Timeline: Chicago’s more than 40 years as a sanctuary city


July 18, 1982

Church congregation begins taking in refugees

The Wellington Avenue Church congregation votes to join the sanctuary movement — becoming just the second church in the U.S. to harbor refugees who entered the country illegally. The movement, which has roots in the medieval tradition of churches providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution, was aimed at providing a safe haven for Central Americans running from political repression and violence in their home countries. They were refused asylum here because of U.S. support for the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. About 20 Chicago-area churches became sanctuaries in the 1980s.

Salvadorans wear masks to hide their faces during a visit to Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ on Aug. 9, 1982. (Chicago Tribune)

November 1982

Group becomes national leader in sanctuary movement

Recognized for its work in organizing and transporting refugees from El Salvador to a network of welcoming churches around the U.S., the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America becomes the national clearinghouse for the sanctuary movement. The group distributes books on the sanctuary movement and holds rallies in downtown Chicago to bring awareness to the issues facing Central American refugees.

Members of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America protest outside the Federal Building on Sept. 16, 1983, in Chicago. (Chicago Tribune)

Jan. 20, 1985

Chicago’s chief legal officer: Don’t assist the feds

A week after 18 workers driving cabs were arrested, Corporation Counsel James Montgomery recommends Chicago not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in arresting immigrants living in the U.S. illegally unless subpoenas are obtained. Chicago’s Immigration and Naturalization Service Director A.D. Moyer criticizes Montgomery’s suggestion.

March 7, 1985

Mayor encourages ‘equal access by all persons’ to city services, licenses

Mayor Harold Washington signs an executive order ending the city’s practice of asking job and license applicants about their U.S. citizenship and halting cooperation by city agencies with federal immigration authorities.

Mayor Harold Washington says he took an oath to obey the laws and raises his hand before signing the executive order enhancing Chicago’s sanctuary status on March 7, 1985. (Chicago Tribune archives)

Dec. 17, 1985

‘Operation Taxicab’ rounds up immigrants suspected of living in U.S. illegally

Calling cabdrivers who are living in the U.S. illegally “a serious menace,” the city’s immigration director, Moyer, orders spot checks of drivers’ identification at airports and other hangouts. Dubbed “Operation Taxicab,” 129 drivers are arrested in a single day — 51 could later prove they were in the U.S. legally. Though there was no federal law prohibiting employers from hiring workers in the country illegally, Moyer blames Mayor Washington’s earlier executive order for opening the door.

An abandoned cab is towed following a raid by immigration agents at the Merchandise Mart taxi stand on Dec. 17, 1985. (Chicago Tribune)

April 30, 1987

Feds offer immigrants ways to gain legal status

Less than 1 1/2 years after overseeing raids on taxi drivers in the U.S. illegally, Moyer details plans to open four centers to help immigrants with paperwork to become legal U.S. residents. The effort is part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, a law passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan to offer a path to legal residence for people in the U.S. illegally since Jan. 1, 1982.

A.D. Moyer, Chicago district director for immigration services, points out locations at a April 30, 1987, news conference where immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally can get help. (Chicago Tribune)

Nov. 1, 1987

Sanctuary group urges ‘hiring undocumented workers’

The Chicago Religious Task Force, a national clearinghouse for the sanctuary movement helping Central American refugees, said in a Chicago Tribune story that it was planning to urge priests, nuns and “employers to break the law by hiring undocumented workers” in the Chicago area, where tens of thousands of the immigrants live.

April 25, 1989

Daley adopts Washington’s sanctuary stance

Shortly after taking office, Daley signs 13 executive orders including one that reaffirms “fair and equal access” to employment, benefits and licenses to all — regardless of nationality or citizenship.

Mayor Richard M. Daley signs an executive order on April 25, 1989. (Chicago Tribune)

June 4, 1992

Chicago Crime Commission asks for amendment

The group asks Mayor Daley to amend the 1989 executive order to allow Chicago police to share citizenship information with the INS to help combat street gangs. Later, Daley says any information about a person involved in serious crimes would be turned over to the feds. (This provision would be added as part of the city’s 2012 Welcoming City ordinance.)

March 29, 2006

City’s sanctuary policy becomes law

The City Council votes — 44-0 — to pass an ordinanceproviding all residents equal access “to the services, opportunities, and protection it provides or administers.”

Aug. 15, 2006

Woman seeks church refuge to avoid deportation, reviving sanctuary movement

Ordered to be deported, Elvira Arellano and her U.S.-born son take refuge inside Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. She had been arrested in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, sweep of O’Hare International Airport, where she was working as a cleaner. Authorities discovered she had been using a fake Social Security number and had been previously deported to Mexico. Arellano would spend a year living in the church with her story receiving national attention. While awaiting a decision on her application for political asylum, Arellano is living in Humboldt Park with her partner and two sons.

Elvira Arellano and her son, Saul, greet supporters at Adalberto United Methodist Church on Sept. 30, 2006. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

Sept. 7, 2011

Cook County won’t fulfill ICE detainer requests

In a vote of 10-5, the Cook County Board passes an ordinance to free immigrants suspected of living in the U.S. illegally who are jailed in both felony and misdemeanor cases despite federal immigration authorities’ requests to detain them. The ordinance was based on a recent federal ruling in Indiana that determined ICE detainers are voluntary requests and not criminal warrants.

Sept. 12, 2012

‘Welcoming City’ ordinance passes

Building on an existing ordinance that prohibits agencies from inquiring about the immigration status of people seeking city services, this ordinance also prevents local police from detaining people solely on the belief that they are in the U.S. illegally, and cooperating with federal agents when they suspect status is the only reason the warrant has been issued.

With its introduction in July 2012, Mayor Emanuel said the ordinance would “make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the City Council meeting on Sept. 12, 2012. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)

April 2, 2014

City Council urges President Obama to stop deporting ‘individuals with no criminal history’

The City Council passes a resolution encouraging Congress and President Barack Obama to pursue immigration reform. “Children and their families should not have to live in fear of government-forced separation,” it stated.

Nov. 18, 2015

Alderman pushes for Rauner to reverse decision on Syrian refugees

Following the Paris terrorist attacks, 31 governors — including then-Indiana Gov. and now-Vice President Mike Pence and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner — sought to turn away Syrian refugees from their states. In a resolution reaffirming Chicago’s sanctuary city status and “refuge for refugees from around the world,” Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, says it’s up to the federal government to make that decision.

Fatima Adris and her son Osama Omarien, 2, were on hand when the City Council backed a resolution asking Gov. Bruce Rauner to reverse his decision on accepting refugees Nov. 18, 2015. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)

Oct. 5, 2016

City workers, police can’t use immigration status for intimidation

Following Jianqing Klyzek’s case, aldermen amend 2012’s Welcoming City ordinance to require that reports of “physical abuse, threats or intimidation” against immigrants, in the U.S. legally or illegally, be sent to oversight agencies that cover the Chicago Police Department and other city agencies.

Surveillance footage from the raid on July 31, 2013, shows Jianqing Klyzek, 32, shortly after Chicago police officers entered the Copper Tan and Spa. Klyzek says she was hit in the head by a Chicago police officer while she knelt on the floor. (Image from video via Klyzek’s attorney)

Oct. 12, 2016

Municipal ID program launches

Suggested in 2015 by a City Council ordinance, Mayor Emanuel launches a program to give all Chicagoans — including immigrants in the U.S. illegally, the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, young adults and the elderly — official identification that will not convey information about national origin or legal status. New City Clerk Anna Valencia will oversee the program.

Nov. 13, 2016

Following Donald Trump’s election, Mayor Emanuel defends city’s stance

“Since the Presidential Election, there has been a sense of uncertainty among many immigrant communities in Chicago and across the nation. I want to assure all of our families that Chicago is and will remain a Sanctuary City,” Mayor Emanuel said in a Nov. 13, 2016, news release. “Chicago has been a city of immigrants since it was founded. We have always welcomed people of all faiths and backgrounds, and while the administration will change, our values and our commitment to inclusion will not.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a news conference at Lurie Children’s Hospital the day following his statement. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Dec. 5, 2016

City looks for Rauner’s backing of sanctuary status

A resolution sponsored by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, new Democratic state Comptroller Susana Mendoza and 35 of the city’s 50 aldermen calls on Governor Bruce Rauner to issue a statement of “support for cities that welcome our undocumented family members and neighbors and condemn any effort to strip the city of Chicago of federal funding.”

The resolution calls on Rauner to speak at a special council meeting “held solely for the purpose of discussing the president-elect’s plans for cities that welcome and protect immigrants.”

Asked to respond to the specifics of the city resolution, a Rauner spokeswoman instead issued a general statement reiterating the governor’s support for immigration reform.

Jan. 25, 2017

Emanuel defends city from President Trump’s threats

In response to President Trump’s signing of an executive order intended to block federal funding to sanctuary cities like Chicago, Mayor Emanuel says, “There is no stranger among us. We welcome people.”

The city’s aldermen vote to reaffirm that Chicago protects all residents regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, criminal record, gender identity and sexual orientation. “You mess with one in Chicago, you mess with all of us,” said Northwest Side Ald. John Arena, 45th.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over the meeting of the Chicago City Council on Jan. 25, 2017. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)

Jan. 27, 2017

Chicago advocates condemn Trump’s order on migrants

Chicago immigration reform advocates and Muslim leaders denounced President Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily block refugees coming to the U.S. while the government reviews screening processes, calling it an effective ban on Muslims in America.

In issuing the order, which calls for a four-month halt on all refugee admissions, an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and a temporary moratorium on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries with terrorism concerns, Trump said he seeks to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. He called for a review of all screening procedures for those seeking immigrant visas to the U.S.

Demonstrators converge in reaction to the executive order travel ban on Jan. 29, 2017, outside Terminal 5 of O’Hare International Airport. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Jan. 30, 2017

‘Safeguarding Sanctuary Cities Act’ introduced in U.S. House

Rep. Mike Quigley, of Chicago, and 32 Democrats introduce a bill that would “ensure that federal funds cannot be unduly withheld from any state or local authority that limits or restricts compliance with a voluntary immigration detainer request.” This bill was introduced during a previous session of Congress but was not advanced.

Feb. 10, 2017

Rauner doesn’t take a position on Democrats’ immigration plan

Asked if he would support legislation to make it harder for federal authorities to access information about immigrants living in Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner didn’t reply yes or no, saying he is “very pro-comprehensive immigration reform” and wants the state “to continue to be welcoming and diverse.”

Legislation under consideration at the state Capitol would allow schools, medical facilities and places of worship to decline access to federal immigration authorities, and it would limit cooperation and communication between local police and immigration officials. The plans were introduced as part of a broader “sanctuary state” effort to extend statewide some protections like those in Chicago and Cook County, where local laws prohibit government workers and police officers from asking about residents’ immigration status.

The legislation is sponsored by Democrats, and their party controls the General Assembly. Pressed to provide his position on the sanctuary state idea Friday, Rauner declined. “I’ve answered it,” he said. “I’ve said what I’m going to say.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner takes questions from members the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board on Feb. 1, 2017. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

March 15, 2017

Former sanctuary seeker allowed to stay in the U.S. another year following ICE meeting

Elvira Arellano, the twice-deported immigration activist whose year of living in a Humboldt Park church a decade ago made her a lightning rod in the immigration debate, was granted a reprieve and allowed to remain in the United States for another year. She is awaiting a hearing on her petition for political asylum, which she filed three years ago.

Elvira Arellano, 42, was allowed to stay in the U.S. another year following her annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago on March 15, 2017, the third such appointment since she returned to the U.S. in 2014. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

March 27, 2017

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says sanctuary cities could lose federal funding

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he is “urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws.” He says the Justice Department will require compliance with immigration laws in order for the cities to receive grants through the Office of Justice Programs. The Obama administration had a similar policy in place.

July 25, 2017

Justice Department rules intensify crackdown on sanctuary cities like Chicago

The Justice Department escalated its promised crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, saying it will no longer give cities coveted grant money unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

In this file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in Columbus, Ohio on Aug. 2, 2017. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Aug. 7, 2017

Emanuel sues Trump’s Justice Department over sanctuary city policy

Mayor Emanuel’s Law Department files its much-touted lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s Justice Department over its effort to withhold some grant funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Aug. 16, 2017

Sessions blasts sanctuary cities, singling out Chicago

During a news conference in Miami, Sessions vowed to continue fighting cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities — aiming much of his frustration at Chicago.

Aug. 23, 2017

Mother of 6 seeks sanctuary in a Chicago church to avoid deportation

Francisca Lino, 50, a Bolingbrook resident and mother of six children — five of them U.S. citizens — is taking sanctuary in the same Chicago church that protected immigration activist Elvira Arellano. Lino was scheduled to meet with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, but, instead, she held a West Side news conference at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park.

Francisca and Diego Lino, left with their twin daughters Juliana, 15, middle and Judith in the room where Francisca is taking sanctuary. The Lino family along with their supporters gathered at Adalberto Church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood on Aug. 23, 2017 to announce that Francisca Lino, who was required to turn herself into immigration that day, will instead take sanctuary in the church. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)

Sept. 15, 2017

Judge rules in city’s favor on sanctuary cities, grants nationwide injunction

A federal judge in Chicago blocked the Trump administration’s rules requiring so-called sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration agents in order to get a public safety grant.

Oct. 13, 2017

Chicago judge refuses to change ruling on sanctuary cities

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration could suffer “irreparable harm” in its relationship with the immigrant community if it were to comply with the U.S. Department of Justice’s new rules requiring sanctuary cities nationaide to cooperate with immigration agents in exchange for receiving public safety grant money.

November 2017

Lino’s attorneys file a civil rights lawsuit

They allege the U.S. government violated her Fifth Amendment rights and expeditiously deported her in 1999 without due process.

April 19, 2018

Emanuel wins legal victory in sanctuary city lawsuit

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upholds a nationwide injunction prohibiting Attorney General Sessions from requiring cities to give immigration agents access to immigrants in the U.S. illegally who are in their lockups, in order to get certain public safety grants. Following the ruling, Mayor Emanuel calls on President Trump’s Justice Department to hand over grant money to Chicago.

October 2018

Chicago sues Trump administration for withholding police funding

The city has already sued over the matter, but now the DOJ has imposed a new round of restrictions, city officials say. Among other things, the new stipulations include requiring local police to inform immigration officials about immigrants in custody who have questionable legal status and allowing them to access the prisoners for questioning.

July 27, 2018

Judge: Feds can’t dock sanctuary cities

A federal judge sides with the city of Chicago in its sanctuary city lawsuit, ruling that the Trump administration does not have the authority to withhold federal public safety funding from the city if it limits its cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Chicago Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, shown in 2017 addressing the lawsuit against the Justice Department, called the July 27, 2018, ruling “another significant legal victory for Chicago.” (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

May 2019

Pregnant mother of three takes sanctuary inside Chicago church

Adilene Marquina Adam, 34, says she was told to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead, the family takes refuge inside a small storefront church, the Faith, Life and Hope Mission, on 63rd Street in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

Adilene Marquina Adam with her son Joshua Pino Marquine, 3, inside the Mision, Fe, Vida Y Esperanza church in Chicago on May 22, 2019. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

Sept. 26, 2019

Mayor Lightfoot upstages ICE press conference

Robert Guadian, ICE’s newly appointed Chicago field office director, held a news conference to underscore what he said are the dangers of local police not cooperating with his agency in so-called sanctuary cities like Chicago.

But outside of ICE’s Chicago office, Lightfoot appeared with a group of immigration activists and called Guadian’s criticism of the city’s sanctuary ordinance “nonsense.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a rally outside the Chicago ICE office on Sept. 26, 2019, to denounce recent actions taken by the immigration agency. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Oct. 28, 2019

President Trump makes his first visit to Chicago as the nation’s chief executive

Speaking at the annual gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police at McCormick Place, Trump slammed Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in front of his peers and criticized the type of federal order the city is under to reform the CPD.

Trump also called Chicago “the worst sanctuary city in America” and cited the refusal of the city’s Police Department under Johnson to detain people in the country illegally for immigration enforcement.

President Donald Trump speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference at McCormick Place on Oct. 28, 2019. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

Feb. 15, 2020

Border Patrol to deploy to Chicago

The Trump administration is deploying law enforcement tactical units from the southern border as part of a supercharged arrest operation in sanctuary cities across the country, including Chicago, an escalation in the president’s battle against localities that refuse to participate in immigration enforcement.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a video condemning the news that additional agents were being sent to sanctuary cities to help immigration enforcement, and warned residents that they did not have to open doors to anyone who doesn’t have a warrant.

Feb. 18, 2020

City leaders call for end to attacks on immigrants

Chicago politicians and immigrant advocates vowed to push back against plans by President Trump’s administration to deploy tactical units from the southern border to strengthen immigration enforcement in Chicago and other so-called sanctuary cities.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia contended the timing of the initiative was intended to “instill fear” in immigrants not just about deportation but about participating in the 2020 census.

“The timing is no accident,” Garcia said at a news conference. “The attempted intimidation has a clear purpose: It is to intimidate our neighbors who are Latino, African American, Asian American communities in particular, not to open their doors. Trump succeeds if we do that. Trump wants us to be undercounted in our communities so that we would lose federal resources and services that are vital to our communities and weaken our political power.”

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia holds a news conference to demand an end to President Trump’s attacks against sanctuary cities and in defense of immigrants and refugees at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago on Feb. 18, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

April 30, 2020

Judges rule in favor of Chicago in sanctuary city fight with Trump Justice Department

President Donald Trump’s Justice Department can’t withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities such as Chicago that extend protections to undocumented immigrants, a federal appeals court ruled.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was delighted by the ruling, saying she “let out a cheer” when she found out about it.

The battle started in 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government would require sanctuary cities that want federal public safety funding to give notice when immigrants in the country illegally are about to be released from custody and allow immigration agents access to local jails.

Aug. 31, 2022

Seventy-five migrants who arrived in Texas were dropped off at Chicago’s Union Station

Around 9 p.m. along the Canal Street side of the station, a group of about 15 people, some of whom were from Venezuela and were waiting for another bus, were standing or sitting on a sidewalk. Some were looking at their phones as others were speaking to each other and to a Tribune reporter.

Most were men, but there was one woman with her young daughter and husband. They were waiting to be picked up and taken to a shelter, they told the Tribune reporter. Read more.

Elier Salazar Chacon, 29, carries his 3-year-old daughter Cataleya Salazar Ramirez while talking with a Chicago police officer after arriving on a bus with other migrants from Texas at Union Station on Aug. 31, 2022, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

May 9, 2022

Mayor Lightfoot declares state of emergency: ‘We’ve reached a breaking point’

The executive order is in response to the thousands of migrants settling in the city, often under harsh living conditions, after crossing the U.S.’ southern border to seek asylum.


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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