RESULT: Bill Foster (D) 57% – Jim Oberweis (R) 43%
Democratic physicist Bill Foster won former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat in a special election after the Congressman stepped down in 2007. Foster won 53 percent of the vote over Republican dairy farm owner Jim Oberweis in the March 2008 special, and immigration was a prominent issue in the race. Analysts point to Foster’s win as an example of how getting tough on illegal immigration—in the case of candidate Oberweis—is not necessarily a winning strategy. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Oberweis focused heavily on illegal immigration, saying in a television ad that ‘illegal aliens [were] coming here to take American workers’ jobs, drive down wages and take advantage of government benefits.” Despite Oberweis’ hard line stance on immigration, said the Journal-Constitution, Democrat Bill Foster won “in what had been thought to be a dependably GOP district.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/30/08] According to press coverage, immigration is already garnering attention in the November 2008 general election campaign.
The Foster Position:
COMPREHENSIVE REFORMER. On his web site Foster says, “We must act immediately to strengthen border security and to improve workplace enforcement.” He is also in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and a realistic approach to regulating future immigration. [Foster for Congress Website] During a joint appearance with Republican opponent Jim Oberweis before the special election, Foster said his immigration plan would allow undocumented immigrants to become guest workers, and require businesses to pay an impact fee “that represents the true burden that these workers place on our schools, on our police, on our health-care system.” Oberweis attacked his plan as “a tax to allow businesses to break the law.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/23/08] In July 2008, the AP reported that Foster traveled to “points along the U.S.-Mexico border” in order to “shape his stance on immigration reform.” According to the AP, Foster said he was not “sure he supports a full fence, but favor[ed] security upgrades.” During his short tenure in Congress, Rep. Foster has remained committed to the basic framework of comprehensive reform but has also voiced his support for a number of enforcement proposals.
The Oberweis Position:
ENFORCEMENT ONLY. Oberweis is an immigration hardliner whose campaign web site states “No nation can long survive that cannot — or will not — protect its borders.” He opposes amnesty for undocumented workers and has a plan to construct a fence, create a biometric identity card, and toughen employer sanctions for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. [Oberweis For Congress, Accessed 3/19/08] During a joint appearance with Democratic opponent Bill Foster before the special election, Oberweis charged Foster with sounding “like he wants to create a system for employers to hire illegal immigrants. That’s not what we need in this country. That’s going to cause the problem to become even worse,” [Chicago Tribune, 2/23/08]