Proposal aims to better integrate immigrants, ease barriers

SHARE Proposal aims to better integrate immigrants, ease barriers
SHARE Proposal aims to better integrate immigrants, ease barriers

Barriers that prevent Chicago immigrants from living independent and productive lives would be slowly removed under a six-point “immigrant integration” plan unveiled by advocates Tuesday.

Recommendations made by a pair of rookie alderman and community groups run the gamut such as free or low-cost legal representation in immigration court; grants and loans to help children of illegal immigrants pay application fees; expanded protection for undocumented immigrants; and a first-ever municipal identification program.

The Chicago Immigration Policy Working Group also wants to strengthen Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to provide city services in an array of foreign languages by covering smaller refugee groups that face “linguistic isolation” and by including public safety departments and public schools excused from the Language Access Ordinance.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) acknowledged that it’s a difficult time to be saddling Chicago taxpayers with additional costs even for a goal as noble as immigrant integration. Chicago is searching for every available dollar to solve a $30 billion pension crisis at the city and public schools that has dropped the city’s bond rating to junk status.

But Ramirez-Rosa said where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“If you want to be the most immigrant-friendly city in the United States, you have to invest some resources. … We met with representatives of the mayor’s office on Friday. We’re workshopping these ordinances. We’re going to put price tags on them. And then, we’re going to find ways to pay for them,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“In the city of New York, when they implemented their legal services for residents facing deportation, the first year, they received private foundation money. Afterwards, the city saw the program … has a net benefit for the city. It keeps the family from seeking certain public assistance. And it ensures that the breadwinner remains in the city earning.”

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) also worked on the recommendations.

Emanuel has created a “working group” charged with developing an implementation plan for a municipal ID program to connect Chicagoans with city services and benefits, whether or not they are homeless and regardless of their immigration status and gender identity.

But that, too, would cost money. How would cash-strapped Chicago pay for the new bureaucracy?

“People are willing to pay for them. … We would have to figure out” the cost, said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Tsao noted that 5 percent of New York City’s population has signed up for the municipal ID in the first seven months.

“A city ID document would provide a valid form of identification for city purposes. But it would also be a document that, we hope, would be a vehicle for civic pride — something that would tie all city residents together as one Chicago,” Tsao said, suggesting that a corporate sponsor could help defray the cost.

In 1985, then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws. He made the move to protest the federal government’s decision to question people seeking city services and conduct random searches of city records in an effort to find undocumented immigrants.

Four years later, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley affirmed the executive order. In 2006, the City Council turned the order into law as the immigration debate raged on in Congress.

The order prohibited city agencies from asking about the immigration status of people seeking city services. Chicago Police were not allowed to question the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or other law-abiding citizens.

Still, there remained a “legal loophole” that needed to be closed. When Chicago Police made a stop, ran a criminal background check and found a deportation order, there was no specific standard on what they should do amid mounting pressure from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to turn them over.

In 2012, Emanuel pushed through a so-called “Welcome City” ordinance that prohibits police from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or have been convicted of a serious crime.

Advocates contended Tuesday that Chicago’s ordinance is still not as strong as the county’s version. One difference involves criminal defendants awaiting trial on felony charges.

“Under the city law, if that person is stopped for a traffic stop again, the information for that individual can be turned over to ICE, which does not seem like a reasonable exception,” Tsao said.

Ramirez-Rosa added, “We also want to make sure that we avoid incidents like the ugly incident we saw last year where city officials were actually threatening a woman with deportation. We want to show that the city policy has strict language for not even threatening people with calling immigration.”

In late April, the City Council approved Emanuel’s plan to provide city services in an array of foreign languages — and create a municipal identification program — amid concern that the “Language Access Ordinance” is not strong enough.

The ordinance calls for city departments to provide services in “any non-English language spoken by a limited or non-English proficient population that constitutes 10,000 individuals or 5 percent” of the city’s 2.7 million population, “whichever is less.”

But the mayor’s plan also creates a two-tiered system of services, appearing to let some departments off the hook by stating: “Those departments that provide services to the public that are not programmatic in nature, such as emergency services, shall implement this chapter [only] to the degree practicable.”

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