City Council Approves New Protections for Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrants stand to gain more protections in Chicago after City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday. The meeting also featured a tense back-and-forth about contracting for LGBTQ business owners.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and immigration advocates say the new ordinance strengthens what are already the strongest welcoming city policies in the country. Under the new rules, there will be further limits on city agencies, including the Chicago Police Department, from assisting or sharing data with federal immigration agents. It also requires CPD to record and document any instances in which federal immigration officials ask CPD to work with them.

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Proponents say this should assuage many of the fears among undocumented community members.

“This change today is an extremely important change,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th Ward). “It creates accountability and transparency around any transactions CPD may have with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

There are still some carve outs under the new law. CPD can assist ICE and Homeland Security in cases involving undocumented immigrants wanted for felonies. Proponents of the sanctuary law say they want to further strengthen it so that ICE agents limit the umbrella of what actually counts as a felony.

Wednesday’s City Council meeting also contained a tense debate over language used to talk about LGBTQ issues. It centered around a resolution that Lightfoot is pushing that would record how many city contracts are going to LGBTQ-owned businesses. There are incentives and protections for contracts for women and minority businesses but no such provision yet for LGBTQ contractors.

But it prompted some African American aldermen, including Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward), to worry that folks could misrepresent their sexual orientation to win contracts. Burnett said he believes that could ultimately hurt African American contractors seeking city business.

Burnett then sought to clarify his comments by saying he has no issue with the gay community. But Lightfoot said she’d been taken aback at the language that had been used.

“As a black gay woman, proud on all fronts, I have to say, I’m disturbed by the nature of the committee discussion and by the nature of the discussion here today,” Lightfoot said. “We need not ask anyone’s indulgence or forgiveness to be who we are or who we love.”

In the end, any controversy was short lived: The resolution passed by a vote of 47-1

Also on the agenda, a proposal to halt development around the 606 trail. The watered-down version of the ordinance aims to put a six-month freeze on demolition permits in a zone around the 606 trail while the city tries to figure out how to stem the displacement and gentrification that comes with higher property values as a result of the popular trail.

Aldermen approved the measure without even taking a roll call vote. It means developers within the zone will not get to tear down an existing building in favor of something that may be more expensive – at least for the next six months.

Lightfoot was opposed to the original proposal that would have made the moratorium last more than a year and prohibit any kind of zoning changes and new building.

Before the meeting, a coalition of environmental groups joined Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) in introducing a proposal to crack down on restaurants that use Styrofoam boxes and plastic cups, containers and utensils. But the ordinance would make them available to those who asked for them.

Also of note: City Council on Wednesday approved Dr. Alison Arwady as commissioner of public health and Gia Biagi as transportation commissioner.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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