A small section tucked away in a language access ordinance took up the bulk of discussion at Tuesday’s Committee on Human Resources meeting. Aldermen discussed amending an ordinance to expand language access to city services. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) introduced an ordinance standardizing city translation services for people whose first language is not English, including a single paragraph appointing a working group to develop a new municipal ID for Chicago residents.

Pawar’s stated goal of the proposed municipal IDs are to connect Chicagoans with city programs, “regardless of immigration status, homeless status, or gender identity.”

Committee Members Present: Ariel Rebroyas (30) Chairman, Natashia Holmes (7), Roberto Maldonado (26), Jason Ervin (28), Scott Waguespack (32), Michele Smith (43), Ameya Pawar (47). Complete Agenda

The Committee:

  • Held 30 seconds of silence marking the violence in Baltimore
  • Passed by acclamation proposed new rules on languages used by city agencies
  • Created a task force to discuss a new municipal ID
  • Passed by acclamation a resolution calling for support of Mauritanian abolitionists against slavery

Municipal IDs have been praised by immigration and homeless advocates in other cities for creating access to local bank accounts, housing, and city services. New YorkOaklandSan Francisco, and New Haven have created their own municipal IDs, with varying degrees of success.

In Illinois, undocumented immigrants can apply for a Temporary Visitors Driver’s License (TVDL) if they can prove Chicago residency for at least a year. That license lasts for 3 years, but can’t be used for identification purposes.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28) pushed back against the municipal IDs, concerned it could lead to discrimination because it, “singles out people not as part of the norm.” City Law Department Senior Counsel Rose Kelly clarified that this ordinance only calls for a task force, and that municipal IDs could only be established with a separate ordinance. Pawar emphasized that Tuesday’s ordinance only establishes a task force, and asked Ald. Ervin to join.

Pawar says Chicago has 400,000 residents that don’t speak English as a primary language, and expanding city services for limited-English proficiency (LEP) Chicagoans aligns with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal to make the city the most immigrant-friendly in the world. “It’s not our job to say you need to be one of us, but actually figure out a way to adapt programs and policies so that they’re reflective of the people we actually all serve.”

The ordinance says all city departments that provide direct public services have to create access plans for “any non-English language spoken by a limited or non-English proficient population that constitutes 10,000 individuals or five percent, whichever is less, in Chicago.”

Representatives from local immigrant groups largely praised the ordinance. Andrew Kang, Advancing Justice-Chicago, Aaron Siebert-Llera, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Ami Gandhi, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute, and Fred Tsao, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights all testified in favor.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) presented a handful of objections to the ordinance, including creating a second tier for emergency services, who only have to implement language access plans, “to the degree practicable.” Waguespack says that a second tier, “diminish[es] whole purpose, which is to get people services they need immediately, rather than sending them through an Alderman’s office or 311.”

He voted in favor of the ordinance, but wants 2 or 3 amendments added to better reflect what other cities have learned from their own language access efforts. “I think we could do a lot better job here, but the ordinance is a great step forward.”

The ordinance passed, and will be considered by full council on May 6th. Members also held 30 seconds of silence marking the violence in Baltimore, and passed by acclamation a resolution from Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. (21) calling for support of Mauritanian abolitionists against slavery.