Fresh off an evening with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), and Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10) gathered with more than a dozen representatives from community groups to back a comprehensive immigrant immigration plan. Standing in front of representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Ald. Rosa said the Working group was excited to collaborate with the City Council’s Latino Caucus and the Mayor’s office to implement a six point plan to make Chicago the most immigrant friendly city in the country.
The plan builds on existing ordinances that address immigrant communities, as well as emulating programs implemented in other big cities. Fred Tsao, with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, introduced the platform, which is fleshed out on Ald. Rosa’s website:
(1) Using New York City’s public defender program as a model, the working group wants Chicago to provide pro bono or low-cost representation to low-income immigrants in City immigration courts. New York spent $500,000 on the pilot program. The New York Times reported that money went to handling 190 deportation cases out of an estimated 1,650 in New York and New Jersey immigration courts. The program is administered by the non-profit Vera Institute of Justice and received a big funding bump–$4.9 million–from the New York City Council for the current fiscal year. The working group argues that the program would help pay for itself with savings on social services. “The City of Chicago should work with legal providers to assess the cost and benefits of providing legal representation for Chicago’s low income immigrants and children,” the platform reads.
(2) Bring Cook County’s and Chicago’s immigration policies in line by creating “a clear separation between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement.” Chicago’s existing Welcoming City Ordinance has arbitrary criteria, the group says. Current city policy keeps agencies from asking about the immigration status of people seeking City services. It also prohibits Chicago police officers from asking crime victims, witnesses, and residents about legal status. Undocumented Chicagoans could only be detained if there is a warrant out for their arrest, if they have been convicted of a serious crime, or are a threat to public safety.
“The County policy flatly bars the jail from holding anyone at ICE’s request or sharing information with ICE regarding anyone in county custody.” Fred Tsao added. “The city ordinance does both as well but does not apply in certain circumstances when someone has an ICE warrant.”
(3) Expand the city’s existing ordinance to ensure immigrants have quality interactions with emergency services and Chicago Public Schools. The City Council recently passed an ordinance sponsored by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) that ensures language access for non-English speakers. The group said the change is a “good first step,” but doesn’t address the need for translation services with emergency providers.
When the language access ordinance was being debated in Committee in April, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) clashed with Ald. Pawar, arguing the ordinance didn’t go far enough. He said since it didn’t require the police or fire department to provide resources for non-English speakers, it “diminish[ed] the whole purpose, which is to get people services they need immediately, rather than sending them through an Alderman’s office or 311.”
Pawar conceded the ordinance wasn’t “100% there” and “coming up with a policy and a program reflecting the various duties in emergency services is going to require a significant amount of work,” but said CPD and CFD should eventually have to line up with other city agencies included in the ordinance.
The working group went further, saying the language ordinance should require Police, Fire, and Chicago Public Schools to provide access for non-English speakers. A new ordinance should also consider the needs of “linguistically isolated” emerging immigrant communities, and provide a place for people to complain about non-compliance, the group added.
Part of that language access ordinance also called for the creation of a task force to look into the creation of Chicago municipal IDs. Those IDs could be used to access local bank accounts, housing, and city services. The group supports (4) creation of municipal IDs in Chicago, as long as privacy of applicants is protected from immigration enforcement. New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Hartford, and New Haven are a few cities that have created their own municipal ID programs.
Tsao called municipal IDs a “vehicle for civic pride,” and said fees for applicants or corporate sponsorships are possible candidates for funding the cards.
The group also supports an effort to (5) get grant-makers, business leaders, and private donors together to create a low-interest loan program so children and parents can apply for deferred action. The city should also train 311 workers and other city employees on how to refer people to those services. “Research shows that cities benefit economically” from programs like these, the group says.
Finally, the city should (6) improve access for immigrants who are survivors of crime or victims of civil and labor rights abuses. The group says 70% of undocumented immigrants report being less likely to get in touch with police if they were victims of a crime. Improving relationships between immigrants and police is crucial, the group says.
When asked about the cost of implementing these policies, Rosa said ordinances are being “workshopped”, and he looks forward to collaborating with the Mayor’s office and the Latino Caucus to implement the changes.