Chicago City Council Vote Renews Commitment to Being a Welcoming City and Protects Public Safety

September 12, 2012

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Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center applauds the Chicago City Council for updating our city’s laws to ensure that immigrant victims and witnesses of crime can call the police without fearing deportation and that the Chicago Police Department does not waste taxpayer dollars detaining men and women who pose no threat to our community.

The council passed an amendment to Chicago’s 27-year-old Welcoming City Ordinance which will prohibit police from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or have been convicted of a serious crime.

“Today’s city council vote makes an important fix to a longstanding city ordinance allowing Chicago police to focus on addressing the serious public safety issues our city currently faces,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “To do their job, police officers must have the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities, and this ordinance protects that relationship."

The amendment, originally proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will bring the Welcoming City ordinance up to date with the current realities of immigration enforcement. Since Mayor Herald Washington originally issued the law as an executive order in 1986, the federal government has used new technologies, including programs like Secure Communities, to circumvent control over how cities spend law enforcement resources.

Under Secure Communities, the federal government has mandated that any time a police officer submits a person’s fingerprints to the FBI database, those fingerprints will automatically be electronically submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration database. If the computer system identifies a match with the immigration database, Homeland Security can ask the local police to detain that person until immigration officers arrive to take that person into custody. The proposed amendment leaves room for Chicago police to honor these “detainer” requests when Chicago’s public safety interests align with federal immigration priorities. But in cases in which people pose no threat, the updated ordinance allows police to preserve resources for more urgent public safety needs.