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Immigrants’ rights take more hits, threatening our safety in the process

Demonstrators hold a rally in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood calling for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and an end to family detentions on June 29, 2018. | Getty Images file photo

There are fewer and fewer places these days where people can feel safe. A corner coffee shop can quickly become a venue for a heated argument between strangers. Turning on a TV or opening up a newspaper can subject us to bilious invective that divides us. Gun violence and crime plague numerous communities, which makes even walking some streets a challenge.

So, in our increasingly divided America, it’s more important than ever that Chicago continues to keep counting itself among the ranks of “sanctuary cities” nationwide — and that our state government fully embrace immigrant rights as well.

Unfortunately, there are new challenges to immigration rights on both the federal and state levels, which is disheartening because immigrants and the undocumented are the most vulnerable human beings in our society.

Some background: Chicago is among several sanctuary cities that limit local exchanges of information with federal immigration authorities, drawing the ire of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump.


It is difficult enough that our federal government wants to eradicate sanctuary cities like Chicago, and it is amazing that our city needed to initiate litigation against our federal government to preserve our policies to serves as a safe haven for all.

But now things have gotten even worse, according to news reports.

Let’s start with the Trump administration. In recent weeks, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director has said that the federal agency will shift its focus from helping people become naturalized citizens to reviewing the records of Americans already granted full citizenship. This agency, created to support people in their aspirations of becoming Americans, is now moving to find even slight omissions in people’s paperwork that could lead to a revocation of citizenship and immediate deportation. This can only be read to mean that USCIS, together with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is ruthlessly pursuing and intimidating immigrants.

Rabbi Seth Limmer | Provided photo
Rabbi Seth Limmer | Provided photo

Illinois’ immigrant community — such a constructive part of the fabric of our state — often lives in fear of ruthless ICE intimidation, including the threat of being arrested in courthouses, schools and hospitals. Imagine needing to bring a loved one to the emergency room and losing precious seconds by having to think twice about encountering federal agents about an omitted answer on an already-approved immigration application. Imagine being afraid to take a ruthless landlord to court to sue for safe housing conditions because ICE could be waiting in the wings to follow you home and check the paperwork of all the people in your family. Imagine a parent-teacher conference interrupted by an inquiry from ICE agents.

Things aren’t any better on the state-government level. On Friday, Gov. Bruce Rauner indicated he plans to veto the Immigration Safe Zones Act approved by the Illinois General Assembly. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board has described the legislation, also known as SB 35, as vital to addressing “the all-too-common fear among many immigrants of law enforcement agents swooping them up as they go to court, seek medical attention, pursue education, and seek other assistance.”

The bill would direct the Illinois Attorney General to develop model policies for courthouses, schools, libraries, medical facilities and shelters on how to handle immigration-enforcement activity. “These model policies would send a strong signal that education, public health and justice should be available for all Illinois residents, while ensuring that any enforcement activity at these locations meet basic legal standards,” the Sun-Times editorial board wrote in endorsing the bill.

I participated in two rallies, a press conference and a call-in day that had over 500 members of reform synagogues call the governor’s office about the matter. Those voices seem to have been ignored.

Rauner could have signed the bill, granting a degree of security to those intimidated by our federal government.

Instead, he’s depriving them of that safe place — and, like the federal government, hurting the rest of us in the process.

Seth M. Limmer is senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Sun-Times CEO Edwin Eisendrath is a member of Limmer’s congregation.