Frustrated by congressional gridlock, WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, a megadonor to Donald Trump’s inauguration, said Friday he is cutting off funding to any Republican candidate who doesn’t support pending legislation protecting young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“I’m not supporting politicians that aren’t working hard to get this done, from the dogcatcher on up,” MacNeil said by phone from Italy, where he was traveling.
MacNeil, an entrepreneur who built a car floor mat manufacturing empire in south suburban Bolingbrook, donated $1 million to Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. He shares the “made in America” mantra that dominated Trump’s campaign, as well as the call for tighter border security.
But Trump’s September decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has hit home for MacNeil, who has at least two people covered by the program among the 1,600 employees at WeatherTech.
One of them is an 11-year employee and the company’s export sales manager. On Thursday night, she accepted the large business exporter of the year award from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on behalf of WeatherTech, MacNeil said.
The employee, who came to the Chicago area with her family from Mexico when she was 12 years old, may soon be out of a job, or deported, without DACA protection, MacNeil said.
“She works in the export department, helping sell American-manufactured goods all over the world,” he said. “Is this not an important person? Is this not an important job? It just frustrates me to see political deadlock and gamesmanship and playing political football with people’s lives.”
While MacNeil is a vocal spokesman for his own company — he voices his own radio spots, for example — he is not used to being outspoken on political issues. But he chose to speak up this week as part of a broader effort by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, a group of business leaders and associations that formed five years ago to promote immigration reform.
MacNeil is on the coalition’s steering committee.
The coalition is looking to push a discharge petition introduced earlier this month by moderate Republicans that would bypass House leadership and bring four competing DACA-related measures to the floor for consideration.
The peitition has gained momentum and is just a few Republican votes shy of succeeding, said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition.
“We saw this discharge petition moving. … We were just about five Republican votes short of getting this to the floor,” Shi said Friday. “We made the decision, our business leaders really wanted to make sure their voices were heard loud and clear.”
Enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012 through executive order, DACA provided temporary relief to about 800,000 young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, enabling them to work and attend schools without the threat of deportation. It did not provide permanent legal status and needed to be renewed every two years.
While Trump’s decision to rescind the program is working its way through the court system, Congress has been unable to move forward on any permanent legislation to replace it.
MacNeil said he supported Trump’s decision to rescind the executive order but urged him to get behind a permanent legislative solution.
“This is a law that needs to be enacted by Congress,” he said.
Until then, MacNeil and other business leaders are watching which legislators sign on to the petition, and which do not. Fixing the program, MacNeil said, will be a prerequisite to his future financial support of candidates.
If efforts to move immigration legislation forward fail, MacNeil said the forced termination of his workers would be a blow to his company and a personal loss. But MacNeil, a U.S. citizen who emigrated legally from Canada as an infant, said the loss to the country would be devastating.
“America is a country of immigrants, and there are 800,000 people who have grown up here and been educated here — they have their own American dreams to follow,” he said. “To think that we would possibly jeopardize losing these people to some other country would be a tragedy of epic proportion.”
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