At a news conference on Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would propose an ordinance that would bar police officers from turning over undocumented immigrants to federal agents if the immigrants do not have serious criminal convictions or outstanding criminal warrants, reported The New York Times.
The mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff said the proposal was part of his goal to make Chicago the “most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”
While Arizona sought to authorize the state and local police to enforce immigration laws more strictly than federal policy, officials in Chicago and surrounding Cook County want to ease the impact of enforcement on immigrant neighborhoods by restraining the local police and restricting the action of federal agents. The ordinance says Chicagoans who are undocumented immigrants will only be detained if they’re wanted on a warrant by local or federal authorities or if they’ve been convicted of a serious crime, reported the Associated Press. For decades, city agencies haven’t been allowed to ask the immigration status of people who want services; police also haven’t been allowed to question victims or witnesses about legal status.
Testifying before a subcommittee in the House of Representatives, John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Cook County’s ordinance was “inconsistent with the terms of federal law.”
That law generally bars county police and jails from detaining illegal immigrants to turn them over to federal agents, unless the agents have a specific warrant. It is the strongest of the “sanctuary” ordinances adopted by a handful of cities and counties nationwide, which have spared illegal immigrants from being held for deportation if they have committed only minor civil immigration violations.
Behind the disputes in Illinois is a federal program called Secure Communities, under which local police and jail authorities share fingerprints with federal immigration agents of everyone they book. The Obama administration has rapidly expanded the program across the country, with Illinois being one of only two states — the other is Alabama — where it has not been put into effect.
Many immigrant organizations have bitterly resisted the program, saying it erodes trust between their communities and the local police. A coalition of groups on Tuesday announced a national campaign to try to persuade more localities to ban or restrict the program.
Mr. Emanuel did not pose his initiative as a challenge to Mr. Obama. Rather he laid blame on Congress for inaction on immigration. The City Council will consider the ordinance this month.
Mr. Emanuel and police officials have been under fire for a gang problem in Chicago, with homicides up 39 percent from a year ago. The mayor said the proposed ordinance would encourage some immigrants to help the police without fear of being deported.