Mayor Lightfoot: Help law-abiding immigrants become citizens — don’t arrest them

The fact that children right here in Chicago are afraid of coming home from school and finding their parents missing is an indictment of where we are as a country today.

SHARE Mayor Lightfoot: Help law-abiding immigrants become citizens — don’t arrest them
An immigration rally in Chicago.

A protester at an immigration rally in Chicago in May, 2019.

Associated Press

This past Friday, the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to Chicago to announce a major problem: Chicago-area ICE arrests fell dramatically in 2019.

The reason? Local officials refused to play ball.

Since becoming mayor, one of the things I’m most proud of is our unequivocal support of Chicago’s immigrant and refugee communities. It’s a position directly drawn from our belief that our nation’s strength lies in our diversity, and that the values which have made us a beacon of hope are sacred and need to be protected.

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It’s for that reason that at Wednesday’s City Council meeting we passed the Accountability on Communication and Transparency Ordinance, which is designed to bolster our Welcoming City Ordinance — a policy first established by Mayor Harold Washington in 1985 and enhanced by my predecessors ever since.

In it, we are enshrining in the municipal code mandates from my previous executive actions. Namely, we will prohibit ICE from accessing Chicago Police Department databases. Additionally, we will make clear that ICE cannot turn to CPD for assistance with immigration enforcement operations. And if ICE does request assistance for any purposes, a CPD supervisor must first confirm that ICE is being truthful and the request will not support immigration enforcement.

We also will establish reporting requirements to both my office and the Inspector General regarding the police department’s compliance with the Welcoming City Ordinance, and provide legal guidance to public facilities on how to protect immigrant patrons in the event they are targeted for ICE raids.

The ordinance will in no way inhibit our law enforcement agencies’ ability to go after individuals suspected of committing serious or violent crimes. Nor does it conflict with our agreement with federal authorities that — in special and rare occasions — allows appointed officers to assist in investigating criminal enterprises, such as counter-terrorism, human trafficking and money laundering, with full knowledge that their assistance will be terminated if any action undertaken is inconsistent with city policies.

In other words, it cannot encompass immigration enforcement.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This past summer, when President Donald Trump was doing everything he could to scare undocumented families into the shadows, we undertook these measures in the form of executive actions. The difference now is that we’re codifying them into law, making for one of the largest expansions of immigrant protections in Chicago since the Welcoming City Ordinance first was adopted over 30 years ago.

All of which brings us to Friday’s ICE press conference. As the ICE deputy director noted, it’s because of our lack of cooperation that ICE was unable to reach its arrest goal.

He’s right. And that’s a good thing.

Credit for that is shared among city and state leaders, as well as with countless local advocates — whether through the TRUST Act passed in Springfield, the vital services provided by Chicago’s immigration attorneys, or the hundreds of Community Navigators supported by our Legal Protection Fund who have been doing the Lord’s work of going into communities to educate and empower our undocumented immigrant families about their rights.

Yet, as proud as we are, it shouldn’t have to be this way. Cities like Chicago shouldn’t have to butt heads with federal agencies to keep their families safe and communities whole.

The reason we’ve had to work so diligently to educate residents about their rights is because the current administration has politized ICE into a cynical campaign against immigrants and refugees. Our protection actions also ensure we have the vital community trust needed for the effectiveness of our local police.

Make no mistake, immigration policy is complicated. There are no easy answers. But the national debate — if you can call it that — hasn’t been about immigration policy so much as about immigrants themselves. And for all the policy complexities, what isn’t complicated is the principle that no one should be demonized for who they are.

Chicago’s immigrants come from every corner of the globe — always have. As they have since our earliest days, they help build our city, drive our economy, and create the talent pool that gives us our competitive edge.

We as a nation should be crafting immigration policy based on welcoming our newest residents with clear pathways to citizenship, not fear of arrests. The fact that children right here in Chicago are afraid of coming home from school and finding their parents missing is an indictment of where we are as a country today.

As we move forward, we will continue to protect our communities, strengthen our status as a Welcoming City, and fight for the best of who we are. For unity and inclusion, equity and opportunity. For standing up for our neighbors and calling out division and demonization for what they are.

It’s those values that have endowed our heritage for generations, served as the foundation for our incredible success, and will ensure Chicago remains the best city in the world to call home.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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