Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday took $1 million earmarked for a widely-ignored property tax rebate and used it to create a “Legal Protection Fund” for immigrants living in “anxiety and uncertainty” and threatened with deportation after the election of Donald Trump.
The mayor upped the ante in his immigration war of words with Trump by forging a partnership with the National Immigration Justice Center and challenging the private and philanthropic communities to join the effort and provide legal resources to immigrant families living in fear.
The city’s contribution 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 $588 million 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. Nearly $19 million remains unclaimed.
The $1 million will allow the NIJC, which is based in Chicago, and its law firms to consult and represent more than 3,000 additional people. According to the center, roughly 150,000 Chicago-area residents are not legally permanent U.S. residents. Thousands more are worried about their immigration status.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is as the city of Chicago,” the mayor told an unrelated news conference Friday at Curie High School called to announce an expansion of the city’s largest-in-the-nation International Baccalaureate program.
“I want them to know that the city of Chicago — your children, you and your family — are safe, secure and supported. And we’re gonna put resources to ensuring that you’re safe, secure and supported. It builds on all of the other things we’ve done as a welcoming city.”
Access to legal services can have a “life-changing and sometimes life-saving” impact for immigrants and their families, according to Mary Meg, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center.
“Legal counsel ensures that immigrants … can defend their rights and live their lives here in safety and security and with a sense of control over their destinies.”
Rookie Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) applauded Emanuel for adopting the “concrete” protections that he championed along with immigrant group to make certain Chicago “continue to be an immigrant-friendly city during these trying times.”
“Today’s announcement demonstrates that he is listening to our community,” Ramirez-Rosa was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.
But, Ramirez-Rosa questioned whether $1 million would be enough to assist “all Chicagoans in deportation proceedings, and those President-elect Trump is targeting.”
“I remain hopeful that we are on the right path, but we still have a lot of catch-up work to rival New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco’s immigration efforts,” the alderman said.
Trump campaigned on a promise to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, target illegal immigrants and 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 3 million illegal immigrants with criminal records, then make a decision about the “terrific people” who account for the rest.
Emanuel said last month he doesn’t believe Trump actually will cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities” because he will have “bigger fish to fry” as president. The mayor spoke from his experience as the first White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama.
“When you’re in the White House, it is incoming,” Emanuel said. “When they look at all of the things they want to get done and all of the battles — whether they’re ones they initiate or ones that will come to ’em — they will make a choice that this is not the battle they want to take on because they’ve got bigger fish to fry. Just mark my words.”
The mayor boldly predicted then that Trump would not pick an immigration fight with the nation’s major cities after an emotional debate on the Chicago City Council floor that moved him to tears.
It happened during debate on a resolution reaffirming the welcoming-city ordinance that codified Chicago’s standing as a sanctuary city, where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
After the meeting, Emanuel talked tough about what he believes Trump will and will not do. What Trump will not do, Emanuel declared, is pick a fight with Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and other sanctuary cities, not even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress.
“I believe he will not threaten all of those cities,” the mayor said. “I don’t believe they’ll do it because that will mean every major city in the United States will be targeted, and that is not what an administration will do because that means the voices of Congress and the United States Senate, where there are Republicans with major cities that are sanctuary cities, will have to hurt the economic interests of those cities.”