Latino Voices

Aldermen Expand Protections for Undocumented Immigrants

Aldermen Expand Protections for Undocumented Immigrants

Video: Chicago Alds. Michael Rodriguez, Raymond Lopez, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Nick Sposato join “Chicago Tonight” to discuss protections for undocumented immigrants and more. (Produced by Evan Garcia)

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday wasted no time in symbolically turning the page on the Trump administration by voting to expand protections for undocumented immigrants that had been stalled by the former president’s crackdown.

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Chicago police are now prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration agents in all cases. Officers had been allowed to assist federal immigration agents if they asked for information about individuals listed as gang members in city databases, those who have been charged or convicted of a felony, or are wanted on a warrant issued by a judge.

The 41-8 vote came after an emotional debate during which several aldermen shared their families’ stories of immigrating to America while others said they frequently worked to protect undocumented immigrants from the threats posed by former President Donald Trump and saw the toll on Chicago families and communities.

The eight aldermen who voted against the changes to the city’s Welcoming City ordinance are Alds. Marty Quinn (13th Ward), Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), Matt O’Shea (19th Ward), Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward), Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward), Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and Jim Gardiner (45th Ward).

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), who has been pushing for changes to the city’s sanctuary city ordinance for five years, said the vote should send a message to Trump and his supporters “that Trump’s attempts to undo our sanctuary city policies failed, but we are coming out of his presidency by strengthening them.”

Lopez said the change would make Chicago less safe by protecting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

The change is an example of “political buffoonery” that is being “rammed down the throat” of law-abiding Chicagoans, Lopez said.

Napolitano said the change would fuel an increase in crime across the city at a time when shootings, murders and carjackings are surging.

Those remarks prompted several aldermen to rebuke Lopez and Napolitano, even as they did not mention them by name.

Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward) said she was disappointed that some of her colleagues “clearly don’t get” the need to protect all immigrants.

After the meeting, Lightfoot addressed Napolitano and Lopez directly during a news conference, calling their remarks “racist” and “xenophobic.”

“Shame on you,” Lightfoot said. “That is not what we need in Chicago. We are better than that.”

Lopez said his opposition to the changes to the Welcoming City ordinance were neither racist nor xenophobic.

“It is painfully obvious that the mayor is not willing to listen to the concerns of the people who live in my ward,” Lopez said.

Napolitano called the mayor’s comments “ridiculous and wrong” and said he was worried they would lead to his wife and three children being harassed.

“I’ve never been more f------ outraged,” said Napoltiano, who added that his remarks were prompted by concerns that “illegal immigrants” would be able to commit crimes and avoid punishment. “It is so wrong.”

A longtime champion of the change, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said the protections would not just help Latino Chicagoans — but immigrants from across the world.

The measure would also change outdated and enforced language in the city’s code that refers to the holders of some city licenses as citizens, even though citizenship isn’t a requirement to hold those licenses.

In addition, the measure brings the city’s rules in line with state law by requiring Chicago Police Department officials to review and certify within 90 days applications for visas available to undocumented immigrants who help law enforcement agencies solve crimes.

In January 2020, the City Council voted to make Lightfoot’s prohibition on allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to access the city’s gang databases permanent and to require city officials to document all requests for assistance from the federal government.

In addition, the city restricted cases where city officers and officials can assist ICE and required officials to develop sanctuary policies for all city facilities to prevent immigration agents from detaining undocumented immigrants on city property.

The city’s sanctuary status dates back to 1985, when Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws. It became law in 2006 and was reaffirmed after the 2016 election of Trump.

The City Council also passed a resolution calling on the incoming Biden administration to reverse much of Trump’s immigration agenda. Sposato also voted against that resolution, but later said he meant to vote in favor.

In other action, the City Council approved two measures that would make it harder to convert some small apartment buildings into single-family homes in rapidly gentrifying areas of the city as part of a renewed effort from city officials to boost Chicago’s supply of affordable housing.

In addition, the City Council approved a plan to finish a project to expand cargo operations at O’Hare Airport by borrowing $55.6 million after it stalled amid concerns that the effort failed to meet the city’s self-imposed goals to hire Chicagoans and contract with Black- and Latino-owned firms.

The City Council also agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a Chicago man who was shot by police during a traffic stop in February 2015 that officials ruled was unjustified by paying him $525,000 and forgiving approximately $45,000 in debt he owes to the city. 

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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