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Four bills Gov. Pritzker can sign immediately to protect immigrant rights

Some of these bills have been in the works for years. Others have emerged more recently as President Trump has ratcheted up anti-immigrant fervor.

A shackled migrant arrives for an immigration hearing on June 12, 2019, at a federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.
A shackled migrant arrives for an immigration hearing on June 12, 2019, at a federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.

Across the country, dozens of county sheriff departments have partnerships with the federal government that essentially deputize cops as immigration agents.

Illinois has no counties in the program, but McHenry County is trying to get in. It has an application pending for a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Democrats in the Illinois Legislature voted this spring to ban such partnerships with federal immigration authorities by passing the Keep Illinois Families Together Act. The bill is awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature, and he has indicated he will sign it. It is one of several bills meant to protect immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, that Democrats pushed through the Legislature this year.

These bills largely moved under the radar in the news media against the backdrop of legalizing pot, pushing a progressive income tax, gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and preserving the right for women to have abortions.

Some of these pro-immigrant bills have been in the works for years. As President Donald Trump continues to sink to new lows in trying to rid the country of refugees and undocumented immigrants, there is increasing urgency to make them law. Other bills have emerged more recently as Trump succeeds in ratcheting up anti-immigrant fervor in conservative communities.

The bill to ban partnerships between ICE and local cops is a pressing need because of McHenry County, which already works with the federal government on immigration. It has a deal to detain undocumented immigrants in its jail, and the county was expected to bring in more than $10 million last year, the Sun-Times reported in December.

Some police departments see immigration enforcement as part of their job. They see it as a tool to keep communities safe, as McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta told me. “They’re going on the basis that immigrants are criminals,” said Acosta, who opposes McHenry County’s plan.

Research shows that most undocumented immigrants are law-abiding except for the illegal entry.

Making McHenry County cops ICE deputies would come back to haunt the county when it needs cooperation from immigrants to solve crimes. Cops won’t get the assistance they sorely need. Constitutional issues also could come up when cops hold immigrants in criminal custody over immigration matters.

Other cities and counties, such as Cook County, recognize that working with ICE erodes trust locally and have made clear through ordinances that immigration enforcement is a federal job, not a local one.

Here’s a look at three other pro-immigrant bills passed by the Legislature that need Pritzker’s signature:

Private Detention Facility Moratorium Act: It would ban private immigration detention centers, which are basically jails, from opening in Illinois. For decades, Illinois has banned for-profit prisons, which are too often motivated by making money as opposed to rehabilitating inmates. For-profit detention centers aren’t all that different — and Pritzker must say so.

RISE Act: The Retention of Illinois Students and Equity Act would allow students who are undocumented immigrants or transgender to receive state-based financial aid currently being denied. Transgender students have been disqualified from some forms of aid because their gender doesn’t coincide with gender tied to their Social Security numbers.

The bill also removes the state’s 75-credit-hour limit on Monetary Award Program grants for the first two years of college, which lawmakers said held back thousands of poor African American students.

This bill needs companion legislation, quickly, to ensure the identities of undocumented immigrants who receive aid are protected. Otherwise, they could become targets for deportation by the federal government or someone who wants to out them.

Already, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which determines eligibility for Monetary Award Program grants, is fighting a lawsuit from an online media entrepreneur who requested the names of all grant recipients for 2015.

The state’s poorest students have received these MAP grants for decades. Being poor carries a stigma. Their identities should be protected unless they consent to the release of that information.

Immigrant Tenant Protection Act: Under this bill, landlords can’t use immigration status to evict a renter or threaten a renter with eviction. It won’t stop landlords from evicting someone for failing to pay rent or other reasonable grounds.

“When tenants, especially low-income tenants, are harassed by abusive landlords, their access to safe affordable housing is undermined,” Dolores Ponce de Leon, civic engagement manager for the Latino Policy Forum, told me. “When harassment is based on a tenant’s immigration status, housing insecurity is exacerbated, which can lead to the destabilization of families, neighborhoods and community.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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