City Council members hear community support for the ‘Welcoming City’ ordinance.   RoundTable photo

Like many cities across the country, Evanston is taking a protective stance against potential pressure to use local law enforcement officials to help federal immigration authorities ferret out undocumented persons.

The step taken at the Nov. 28 City Council meeting was to approve for introduction an ordinance making Evanston a “welcoming city” to immigrants, regardless of their status.

This ordinance goes much further than a 2008 resolution that “affirmed the City’s commitment to humane and just treatment of immigrants and their families” and called for “comprehensive immigration reform” and a “redirecting of public resources from deportation efforts to the establishment of processing stations … to manage the flow of immigrants,” in that it sets parameters for the Evanston police department and other City departments in their dealings with people who are not citizens of this country.

At the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl spoke of strengthening the 2008 ordinance.

The 2008 Resolution

 In 2008, City Council approved a resolution affirming the City’s commitment to “humane and just treatment of immigrants and their families” and calling for comprehensive immigration reform. That resolution was approved at a time when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of Homeland Security, conducted “excursions to round up and deport not-yet-documented immigrants, creating an atmosphere of fear even when such actions result in the separation of parents from their American children.” It is, the resolution continued, “unreasonable, irrational and impractical to expect the United States government to invest the tremendous amount of resources that it would take to deport over 12 million human beings because of their lack of documentation, as the application of such a policy would create chaos in society.”


The waves of such round-ups subsided with President Barack Obama, but Donald Trump, the president-elect, has said he plans to deport about 12 million people he believes are here illegally. Reacting to the threat, many cities have declared themselves to be “welcoming” cities. Many have passed ordinances that delineate how far local law enforcement officials can go in their dealings with ICE.

In doing so, these municipalities risk losing federal funding, President-Elect Trump has said.

According to information in this year’s budget memos, federal funding reached a high of $11.8 million in 2012 and was $3.3 million in 2015. Much of that funding comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as Community Development Block Grants and grants for shelter for the homeless. .

Mayor Tisdahl told the RoundTable, “As more and more cities adopt Welcoming City ordinances the threat of a cutoff of funds may be less likely. It is impossible to predict what the Trump administration will do.”

The 2016 Ordinance

The ordinance City Council approved on Nov. 28, modeled after City of Chicago’s 2012 and 2016 ordinances, becomes part of the Evanston City code. Under this ordinance, a person’s citizenship status is to remain apart from other inquiries made by law enforcement, social service, or other agencies, unless warranted by other local, state, or federal laws.

Under the ordinance, City departments and officials may not inquire about the citizenship status of anyone seeking services, may not condition those services upon citizenship, and may not threaten a person or family with deportation, and may not disclose information about citizenship status unless there is a legal requirement to do so and permission has been received in writing.

The ordinance further prohibits local law enforcement officials from cooperating with ICE agents in circumstances where ICE is only trying to enforce civil immigration laws.

Public and Council Comment

Council chambers and the hall outside were packed at the Nov. 28 meeting. During citizen comment, many who spoke in support of the welcoming ordinance also referred to the controversial arrest of Devon Reid the previous night (see story on page 3), saying Evanston should be a safe and welcoming City for all who live here.

Father Robert Oldershaw, former parish priest of St. Nicholas Church, said he believes Evanston “should be a welcoming City for everyone” and added he wished to “say a word on behalf of the Latino community, with whom I have lived, prayed and worked for 30 years.

“They are hard workers – landscapers, factory-workers – they are busing tables and generously serving and sharing. They are hurting badly – documented or undocumented. They have been scared and scarred and scapegoated by the hateful accusations and angry threats of the last month. They are fearful, but they are not angry. They have towering hope.”

Father Oldershaw also spoke of children who were afraid to go to school, because their parents might not be there when they got home. He said he planned to visit detainees in McHenry County the following day, and “It will lift their spirits – even if they are facing deportation – to know there are welcoming communities like Evanston, where residents build bridges and not walls.”

Patricia Camaya, co-president of the Dreamers Club at Evanston Township High School, said the club advocates for undocumented students and immigrant rights. “Undocumented students at ETHS are looking for only one thing, just like everyone else: a right to an education and a safe place. Evanston should be a community of many different cultures who feel safe, loved, and supported.”

Eileen Hogan Heineman of the Evanston/North Shore YWCA said, “We know that many of our friends and neighbors are terrified in ways most of us can’t begin to imagine. We are grateful that Evanston’s mayor, City Council, and Police Department have supported the concept and the ordinance. We need to start creating the systemic changes that allow all our residents to feel welcome every day.”

Joey Rodger of Friends Meeting said, “What we say to each other and what we all do makes a home we all live in. May it be inclusive, equitable, respectful, and kind.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz asked Mayor Tisdahl if she would like to say anything about the ordinance, since she had brought it to the Council.

“I think Citizen Comment spoke to it adequately,” Mayor Tisdahl said.

First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske said, “At the core and the heart of Evanston is, I think, a value that exists – and to elevate that concept of sanctuary is the core of our being.”

Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne said she was on the City Council in 2008, when the resolution was passed. “It saddens me that we have to strengthen it now. It’s very appropriate that we are strengthening it and making our City even more of a welcoming City. I do think the comment that we need to make this community more welcoming to outsiders and to those who live here.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, urged her colleagues to wear safety pins/ “It’s a silent message to those who need to know that we really do stand together, not just as a welcoming City to immigrants but as a welcoming City to everyone.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he felt the difference between a “welcoming city” and a “sanctuary city” was that “the idea of a sanctuary is for someone who is seeking refuge or hiding from something. I think what we are trying to accomplish is not to say, ‘You can hide here,’ but ‘You can come here and be welcome and live openly and freely and not have to hide.’

“To me, this is a step and it’s not a first step. Our country has a long history – a lot of good things, a lot of great things, and a lot of dark chapters. … And Evanston also has some dark chapters and some difficult struggles, and those aren’t over. Those continue and persist in different ways. Our country’s made progress; Evanston’s made progress, but we have a long way to go. But I think one of the things we are better at than other communities is recognizing what real threats are. Real threats are not our neighbors. Real threats are not the people around us. Things that are real threats are things like inequity in education. It gets talked about a lot. It’s not solved. But we keep working on it, and we will keep working on it.”

There is also inequity in opportunity, said Ald. Wilson. “We can teach kids all day long, but if they don’t have an opportunity at the end of the day, it doesn’t take them anywhere.

“So when I think about Evanston – it’s all the great things and the lake – but what I really think about is it’s not perfect. What I think about Evanston is that it’s a place where people strive to make it better. … This is about welcoming people into our community, and I’m proud to be able to support it with the rest of the Council.”

The ordinance was unanimously approved for introduction. City Clerk Rodney Greene said the ordinance will appear on the Dec. 12 City Council agenda for approval.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...