Lightfoot Signs Law Expanding Protections for Undocumented Immigrants

Video: We discuss the new welcoming city policy and more with Alds. Scott Waguespack, George Cardenas, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Roderick Sawyer in part one of our “Chicago Tonight” conversation. Watch part two here. (Produced by Alex Silets)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed into law a measure on Tuesday that will expand protections for undocumented immigrants that had been stalled by efforts by former President Donald Trump to increase deportations and punish Chicago for shielding them from immigration agents.

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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.

“Being a welcoming city means being a city that embraces people equally with open arms, where no one has to fear being their authentic self walking down the street, doing business, earning a living and taking care of their family,” Lightfoot said at the unusual signing ceremony. “This is the right thing to do.”

The 41-8 vote on Jan. 27 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 Trump administration and saw the toll on Chicago families and communities.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), who has been pushing for changes to the city’s sanctuary city ordinance for five years, said all Chicagoans are now “just a little bit safer.”

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward) said the measure should give undocumented Chicagoans comfort that if they call the police, they will not risk deportation.

Lightfoot shared the spotlight Tuesday with two of her biggest critics on the City Council — Ramirez-Rosa and Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward). Both are members of the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which called for Lightfoot’s resignation less than two hours before the news conference.

The measure would also change outdated and enforced language in the city’s code that refers to the holders of some city licenses as citizens, even though citizenship isn’t a requirement to hold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 measure will end “a long journey to fulfill Chicago's promise of being a more open and welcoming city for all of our residents, a journey that started when Harold Washington was mayor,” Lightfoot said.

Several aldermen who voted against the changes said they would make Chicago less safe by protecting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes and fuel an increase in crime across the city at a time when shootings, murders and carjacking are surging.

Lightfoot said that was a “bogus argument with no basis in fact."

Video: We discuss Chicago’s vaccine rollout with Alds. Scott Waguespack, George Cardenas, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Roderick Sawyer in part two of our “Chicago Tonight” conversation. Watch part one here. (Produced by Alex Silets)

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

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