City Council eliminates carve-outs to strengthen Welcoming City ordinance

By a vote of 41 to 8, the Council eliminated exceptions that allowed Chicago police to cooperate with ICE if targeted individuals are in the city’s gang database, have pending felony prosecutions or prior felony convictions; or are the subject of an outstanding criminal warrant.

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Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) speaks at an immigration rally

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) speaks at rally in 2019. She joined nearly all members of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday in voting to eliminate exceptions written into the Welcoming City ordinance that had allowed police to help federal immigration officers in some situations.

Sun-Times file

For undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation, Chicago became a more “welcoming city” on the day former President Donald Trump left office.

Wednesday was another red-letter day.

By a vote of 41 to 8, the Chicago City Council eliminated “carve-outs” in the Welcoming City ordinance that had allowed Chicago police officers to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement if targeted individuals are: in the city’s gang database; have pending felony prosecutions or prior felony convictions; or are the subject of an outstanding criminal warrant.

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“No” votes were cast by Aldermen Marty Quinn (13th); Ray Lopez (15th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Nick Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Jim Gardiner (45th). Those who chose to speak during the hourslong debate warned that eliminating the exceptions would only increase already skyrocketing violent crime.

“We are essentially welcoming criminals to our city. ... If you are an illegal immigrant and a convicted felon or a fugitive, what better place to go than Chicago?” Napolitano asked his colleagues.

Lopez agreed giving sanctuary to violent felons and gangbangers “would only increase the bloodbath” on Chicago streets. He argued the ordinance was being “rammed down our throats for a headline … using fear tactics and political buffoonery to get this passed.”

“What this ordinance does is treat those few individuals with the same compassion that you claim to want to give to the individuals who are here undocumented trying to do right. Trying to create a better Chicago. Trying to do better for them and their families. That is wrong. To lump those groups together is not what the undocumented community wants,” Lopez said.

“If they do not want to be here, why are we protecting them? Those that are committed to violence in our neighborhoods should not be given refuge.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called those comments by Lopez and Napolitano “racist, xenophobic and misguided,” adding: “Shame on you.”

“Spirited debate, which is at the heart of our democracy, is not the same as using racist tropes and xenophobic rhetoric to promote yourself on the backs of others and demonize them,” the mayor said.

“We dare not be silent when that happens. ... Our silence would be complicit and I will not be silent in the face of this kind of fear-mongering and suggesting that, when we seek to protect any group of vulnerable residents that we are, somehow, inviting criminals to run amok. That is wrong. It is racist. And I condemn it in the strongest terms possible.”

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said the ordinance was “not being soft on crime. It’s being compassionate.”

Wednesday’s vote was the culmination of a nearly six-year campaign by immigrant rights advocates and their City Council champions that spanned two mayoral administrations.

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to prevent Chicago police officers from working with immigration agents in any circumstances.

She finally delivered on that promise with a stand-alone ordinance — nearing the midway-point of her four-year term — only after trying and failing to use eliminating carve-outs as a political sweetener to win votes for her $12.8 billion pandemic budget.

“We are going to be able to say that, in the city of Chicago, ICE and CPD cannot work together in any case with no exceptions to deport residents here. … We can say, ‘Do not be afraid to call 911 because in no case with no exceptions can CPD turn you over to ICE,’” said a triumphant Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), declaring Chicago the nation’s “most immigrant-friendly” city.

“It is thanks to the diligent organizing of undocumented immigrants and their allies who did not back down. … We got here because we continued to fight. … We’re showing the power of our immigrant communities.”

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said he couldn’t be prouder that Chicago “stepped up as a leader” — both by strengthening the Welcoming City Ordinance and approving a resolution urging President Joe Biden’s administration and Congress to “immediately roll back the 400-plus Trump era anti-immigrant policies and executive orders” and approve comprehensive immigration reform.

“Today is going to be a good day for immigrants. … We have a message to send from our city that we care deeply for our residents that include immigrants,” Rodriguez said.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) said “communities without papers will feel more human” and “breathe better,” knowing their due process rights will be protected.

“When Donald Trump started threatening with raids in our communities, every time people saw police cars outside, they thought that they were coming for them. … I had to show up on streets because people were scared that they were being taken away because they saw a police car,” Sanchez said.

“This is how our communities were living. In constant fear that they were going to be taken away. That’s not gonna happen anymore. … The fact that the city of Chicago is stepping up and making the city a true sanctuary city for all is something we all should be very proud of.”

Chicago’s days as a “sanctuary city” where undocumented people can access city services and live without fear of police harassment date back 35 years.

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.

The revised Welcoming City ordinance not only eliminates all of the carve-outs but also forbids any “agent or agency” of the city from:

• Stopping, arresting, detaining or continuing to detain a person solely on the belief that the person is not present legally in the United State or has committed a civil immigration violation.

• Transferring any person into ICE custody for the sole purpose of civil immigration enforcement.

• Setting up a traffic perimeter or providing on-site support to assist a civil immigration enforcement operation.

Undocumented Chicagoans who are crime victims and then assist Chicago police in their investigation will also, within 90 days, receive certification of the paperwork they need to seek a Green Card through a federal program known as ‘U-Visa.’

A dozen mentions of the word “citizen” were also stricken from the city code to make it clear the law applies to every Chicagoan, regardless of their immigration status.

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