approved, would ultimately impact Illinois’s manufacturing sector.

“To get at the people involved in building the wall would penalize a long list of Illinois companies starting with Caterpillar, for example, that would make the excavation equipment to build the wall,” Glennon said.

“Any number of other companies that make construction materials and building materials would be penalized. To penalize them because of a political difference that the Illinois legislators have about immigration law with the federal government is just preposterous,” he added.

Guzzardi said those who agree with Glennon are missing the bigger point.

“The Illinois Investment [Policy] Board currently has a restrictive list that has to comply with a few state statutes. The list already exists, the precedent is there,” Guzzardi told Politico. “I think the Legislature will reflect the majority of Illinois … we don’t believe in demonizing immigrants.”