CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, criticized by immigration activists for saying people who are in Chicago illegally are a contributor to the city's violence problem, sought to clarify his remarks Wednesday though he relied upon oft-debunked logic.
Appearing at a campaign stop on the Northwest Side, Rauner also intensified his criticism of Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker over property tax breaks on his mansion and Pritzker's investments in tax havens, as the governor defended his own offshore dealings. Behind Pritzker in independent polling by double-digits, Rauner told factory workers his Democratic challenger's initials stand for "Jail Bird."
Rauner's appearance came on the eve of the third and final broadcast debate between him and Pritzker before the Nov. 6 election, to be held in Quincy. The town is home to a post- Civil War era veterans' home plagued by outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease that have led to 14 deaths and 70 illnesses since 2015. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has launched a criminal investigation of the Rauner administration's handling of the outbreaks.
On Wednesday, Rauner sought to clarify his Tuesday comments to the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in which he said, "One of the reasons we have such high unemployment in the city of Chicago and so much crime is the massive number of illegal immigrants here take jobs away from American citizens and Chicago citizens."
"Unemployment contributes to violence. Ok. That's a fact," Rauner said Wednesday. "Fact two: Undocumented illegal immigrants take jobs away that would be otherwise taken by Americans. That's true. And, also, illegal immigration holds down wages because if there's more people competing for the same job, wages are held down.
"So what I said (to the Sun-Times) was illegal undocumented immigrants hold down wages and take jobs away from Americans and therefore can contribute to the unemployment, which can contribute to violence," he said. "I never said and I do not believe that immigrants are somehow acting violently."
Rauner's logic has been disputed by several experts and studies.
In September of last year, the president of the American Action Forum, a center-right policy group, told the Washington Post there was no proof that immigration -- legal or illegal -- "squeezes out native-born workers in any systematic way."
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was senior policy adviser to the late Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who leads the group, said, "We've experienced waves of immigration and still, on average, reached full employment."
Additionally, the Marshall Project reported in March that while the number of immigrants -- including those living here illegally -- overall in Chicago rose by 73 percent from 1980 to 2016, the city's violent crime rate fell by 14 percent during the time period.
Rauner has sought to heal a divide among the GOP's social conservative base over his signature on laws that expanded immigrant, abortion and transgender rights. Those conservatives have supported President Donald Trump's push for tougher border protections and actions against those in the country illegally.
Rauner's latest remarks about immigrants are in sharp contrast to statements he made shortly before his election in a 2014 campaign visit at a Chinatown restaurant where he said he supported "comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship."
"For folks who are here, hardworking honest folks, we need a way for them to gradually become citizens and to become full parts of the American economy. We can do that," Rauner said.
On Wednesday, Rauner was asked repeatedly about his past support for providing a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally -- a position that those opposed to immigration rights have called "amnesty." He repeatedly replied that he supported "comprehensive immigration reform" before ultimately saying that a path to citizenship "could well be part of comprehensive immigration reform."
Rauner also continued to try to tarnish Pritzker over the inspector general's report regarding a property reassessment he received, in part due to the removal of toilets, on a Gold Coast mansion adjoining his residence. Pritzker has agreed to repay $330,000 to the Cook County treasurer's office but has called the inspector general report "inaccurate" for failing to highlight other issues involving the mansion that he said deemed it to be uninhabitable and qualify for a lower assessment.
Rauner questioned why Lisa Madigan, the attorney general and daughter of his chief political nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan, wasn't investigating the reassessment.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office said its special investigations unit is reviewing the report. Rauner criticized Foxx for being "late to the party," even though the report was delivered only 12 days ago.
Rauner also bristled when asked about his personal and family foundation investments in offshore tax havens following a Tribune report Wednesday dealing with the financial holdings of the governor and Pritzker. The Tribune found that Rauner's family foundation invested more than $10 million in a Cayman Islands fund after he became governor, that he has personal investments in three offshore funds, and that his former private equity firm was a "top client" of a major law firm that provides offshore legal services.
Asked if it was hypocritical to attack Pritzker's offshore holdings while also having money parked offshore, Rauner sought to distance his "tiny" financial dealings from Pritzker's more extensive investments.
Rauner defended his personal offshore investments, which includes two funds registered at the Ugland House in Grand Cayman, the listed address for thousands of companies and investment funds. Former President Barack Obama once criticized the place as a tax haven.
"I have investments all over the world, but mostly in America, and what I don't do is cheat on my taxes," Rauner said.
Pritzker has said money from the offshore trusts goes to his charity, the Pritzker Family Foundation. He also has said his trusts have paid tens of millions of dollars in state and federal taxes.
Neither Pritzker nor Rauner have released documents so that their claims about their finances could be verified. Both candidates have refused to release their entire federal and state income tax returns so that voters might see where the two politicians' financial interests intersect -- or potentially conflict -- with the business of the state of Illinois.