Marlen Garcia: How Chicago can strengthen ‘sanctuary ordinance’

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Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), shown here meeting with activists, has called for eliminating some exceptions to protections provided in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

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The purpose of Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance, enacted in 2012, was to limit cooperation between the city’s police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a time when the Obama administration was deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants.

The surge in deportations, and local cops’ role in them, chipped away at trust between immigrants and police. The ordinance was meant to increase cooperation between undocumented immigrants and police who rely on residents to report crimes and assist in investigations. Cops don’t get help from immigrants who fear that contacting the police will set in motion deportation proceedings.

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The ordinance doesn’t prevent ICE from conducting raids or deportations but prohibits Chicago police from investigating immigration status for ICE without a court order or detaining immigrants when their sole offense is being undocumented. Cops in Chicago have real crimes to solve.

But Chicago carved exceptions into the ordinance that left a lot of room for cops and ICE to work together. Those exceptions allow cooperation when a particular undocumented immigrant has an outstanding criminal warrant; has been convicted of a felony; is a defendant in a criminal case; or the immigrant is identified as a gang member in a law enforcement database.

Advocacy groups are pushing the city to eliminate the exceptions. The groups say this is about due process and equal treatment.

They also don’t trust a database that labels someone a gang member. “What counts as someone being in a gang?” asked Tania Unzueta, of Organized Communities Against Deportations.

They believe someone who is a defendant in a criminal case should be allowed to go through a legal process without Chicago cops triggering deportation proceedings.

“All we’re asking is to be treated the same as other residents of Chicago,” Imelda Salazar of the Southwest Organizing Project said.

And it appears they’re being heard at City Hall by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and aldermen.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) is firmly on the side of eliminating the exceptions. It’s the next important step to strengthen the ordinance, he said on Wednesday, hours after the City Council passed an amendment to the Welcoming City ordinance aimed at preventing and punishing oral and physical abuse of immigrants by police and other city agencies.

Locally, there is a precedent to move forward without those exceptions. In 2011, Cook County enacted a policy on ICE detainer requests that didn’t leave much wiggle room to work with ICE. It called for the sheriff to decline such requests unless the federal government entered a written agreement to cover the county’s costs or ICE provided a criminal warrant.

In the last few years, politicians across the U.S. have seized on high-profile crimes by a relatively small number of undocumented immigrants to call for eliminating sanctuary ordinances.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump rips cities and counties that have enacted so-called sanctuary ordinances. Trump has threatened to pull back federal funding from municipalities that have these ordinances.

Trump also has promised to deport about 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. That rhetoric is creating a call to action to protect the undocumented.

Ramirez-Rosa told me a Trump presidency would create an impetus to move on the proposal.

It will take some guts by Emanuel and aldermen to see this one through.


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