A resolution calling for humane and just treatment of immigrants and their families was proposed at the Human Services Committee meeting on Jan. 7. The resolution aims to clarify the community’s support for the local immigrant population and offers specific guidelines to ensure that immigration status is not a barrier to receiving social services or unlawfully used in criminal complaints against non-citizens.
“I thought it was time to have the discussion and adopt a resolution for the just and humane treatment of immigrants,” said Sixth Ward Alderman Edmund Moran, who helped draft the resolution.
Evanston resident Rachel Heuman also helped organize the project. She cited the recent publicity of anti-immigration rhetoric voiced by groups like the Minutemen, and by individuals such as former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo and CNN personality Lou Dobbs, as part of the impetus for the resolution.
“It is very frustrating to hear a very vocal minority presenting itself as the opinion of the people,” said Ms. Heuman.
A six-person committee met in November to research similar resolutions adopted by other municipalities and to draft one tailored for the Evanston community. In addition to Ald. Moran and Ms. Heuman, the committee included Cristina Traina, professor of religion at Northwestern University; Martha Pierce, founder and director of the Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance; Fr. Robert Oldershaw, pastor emeritus at St. Nicholas Catholic Church; and local resident John Heuman.
“The support is enormous in the community,” Ms. Heuman said, highlighting endorsements from many local social service providers, scholars and faith-based organizations.
The proposed resolution affirms the contributions to American society made by immigrants, and notes Evanston’s long tradition of supporting peace and justice issues, including the City’s assistance to Salvadoran refugees, opposition to the Iraq war and efforts to integrate public schools and provide bilingual education.
The resolution also calls for the City to adopt policies that would ensure the fair treatment of local immigrants. It prohibits all City entities from disclosing information regarding citizenship status, police inquiries into a person’s immigration status where it is not required by law, and the conditioning of public benefits provided by the Department of Health and Human Services based on citizenship status.
The resolution, Ms. Heuman said, confirms there are certain regulations in place to protect immigrants from discrimination. “As we all know, if a rule or regulation is not overtly spoken or understood, it could very quickly disappear,” she said.
In addition to addressing the local immigrant population, the resolution urges comprehensive immigration reform at the national level that would, among other things, provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people “in the City of Evanston and elsewhere in this nation.”
The resolution is similar to those passed by Chicago and Cook County, which support undocumented immigrants and their families.
After more than two hours of discussion on Jan. 7, the Human Services Committee approved the resolution and decided to hold it in committee “to broaden the participation,” said Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, whose motion to hold the resolution carried.
Nearly 50 people packed the small committee room, most of them supporting the resolution.
Reverend Robert Moseley of Hemenway United Methodist Church said, “We must oppose legislation that precludes individual rights.”
A statement from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said, “I strongly support your effort, which calls for compassionate immigration reform at the federal level and other levels. It is important that in this time of immigration-bashing we stand up for such people in our midst. … It makes sense from a moral perspective and a public health perspective.”
Others who supported the resolution included Fortino Leon, co-founder of OLE (Organisation Latina de Evanston), Bennett Johnson, former president of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP and long-time spokesman on civil rights in Evanston, Dickelle Fonda of the North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice, Arizona Tuckwell and Joan Safford.
Madeline Ducree, who appeared to agree with only some aspects of the resolution, said, “When I hear people say that people came here and work hard and do work that no one else will do … that is not correct. It hurts my feelings. Do not think that because you are Belizean, Mexican, Jamaican and Haitian that you want to clean someone else’s toilet for the rest of your life. You won’t. You’ll want to move up. Let us not forget those who worked in this country.”
One aspect of the debate was whether the resolution came in response to problems already existing in Evanston or whether it was largely “symbolic.”
A member of the human services staff said the department did not discriminate when they were using local funds for their services. Police Chief Richard Eddington said the police department does not discriminate on the basis of immigrant status. “We have undertaken no action that would violate anything in the sanctuary-city resolution.”
On motions by Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, two clauses were deleted – those referring to leadership by religious institutions and the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on immigration.
One topic that hovered over the discussion was whether this protection of immigrants, though it relates only to status, would in fact offer those persons additional protections not afforded to others, particularly other minorities.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward: “This is such a hot issue all over the country, I’m afraid of the feelings it would generate. … I’m nervous because there are haters in our community. It’s not that I would not support reform. If we’re going to do something symbolic, then we’ll do it.”
Ald. Jean-Baptiste responded, “I think there are many things that are not just symbolic but put us on notice how not to discriminate.” He added. “Speaking as the most recent immigrant on the Council, I’m just suggesting that we pass the resolution and hold it to see if we can broaden the participation.”
Ald. Bernstein said, “All we’re not going to do is target for status. … This is consistent with what I hope is the reality now – all we’re doing is codifying what we’re doing.”
Hans Peter Geiser said he “wants to make a compliment to the political culture tonight, that you, citizens of a town” are asking for this compassionate resolution. “I’m deeply impressed,” he added.
Lionel Bian Pitts, who was born in Belize, said he was glad the resolution passed and that it was held in committee. “It will broaden the participation,” he said.