Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) wants to ask Chicagoans to weigh in on remaining a “sanctuary city,” and it’s a question that could easily take Chicago down a risky road.
An ordinance Beale has submitted would repeal the city’s Welcoming City ordinance in its entirety. Beale and others are also pushing a proposal for a referendum on the March 2024 ballot to ask voters whether Chicago should remain a so-called “sanctuary city.”
Let’s say this: Chicago should keep its Welcoming City ordinance, passed in 2012, on the books, ensuring that Chicago police don’t become de facto federal immigration enforcement agents — a job most city cops probably don’t want in any case. Essentially, that’s what the ordinance is about.
Repealing it would turn the city’s back on not only its character but longstanding policy dating back to Mayor Harold Washington. And critically, a repeal will not stop the tide of migrants being bused here courtesy of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s political grandstanding.
Beale and others are right to be concerned about the city’s limited financial resources and the pressing need to steer enough money to long-disinvested neighborhoods. And it’s Beale’s job, as he wrote in an op-ed last month, to be a responsible fiscal steward.
But repealing the ordinance won’t put a penny into city coffers, meanwhile playing to fears of “the other” that are already far too prevalent in the world right now.
That’s not what Chicago, the city that supposedly works, should be about.
Don’t return to the days of workplace raids, fear of cops
Go back in history to see what spurred the ordinance in 2012.
Chicago had been a “sanctuary city” since 1985, when Washington signed an executive order prohibiting city agencies from withholding services or investigating people based solely on their immigration status. At that time, workplace immigration raids were common.
By 2012, Chicago police and Cook County sheriff’s officers often worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants. Many of them were longtime Chicagoans, law-abiding except for their undocumented status. Sometimes, ICE agents wore vests labeled “POLICE,” cementing the view that local cops and ICE were one and the same.
By and large, immigrant communities — mostly Mexican — lost trust in local cops. Many immigrants feared by interacting with police, even to report crimes, they could end up being deported. So they dodged police, at any cost. Some people avoided going to hospitals, afraid if they registered their names, cops and ICE could find them more easily.
Cook County, then Chicago, both rejected the status quo, seeing the harm of harsh immigration enforcement and potential liability and high cost of detaining immigrants. The city and county both adopted immigrant protections that came to be known as sanctuary policies.
Similar immigrant-friendly policies are in place at the state level, and in other cities where Abbott and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have shipped migrants, asylum-seekers mostly from South and Central America. Seeking asylum is a process protected by U.S. and international law. It gives migrants temporary, protected legal status — which helps explain why repealing the ordinance probably wouldn’t affect migrants who have arrived here recently.
Under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012, the City Council adopted the Welcoming City ordinance that prohibits Chicago police from cooperating with ICE.
Eventually, state lawmakers enacted similar laws, heeding calls of advocates who pointed out that undocumented immigrants across Illinois were being turned over to ICE by cops after being stopped for minor traffic violations.
When Republicans in Congress and former President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal grant money from sanctuary jurisdictions, Chicago and Cook County stood firm.
Solutions to migrant crisis
Chicago is undoubtedly in dire need of solutions to the migrant crisis. The fiscal impact, at over $30 million a month, is approaching crippling. Chicagoans should not be expected to bear the cost of what is really a national crisis for Washington to solve.
But neither should the city expect a surge of help anytime soon from Washington, and certainly not the $5 billion that Mayor Brandon Johnson and others, including members of Congress from Illinois, California and New York, are pushing for. The White House has offered $1.4 billion.
Hard choices are ahead.
The city is now working with the White House, the state and the social service agency Resurrection Project on a pilot program to help migrants apply for work permits that will help them become self-sufficient.
But these efforts will take time. Meanwhile, repealing the sanctuary city ordinance won’t stop the buses from coming, and, in fact, gives Abbott a political win to crow about.
Chicago should keep moving forward, not return to the wrong-headed policies of the past.
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