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Residents from Evanston, Chicago and Oak Park voiced their opposition to the proposed immigration resolution at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting. The resolution, which is being held in the Human Services Committee for further discussion, calls for the humane and just treatment of undocumented persons in Evanston.

“I don’t think [the resolution] encumbers us in any way in doing what we need to do to serve the community. … If you are doing something criminal, we’ll address that regardless of immigration status.” — Police Chief Richard Eddington

Rosanna Pulido, a Chicago resident and field representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), was among those who raised objections to the resolution at the session. “I am bewildered when I look at the resolution,” she told the RoundTable. “They are all pretty much feel-good arguments.”

Included in the specifics of the resolution is the prohibition of all City entities from disclosing information regarding citizenship status and police inquiries into a person’s status where it is not required by law. Cook County and the city of Chicago have already adopted similar resolutions.

If approved by the Council, the resolution would reaffirm Evanston’s status as a “sanctuary city,” which the City has held since the 1980s when it adopted a similar resolution in response to the crisis in El Salvador. The “sanctuary city” label would, Ms. Pulido says, “offer the red carpet” to undocumented persons seeking refuge from federal immigration laws.

When asked why, as a Chicago resident, she opposes the Evanston resolution, she said, “Evanston is not in a vacuum. What Evanston does directly affects me.”

Ms. Pulido claims the resolution is an “intimidation tactic” because the restrictions “tie the hands of the police officers.” As a former police dispatcher, she says she understands firsthand the danger posed to officers by persons without proper documentation. “The traffic stop is the most dangerous act for a police officer,” she said. If the driver lacks proper identification, she added, a police officer cannot run the proper background checks to determine if the driver or passengers pose a threat to the officer’s safety.

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington seemed to find the argument unconvincing.

“I don’t think [the resolution] encumbers us in any way in doing what we need to do to serve the community,” he told the RoundTable. “If you are doing something criminal, we’ll address that regardless of immigration status.” Chief Eddington said there are alternatives for a police officer to determine a person’s identity, including fingerprints and searching the computer databases. “At the end of the day, it’s no different from anyone else who doesn’t have ID,” he said.

“I am bewildered when I look at the resolution. They are all pretty much feel-good arguments.” — Rosanna Pulido of the Federation for American Immigration Reform

An additional concern is that the resolution might be more detrimental to the security of Evanston’s undocumented persons by attracting undo attention from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he spoke with law enforcement officials about this issue as he was helping to draft the resolution. “My own sense is that is not going to be the case,” he said. “Evanston demographics are such that immigrant populations would not become a target for ICE. We don’t have large plants, or places where ICE can do big sweeps.”

Chief Eddington agreed that ICE posed little threat to Evanston’s undocumented population. “Even if I decided we should start arresting illegal immigrants,” he said, “ICE won’t take them without an additional violation that they are interested in.” He cited false identification as an example of such a violation.

But the main thrust of the opposition to the resolution seems to center around whether the resolution violates federal law. Ms. Pulido said the resolution amounts to “aiding and abetting illegal immigrants.” To examine the specific legal questions, Ms. Pulido has forwarded a copy of the resolution to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), a Washington D.C.-based public-interest law firm which, according to its website, is “devoted exclusively to protecting the rights and interests of United States citizens in immigration-related matters.”

Bob Dane, press secretary for IRLI, told the RoundTable, “It is our argument that in the absence of the federal government enforcing the laws, and given that the harmful effects [of having undocumented persons in the community] fall on local jurisdictions, it is fundamentally unfair to make them enforce resolutions [like the one Evanston is proposing].”

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (13th District), who is running for Cook County State’s Attorney, said, “There is no federal law here,” adding that the United States Congress has not mandated that local governments address matters related to immigration. “I do not believe our [local] governments should do the work of the federal government,” he told the RoundTable.

The role of local government in immigration enforcement is a legal conundrum that has yet to be resolved by the courts. Mr. Dane cited the example of one community, Hazleton, Penn., that took immigration enforcement into its own hands as a “common-sense reaction of a city reacting to where the federal government is failing.” Hazleton passed an ordinance in July 2006 which made it illegal to rent to or hire undocumented immigrants. In July 2007 a federal judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional because it preempted federal law. “A lot of it is uncharted territory and we’re expecting that most of the appeals [will modify the original ruling].”

When asked if a successful appeal that would clear the way for ordinances like Hazleton’s would also, conversely, provide legal support for local governments to pass resolutions similar to Evanston’s, Mr. Dane said, “The court may intervene on that, but I think the will of the people will ultimately prevail.”

The Human Services Committee plans to resume discussion on the proposal at its Feb. 8 meeting.