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On Trump’s Last Day In Office, Chicago Aldermen Move To Strengthen Sanctuary City Ordinance

Chicago's sanctuary city law has been in place since 2006, but the changes would eliminate exceptions allowing Chicago Police to assist immigration agents.

Protesters march downtown July 10, 2020 to demand the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the defunding of the Chicago police
Hillary Flores/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A push to update Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance is one step closer to becoming law, and proponents say it would close the loopholes allowing Chicago police to assist federal immigration enforcement.

City Council’s new Immigrant and Refugee Rights committee unanimously approved the changes to the Welcoming City ordinance at a meeting Tuesday.

First created by former Mayor Harold Washington through an executive order in 1985, the order became law in 2006. It prevents city departments and officials from providing information on or assisting investigations into the immigration status of Chicago residents.

But the law has four exceptions. Police can support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when the subject of an investigation:

  • has an outstanding criminal warrant;
  • has a felony conviction;
  • is a defendant in a pending criminal case involving felony charges;
  • has been identified as a known gang member in a law enforcement database or by their own admission.

Changes to the ordinance eliminate those exceptions, require police to work with victims and witnesses who report crimes regardless of immigration status and mandate that crime survivors who help police investigations are provided paperwork to obtain a federal U Visa.

The refashioned ordinance also eliminates the word “citizen” in several places in the municipal code to “make it clear those provisions of the city code include all Chicago residents,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said.

The changes were co-sponsored by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ramirez-Rosa.

Nubia Willman, director of the city’s Office of New Americans, said the changes more emphatically establish Chicago police will not cooperate with ICE. The ordinance better protects the city’s nearly 500,000 immigrants, almost one-third of whom are undocumented.

“Having a clear line that CPD does not cooperate with ICE will allow for real trust building with police and community,” Willman said.

The full City Council could approve the measure during its Jan. 27 meeting, fulfilling a campaign promise Lightfoot made nearly two years after she took office.

Ramirez Rosa, who proposed the changes alongside the majority of aldermen in 2017, said it was fitting the committee advanced the measure on President Donald Trump’s last full day in office. Trump “waged war” on immigrant communities, Ramirez Rosa said.

“We are sending a message that Trump’s assault on sanctuary cities have failed, and rather than undoing our sanctuary status, we are strengthening them,” he said. “No one should be afraid to call 911 and everyone should in the United States of America, regardless of their immigration status, is afforded their due process rights guaranteed by our constitution.”

Last year, the City Council passed an ordinance that limited the assistance and data sharing between city departments and ICE, and terminated the agency’s access to the Chicago police’s controversial gang database. 

That ordinance also required police officers to document requests for assistance it received from federal immigration authorities, but it failed to eliminate the exemptions in the Welcoming City ordinance. 

In fall, Lightfoot faced blowback from the City Council’s Latino Caucus for attaching the elimination of the exemptions in the Welcoming City ordinance to the budget, essentially daring those who opposed her spending plan to also vote against a measure meant to protect immigrants from ICE.

Ramirez Rosa told WTTW protections for immigrants should not be “held hostage” in negotiations over the controversial budget.

Lightfoot removed the measure from budget negotiations and introduced a new ordinance in December, co-sponsored by Ramirez Rosa. But Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) sent it to the rules committee, a maneuver meant to delay or kill unwanted legislation.

By directly introducing a new version of the ordinance into committee Tuesday, Lightfoot and Ramirez Rosa sidestepped Lopez’s tactic. No aldermen spoke against the measure during the virtual meeting Tuesday.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), who represents Little Village said, said immigrants are the “lifeblood” of the city and the amendments pushes the city closer to being a true “sanctuary city.”

“Getting rid of these carve outs makes folks much more likely to call police in the event of a crime. Supporting victims of violence, again, keeps our communities safer, and finally, more inclusive language in our city code matters,” he said.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) said the passage of the measures come at a time of “emergency” for immigrants because “we are seeing so many white supremacist, right-wing violence in our country,” and the measure makes sure “our undocumented people feel safe.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th), himself an immigrant from Ecuador, said the amendments were a positive step forward and hopefully the “beginning of a great conversation in this community, from Chinatown to Pilsen and many other immigrant communities that I represent.”

The committee also approved a symbolic resolution calling on President-elect Joe Biden and the United States Congress to “immediately enact immigration reform.”

Co-sponsoring Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said the Trump administration’s immigration policies “totally destroyed the…tenuous relationship that we already had with our immigrant and refugee community.”

“We need our residents to know that we serve them as well,” she said. “So I look forward to this new administration and being able to work with our colleagues here to continue to voice the needs of Chicagoans,” she said.

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