Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s newly expanded plan to create a $1.3 million Legal Protection Fund to assist immigrants threatened with deportation sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday, but not before African-American aldermen demanded a piece of the pie.
South Side Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Human Relations, said she’s all for the idea of assisting immigrants living in anxiety and threatened with deportation after the election of Donald Trump.
But, if there’s any more money lying around unclaimed from the $20 million set aside for a token property tax rebate that has so far attracted only 17,000 takers, Dowell said African-American communities should be first in line.
“I’d like to see the administration put the same amount of effort into creating a legal representation fund for all of those young black boys and black girls that are racially profiled in this city or are shot by the police unnecessarily. Or to support programs like CeaseFire to quell some of the violence in our community,” Dowell said before the Budget Committee voted to approve the mayor’s newly expanded plan.
“When the mayor talks about wanting to keep the immigrant communities safe, secure and supported, those are the same needs that other communities have. … To raise the immigrant communities’ issues to the forefront, I think is something we should do. But, I’d like to see the same attention to some needs we have in our community.”
South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) also staked a claim to the leftover property tax rebate money.
“What’s important is not only young men and women who do not have legal protection. That’s why they’re sitting in Cook County Jail, and we’re wasting taxpayers’ money. But, if we have money left over, CeaseFire within all our communities was cut. It’s very important that the city find money to fund CeaseFire,” Moore said.
“Our police are doing a great job out there. I know they are. I’m out here driving these streets. But, what they cannot control and what CeaseFire was doing was being able to intercede.”
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, had a different concern. He wondered aloud which of the “lead agencies or collaborating organizations” represents the Northwest Side’s 30th, 31st, 35th and 36th Wards.
“It seems like we’re the forgotten few on the Northwest Side of Chicago. And we have a lot of issues there to address this legal protection fund. We deal, the majority with the Northwest Side Housing Center. I’m just shocked that I don’t see their name in here at all,” Reboyras said.
Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler replied, “We will follow up, alderman, and get you the information on how we’re covering wards. We obviously have had a couple of questions on that.”
Last month, Emanuel upped the ante in his immigration war of words with Trump by forging a partnership with the National Immigration Justice Center and by challenging the private and philanthropic communities to join the effort and provide legal resources to immigrant families living in fear.
The $1.3 million in city funds — up from an original estimate of $1 million — will come from the $20 million set aside by the City Council to inoculate the mayor and aldermen from some of the political fallout from a record property tax increase.
With two days to go until the deadline, only 11,000 — or seven percent — of the 155,000 eligible homeowners had applied for the break, prompting Emanuel to extend the deadline until Dec. 30.
With the average rebate of $109-per-homeowner, that amounted to just $1.2 million.
The Legal Defense Fund would allow the National Immigration Justice Center and its law firms to consult and represent more than 3,000 additional residents. According to the center, roughly 150,000 Chicago area residents are not legally permanent residents. Thousands more are worried about their immigration status.
On Tuesday, Ald. Millie Santiago (31st) asked Budget Director Alex Holt about the decision to sweeten the pot by $300,000 — to $1.3 million.
“Right now, we’ve had about 17,000 people who have applied for the rebate. We’re finalizing the program over the next couple of weeks. But, given where we stand today in terms of expenditures and turnout, I’m pretty confident at this point that we’re gonna have an additional $1.3 million that’s going to be unspent,” Holt said.
“There may be more that’s unspent. And then, we’ll come back at that point in time and have a conversation with City Council about how to spend those dollars once the program is finished at the end of the year.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, target illegal immigrants and to cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
The president-elect has since said he plans to begin by immediately deporting as many as three million illegal immigrants with criminal records, then make a decision about the “terrific people” who make up the rest of the undocumented population.
Emanuel said last month he does not believe Trump will cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities” because Trump will have “bigger fish to fry” in a White House where it’s “incoming” all the time and you’re dodging nonstop political fire.