Brown: Council rises to occasion with ‘open hearts and open minds’ welcome

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Fatima Idriss, a Syrian refugee, speaking in the rear of the City Council Chambers. Wednesday, November 18, 2015. Brian Jackson/ For the Sun-Times

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Normally, I wouldn’t give two figs about what the City Council might have to say with a symbolic vote on a national issue over which it has little to no influence.

But there was something unusually satisfying Wednesday about Chicago aldermen approving a resolution to reaffirm the city’s status as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants in the midst of a Republican-led backlash against Syrian refugees.

For once, I didn’t even mind Ald. Edward M. Burke’s clichéd invocation of the poem on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . ”

Defying Gov. Bruce Rauner and his chicken-hearted closed border policy for Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, Burke and his fellow aldermen sent a loud message that Chicago will not join in the fear-mongering.

OPINION

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I say that knowing full well that many of you are fearful of allowing Syrians into the country, convinced that terrorists will use the opportunity to sneak in and commit violence.

Nobody can promise that won’t happen, and I don’t discount the possibility or your concerns, although I think heightened screening should make that possibility very remote.

For me, though, accepting the Syrian refugees is just so obviously the right thing to do, with the world facing a major humanitarian crisis for which we as usual bear at least some responsibility and also have the greatest capacity for alleviating.

I’m convinced we never go wrong in this country by staying true to our national ideals, which don’t include a religion test, as some Republicans are now proposing as part of their self-imposed “pause” on accepting Syrian refugees.

What I found most impressive about the City Council resolution is that there is no great political advantage right now in sticking up for Syrian refugees, or Muslim refugees from anywhere for that matter, much the same as we experienced after 9/11.

Republican presidential candidates already are making great mileage out of bashing Mexicans, and we all know that Muslims fare even worse on our national pecking order of groups to be treated with prejudice and suspicion.

It’s not like the City Council was speaking out on behalf of Mexican immigrants, whose growing political might is there to be harnessed by whichever party is smart enough to reach out. Chicago Democrats wised up on that to great effect some time ago.

No, this was speaking out in defense of a group of people with little electoral power at a time when fear and distrust is the prevailing attitude of probably a majority of the country.

I’m sure there were even some aldermen who agree with Rauner but chose to hold their tongues during Wednesday’s floor debate, the City Council not nearly the liberal bastion that it must appear to the outside world.

I was especially glad that Fatima and Fadi Idriss were present to witness the City Council action, along with their two young children.

The Idriss family members are Syrian refugees who arrived here in February to start making their new lives.

The Idriss family was introduced by freshman Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who worked as an immigration activist prior to his election and takes these issues to heart.

“They came from Syria seeking safety, and we welcome them in Chicago here today. We welcome them with open hearts and open minds,” Ramirez-Rosa said as the aldermen stood and applauded.

I’m glad somebody thought to make them feel welcome at a time when other “leaders” are sending the opposite message.

Fittingly, the family didn’t hang around long after the meeting, because they had to get their kids back to school.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th) choked up as he told about how seeing news reports on the Syrian refugees makes him think about his personal story of immigrating to Chicago from Mexico in 1956 with his family, when he was age six, and about how much this country has meant to him.

“I’m emotional right now, but I think people should understand what this country means to immigrants and refugees across this world,” Solis said.

“And if we turn our back on these refugees, we are becoming unfeeling, without a heart, and not recognizing that we need these immigrants to continue to build our country.”

We’ve been at this in earnest 14 years now, long enough to know that the threats are real, but also that in dealing with them we can’t lose sight of who we are and what is right.

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