Emanuel plans Language Access Ordinance to boost appeal to Hispanic voters

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Fighting for his political life in the April 7 runoff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will try Wednesday to carve out an even bigger chunk of the Hispanic vote against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Emanuel plans to join forces with the City Council’s Hispanic and Asian-American Caucuses on Chicago’s first “Language Access Ordinance.”

The ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday’s Council meeting, would ensure that immigrants and residents whose proficiency in the English language is limited would have “meaningful access” to city programs, services and resources in the top five languages spoken in Chicago: Spanish, Polish, Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic.

Co-sponsored by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), the ordinance would also establish a “working group” charged with developing an “implementation plan for a municipal ID program.”

The new form of identification would be used to connect Chicagoans with city services and benefits, whether or not they are homeless and regardless of their immigration status and gender identity. Every city department would be required to designate a language access coordinator to implement policy and submit an annual compliance report. The mayor’s 2015 budget earmarks $100,000 to begin the process of translating the city’s website into the top five languages.

In the Feb. 24 election, Emanuel got 37.6 percent of the Hispanic vote to 50.3 percent for Garcia. Garcia carried 14 of the city’s 50 wards, all of them predominantly Hispanic.

Part of Emanuel’s campaign strategy is to boost his share of the Hispanic vote and prevent Garcia from padding his lead among Latinos.

According to the mayor’s office, more than 400,000 Chicagoans have difficulty speaking, reading, writing or understanding the English language. If that’s true, 16.1 percent of the city’s population may face “significant language barriers” when they try to access city services or programs.

In July 2014, Emanuel asked a group of legal experts, community and civic leaders to develop a language-access policy that would guarantee immigrants and “limited English proficient” Chicagoans access to city services.

The Language Access Ordinance is the product of that effort.

“Chicago has always been a beacon of opportunity to people from all around the world. This ordinance is an important next step to ensure that we remain a city where every resident has an opportunity to fully access all of the great things that Chicago has to offer,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in news release.

“I fully support the recommendations made by the Language Access Advisory Committee as a means of removing barriers to opportunity and getting us closer to my goal of being the most immigrant-friendly city in America.”

Emanuel’s latest effort to boost his standing among Hispanic voters comes just one day after Garcia called him out during the first of three head-to-head debates.

Although Emanuel has bent over backward to make amends as mayor, Garcia reminded Hispanic voters that Emanuel was the White House roadblock to immigration reform — both as a brash young political operative to President Bill Clinton and as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

“Part of the reason we haven’t had immigration reform is that the mayor, when he was chief of staff, wouldn’t invest the [political] capital,” Garcia said during Monday’s night’s debate.

“If that had happened, we wouldn’t have to talk about” creating job and scholarship opportunities for Dreamers, the term used to describe the children of illegal immigrants, he said.

Even so, Emanuel’s campaign is co-chaired by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the nation’s foremost champion for immigration reform. Four years ago, Gutierrez endorsed mayoral challenger Gery Chico over Emanuel.

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