Supporters of the ordinance, from left to right: Dickelle Fonda, Paul Klitzkie, Rachel Heuman, Marcelo Ferrer, Alderwoman Cicely Fleming, and Alejandra Ibanez.RoundTable photo

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In a unanimous vote Oct. 9, City Council moved to adopt changes to Evanston’s Welcoming City Ordinance that align it more closely with the Illinois Trust Act.  That means immigrants in the City of Evanston can no longer be detained by police based solely on immigration status and handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE). The changes give immigrants further protection from unwarranted stops by law enforcement and require that warrants not be enforced unless they are “signed by a judge.”

That was good news to many in attendance, such as Edward Rivera. His father was going to try to walk the desert to come back to his family in the United States.  That was the last time Mr. Rivera heard anything about him.

Mr. Rivera’s family came to the U.S. from El Salvador in the 1990s to escape violence and poverty.  His father worked in a restaurant, and one night was pulled over by the police and detained for driving without a valid driver’s license.  Later he was deported, and Mr. Rivera never saw him again.  He was 12 years old.

Mr. Rivera says it was a struggle to grow up without his father.  He went through a rebellious phase as a young teenager, but become a responsible young adult, and now has a family of his own.

“Now, undocumented immigrants in our community can live with less fear that they will be turned over to federal authorities unless there is a warrant issued by a judge.”

“The problem is when it rips apart families. It’s like M.J. and the Bulls.  If you don’t have all the key elements of a good team, it makes it that much harder to win,” said Mr. Rivera.

The Welcoming Evanston Coalition (WEC) was formed to strengthen Evanston’s commitment to the protection of its immigrant residents from the threat of heavy-handed federal immigration policies.  Evanston resident Marcelo Ferrer helped form the WEC, he said, in response to the election and thinking about what can we do as a community in order to protect the most vulnerable. There are a lot of things out of our control, but there’s a lot we can stand up for and work together on. We saw the changes in the Welcoming City Ordinance as a way to strengthen the language to help protect our neighbors.”

Members of the WEC were present at the Oct. 9 meeting, including Mr. Rivera, and several other Evanston residents, and some of them read statements in support of the amendments to the City Council.  Their arguments fell on receptive ears, as the Council passed the amendments to the ordinance 9-0.

The inspiration for the WEC, the Welcoming Illinois Coalition, formed in response to the election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign rhetoric was particularly vitriolic toward immigrants.  President Trump on Jan. 25 signed an Executive Order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” expanding immigration enforcement to people well beyond those who have committed serious crimes. It also gave broad discretion to ICE to detain and deport undocumented immigrants if, in “the judgment of the officer,” they “otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security”.

Thirty-eight organizations joined forces to create the WIC, seeking state-wide legislative protection for noncitizens who were living under threat of being detained and deported at a moment’s notice without due process of law.  Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on Aug. 28 signed into law the Illinois Trust Act, “a statewide law that clarifies and limits the authority of state and local officers to enforce federal civil immigration law or cooperate with federal immigration authorities.” One of the stated purposes of the Illinois Trust Act is to foster trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement.  Fear of the police working in tandem with ICE has had a chilling effect on the willingness of noncitizens to report crimes even when they are the victims.  The result undermines effective law enforcement and public safety. The codification of due process protections for noncitizens as well as greater mutual trust and respect between the immigrant community and law enforcement came together in the Illinois Trust Act.

The City of Evanston has expressed its support of the immigrant community in several significant ways this past year. In December 2016, under then-Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, the City Council enacted the Welcoming City Ordinance, affirming the City’s commitment to immigrant rights. In January 2017, both the District 202 and District 65 school boards adopted resolutions making the Evanston public schools a safe haven for all undocumented students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination.

Mayor Steve Hagerty, a strong supporter of the amendments to Evanston’s Welcoming City Ordinance, said, “Now, undocumented immigrants in our community can live with less fear that they will be turned over to federal authorities unless there is a warrant issued by a judge. I appreciate the efforts of all the residents and groups, including our Police Chief, Latino Resources, Open Communities, Evanston4All, our interfaith community, and business community, who advocated that all people in Evanston regardless of their immigrant status, should be treated with respect, dignity, and due process.”

“I worry that many of my friends of color may be on [a gang] database and have no way of getting them taken off. There is no due process for that, which is very troubling.”

Evanston’s Welcoming City Ordinance is now stronger than Chicago’s ordinance, according to Fred Tsao, Policy Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). 

“It’s a significant change and puts Evanston in alignment with the TRUST Act – one of the strongest policies in the country,” said Mr. Tsao. “Evanston’s action leaves Chicago as the only community that has these kinds of exceptions and will add further momentum for Chicago to also bring its ordinance in line with the TRUST Act.”

In the State of Illinois, home rule municipalities do not have to conform to state laws that fall within the purview of home rule. Cities like Evanston and Oak Park have voluntarily adopted ordinances that align them with the Illinois TRUST Act. However, others have yet to follow suit, most significantly, the City of Chicago.

In her speaking before the Evanston City Council, Evanston resident and WEC member Regina Sant’Anna said, “I often feel like I am this tree with strong roots in Brazil but that bears fruits in the U.S., in my community, through my children, through the work I do as a board member and volunteer worker.”

Ms. Sant’Anna added, “I am proud of Evanston for taking this extra step.  Our Council members voted unanimously to strengthen the language in the Welcoming Ordinance.”

Evanston resident Alejandra Ibanez came to the United States from Chile after the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. She said, “I am ecstatic. I am just so happy that we were able to do this. I think the current administration has shown us in the past nine months that if we are going to seek protections for the members of our community that are being targeted then we have to work locally.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward said, “The Welcoming Evanston Coalition worked really hard to update our policy, even requesting the addition of a final phrase—‘signed by a judge’—for added protections on the night the ordinance was adopted.

“I think it’s a victory but we still have some other work to do. I don’t think that anyone on the Council is putting their feet up and feeling like all the work is done.”

While she applauded the progress on immigrant rights and protections, Ald. Fleming added, “We still need to get a handle on and start implementing some of our equity initiatives and making sure that everyone in the city has access and has opportunity.” She said, “Some residents in the African American community including myself are glad that the immigrant community has the added protections of the Welcoming City ordinance; however, there are concerns about racial inequities and how ‘welcome’ African-Americans feel. We cannot make an ordinance for race relations, so we have to do the hard work and have honest conversations to make sure this happens.”

In Mr. Rivera’s statement to the Evanston City Council, he wrote, “While the intentions were good, the Ordinance included some troubling exceptions that undermined the spirit in which it was passed. These exceptions or carve outs, allowed, under certain circumstances, Evanston Police to initiate contact with ICE.  One worrisome exception, for example, allows our police to call ICE if an individual is included in their gang database.

“I worry that many of my friends of color may be on that database and have no way of getting them taken off. There is no due process for that, which is very troubling.

“If I am part of that list, which I’ve been told I may be because of who I may have associated with as a 14-year- old, I worry that it may have grave consequences for my own future immigration case. But I still have a lot of hope. I know that many among us here today want to make sure that we work to make Evanston one of the most welcoming cities in this State.”