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In a packed Council chamber Monday night, the Human Services Committee heard public comments on three proposed immigration resolutions, but held its recommendation to the Council in order to allow more time for the City’s Law Department to conduct a thorough review of the proposals.
The initial resolution, first introduced to the committee on Jan. 7, aims to clarify the community’s support for the local immigrant population and offers specific guidelines for City employees to ensure that immigration status is not a barrier to receiving social services or unlawfully used in criminal complaints against non-citizens.
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, himself a Haitian immigrant and a naturalized citizen, said he was concerned that the original resolution, with its specific focus on the conduct of City officials and employees, would bring undo attention from federal immigration authorities to Evanston. “I’m suggesting that this station of the Underground Railroad not be marked,” he said. As an alternative, Ald. Jean-Baptiste drafted a second, broader resolution calling for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, eliminating specific references to Evanston. The group that drafted the first resolution incorporated Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s version into a third proposal which appears to be the draft the committee is considering.
Safety was a concern among many residents who spoke on both sides of the controversial issue.
“If [local] law enforcement is checking immigration status then we are less safe,” said Evanston resident Kathy Chiwah in support of the resolution. “If the criminals are going to be deported, what about the witnesses?”
Conversely, Rosanna Pulido, a Chicago resident, told the committee, “As American citizens we are frightened and intimidated when our laws aren’t enforced.”
Others evoked history. “Immigration law is based solely on race and ethnic origin,” said Bennett Johnson. Referring to the past struggles of immigrant groups such as the Irish, as well as African slaves, Mr. Johnson said such proposals speak “to the conscience of America.”
Opposing the resolution, Judith Treadway, a member of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, said, “The consequences may give the perception of preferential treatment to one group in our community.”
Fortino Leon, founder of Organizacion Latina de Evanston (OLE), said he is often asked ,”‘What do you Mexicans want?’ Hopefully the same thing as you do,” he told the committee: “a decent place to live and raise our children.”
John Drennan said the resolution could “potentially put the City at risk for litigation.”
Aldermen Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, were hesitant to offer their recommendations without a vetting of federal immigration statutes by the Law Department.
Co-author of the original proposal, Ald. Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, appeared undeterred by the notion of preempting federal law. “What we have to determine tonight: what is humane and just – not just with reference to a particular law or statute, but to what is right,” he said.
“We can let folks know they can come out of the shadows, use our services…” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste. “But we don’t have to declare it.”
The Human Services Committee will resume the discussion on March 3.