In the United States, you are innocent of a crime until proven guilty.
That, at least, is the cherished ideal — and it should be no less true for non-citizens as for citizens.
Three of the candidates for mayor — Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle — demonstrate a particularly strong appreciation for that bedrock principle in their stated views on Chicago’s “sanctuary” ordinance, which prohibits the local police from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities.
The three candidates, in their responses to a Sun-Times questionnaire, explicitly said they would eliminate four exceptions to the prohibition against the police doing the work of the feds. Their interest, they stressed, is not in coddling criminals but in making sure that all people accused of crimes get their rightful day in court.
A fourth candidate, Susana Mendoza, seemed to suggest she would favor eliminating at least the first two exceptions in the ordinance. “I support expanding Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance,” she wrote, “with due process put in place for those who may have pending felony charges or open warrants.”
Nine of the other 10 candidates who returned our questionnaire expressed strong sympathy for the rights of immigrants, documented or not. But only Enyia, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle argued that Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance does not go far enough and spelled out what must change.
This editorial page, as it happens, has long supported three of the four proposed changes, and we would hope the next mayor of Chicago — whoever she or he may be — will, too.
The ordinance, enacted six years ago, basically prohibits Chicago police from acting as de facto immigration agents. It includes four exceptions that might sound reasonable but, as we see it, three are not.
First, the ordinance still allows the police to turn over to immigration agents undocumented immigrants who have outstanding criminal warrants. Second, it allows the police to turn over defendants in criminal cases. Third, it allows the police to turn over immigrants who have been identified as gang members in a gang database. Fourth, it allows the police to turn undocumented immigrants with felony convictions.
We oppose general roundups and deportation of undocumented immigrants. These are often workers who serve a vital, if begrudgingly acknowledged, role in our nation’s economy, and they are by and large law-abiding — statistically, more so than American citizens. Mass deportation is not realistic, and the very thought of uprooting and tearing apart millions of families is appalling.
We also oppose deportations based merely on the suspicion that a person has committed a crime, which is where Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance falls short. It violates the American principle of due process for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to export people who have criminal warrants against them or are awaiting trial — but have as yet been found guilty of nothing. Chicago cops should have nothing to do with it.
“We absolutely must do more to protect undocumented immigrants and ensure their safety in our city,” Preckwinkle wrote. “I have called for the end to the carve-outs in the Welcoming City ordinance that empowers Chicago police to work hand-in-hand with ICE.”
Lightfoot made the same pledge, in similar words, and added: “As mayor, I would only allow for compliance with valid warrants or court orders that are signed by a judge.”
And Enyia wrote that ICE’s whole approach to deportations is nothing more than “institutional bigotry disguised as a race-neutral matter of national security.” She also made the truthful point that Chicago’s gang database is unreliable, and therefore unfair. It is unclear how names end up in the database, and it has been shown to be riddled with errors.
Where we part company with Enyia, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle, however, is in their view that the police should not be allowed to turn over to ICE undocumented immigrants who have serious felony convictions.
Our own view is that if you’ve been found guilty of a serious felony, you’ve worn out your welcome in this country. Even properly documented immigrants — those with green cards — face immediate deportation in such circumstances once they’ve served their time.
When the justice and immigration systems are working right, Chicago cops don’t even run into undocumented immigrants with past convictions for major felonies. They are supposed to be sent packing right after serving their time.
Of the other 10 candidates who completed our questionnaire, only Willie Wilson gave no answer to our question about Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance. The others, for the most part, made clear they support Chicago’s ordinance, while also not wanting to undercut good, solid police work.
As always in this ongoing series of editorials presenting and analyzing the mayoral candidates’ positions on the biggest issues facing Chicago, we urge you to read their responses in full for yourself by clicking here.
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