Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure looked the part of the champion of Chicago’s immigrant community this week as his lawsuit to block the Trump administration from penalizing sanctuary cities drew direct fire from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The truth is a little more complicated.
Ever since the prospect of a Trump presidency became real last year, immigrant rights advocates have been pressing Emanuel to amend Chicago’s “welcoming city ordinance” to strengthen its protections against police getting involved in deportations.
And every step of the way, the mayor has dragged his feet to stall that effort, they say.
“Initially, they told us they were on board but that it was a matter of timing,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the lead sponsor of the proposed changes.
This was before the election when Trump was stoking the anti-immigrant fires. Better to wait until after the election, Ramirez-Rosa said the mayor’s staff advised.
But then Trump won the election and started in with his taunting fixation over Chicago’s crime problems.
Ramirez-Rosa said the mayor’s office decided the time still wasn’t right, advising immigration advocates: “We don’t want to poke the bear. It will cause more problems.”
The ordinance, which has 28 co-sponsors, remains stalled in committee.
It would repeal four exceptions in the existing ordinance that otherwise bars Chicago Police from cooperating with federal immigration agents. The exceptions are for individuals with outstanding criminal warrants, prior felony convictions, pending felony prosecutions or are listed in the city’s gang database.
None of this stops the police from doing their job to fight crime, or stops immigration agents from conducting their own enforcement activity.
About six weeks ago, the Emanuel administration offered up a draft of its own proposed changes, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“Quite frankly, it fell extremely short of what we had been asking for,” the alderman said.
Then the mayor’s staff cancelled a meeting scheduled last Friday to talk about the changes to the ordinance and subsequently announced the lawsuit against the Justice Department to block it from cutting federal crime-fighting funds over the existing ordinance.
Ramirez-Rosa said he is now told not to expect another meeting anytime soon, the implication being that they’ve done what they can for now.
“These are the types of games the mayor is playing with the undocumented community,” the alderman said.
Over the last year, Emanuel has taken other steps to try to prove his bona fides on immigration. He established a $1 million legal defense fund to advise Chicago residents with immigration problems, authorized a new municipal identification card program primarily designed to benefit immigrants and launched a showy One Chicago advertising campaign to highlight the city’s diversity.
But advocates question whether those measures were designed more to polish the mayor’s image than to offer substantive support to immigrants, considering that he has withheld backing for their main request.
“The only way to make this a welcoming city is to take away the carveouts,” said Rosi Corrasco of Organized Communities Against Deportations. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to portray himself as pro-immigrant, but he’s not doing anything.”
A new dump of emails from Emanuel’s personal account added fuel to the fire Tuesday, showing how the mayor has been trying to induce national news organizations to report on his efforts on immigration.
An angry Ramirez-Rosa said other major cities including Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles have gone much further than Chicago to make sure their undocumented residents are protected from efforts to deport them.
Nobody is saying it wasn’t important or appreciated that Emanuel pushed back against the Trump administration over sanctuary city penalties.
But his own welcoming city is not quite so welcoming as he might want those outside journalists to believe.