Mayor Emanuel falls behind Gov. Rauner in protecting immigrants

Aldermen and immigrant rights organizations, at a City Hall rally last year, want an amendment to Chicago's Welcoming City ordinance to further protect the city's immigrant community. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Three weeks ago, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the TRUST Act into law, making Illinois one of the first states to pass protections for immigrants since the 2016 election and putting into question Chicago’s claim as “the most immigrant-friendly city.” The TRUST Act sets a new standard for defending immigrant communities against Trump-era attacks that the city of Chicago has yet to meet.

Community advocates gained a major victory with the Illinois TRUST Act, which prohibits police officers statewide from arresting or detaining an individual solely based on an immigration detainer or warrant. The TRUST Act reinforces the constitutional requirement that police officers must have a judicial warrant based on probable cause in order to arrest or hold anyone in police custody. In effect, police officers in Illinois are mandated to treat immigrants the same as they would ordinary citizens.

As two immigrant women who have been working to amend Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance, we call on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council to provide real protections for all Chicagoans, which means not only responding to the Trump administration but creating systems to protect immigrants for years to come.


The Welcoming City ordinance intended to keep immigrants safe is filled with loopholes excluding large categories of Chicagoans from protection. Under the ordinance, if an individual falls within one of the four loopholes, Chicago Police can use an immigration warrant or detainer to arrest individuals and facilitate their transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, flanked by lawmakers and immigrant rights activists in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood Aug. 28, smiles after signing the Trust Act. | Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

For the last two years, Mayor Emanuel and the City’s Office of New Americans have fought against community members to block any proposed changes to the Welcoming City ordinance that would extend protections to all Chicagoans. Even as the TRUST Act moved through the General Assembly, the mayor’s office stated that this was not a time to move forward a policy without some collaboration with ICE, and that it would wait to see what the governor would do. Now that the governor has acted, Mayor Emanuel wants the state to do more while the city stalls any changes on how it collaborates with immigration enforcement.

In addition, when the city filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice last month in defense of the Welcoming City ordinance, it used the lawsuit as reason to avoid meeting with black and immigrant-led groups calling for an ordinance without warrantless loopholes. Despite support from more than 50 immigrant rights and community-based organizations, including the ACLU of Illinois, the mayor’s opposition has kept the proposed amendments in committee since February.

Like the mayor’s “One Chicago” campaign, the lawsuit pays lip service to an inclusive and welcoming city for immigrants, while leaving those most vulnerable to deportations unprotected under President Trump’s immigration enforcement priorities. In fact, the mayor’s office’s insistence on keeping the loopholes in the Welcoming City ordinance reinforces President Trump’s troubling rhetoric portraying all immigrants as dangerous and dehumanizing anyone who has been criminalized by local police.

That the Republican governor has moved forward a policy that respects constitutional values for all immigrants and the Democratic mayor makes large symbolic gestures with little substance is not without its ironies. Instead of capitalizing on immigration for political gains, Mayor Emanuel and the City Council should remove the four loopholes in the Welcoming City ordinance in order to provide immigrant communities real, substantial protections from deportations.

Vân Huynh is an immigrant from Vietnam and an immigration attorney at PASO-West Suburban Action Project and previously at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago. Tania Unzueta is an undocumented organizer, DACA recipient, and policy and legal director for Mijente, a national Latinx political organization.

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