CHICAGO - Two years ago, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally got around to honoring her campaign promise to prevent Chicago police officers from working with immigration agents by eliminating so-called "carve-outs" in the city’s Welcoming City ordinance.
Now, a Southwest Side alderman who volunteered the field house in Gage Park to house more than 300 migrants wants to restore those exceptions. Doing so would allow police to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in certain circumstances to stop what Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) calls "lawlessness" outside migrant shelters.
At next week’s City Council meeting. Lopez plans to introduce a proposal that would allow "any agent of agency" of the city to work with federal immigration officers when an individual granted protections under the Welcoming City ordinance has been arrested for a variety of offenses, such as:
- Gang-related activities "including but not limited to loitering, intimidation and recruitment"
- Drug-related activities including, but not limited to "purchasing, selling and distribution of any substance considered to be illegal" by the Food and Drug Administration
- Prostitution-related activities "including, but not limited to solicitation, performance and human trafficking of adults"
- Sexual crimes involving minors
Cooperation with federal immigration officials also would be permitted if the individuals involved have been "convicted of a felony" for any of those crimes.
Lopez has 19 co-sponsors — but, he said, he had 23 until the City Council’s Progressive Caucus started working overtime to peel off support.
"As we see more and more criminal activity and more and more anger building up in the neighborhoods for a lack of action, I think we’ll see more people joining in on it," Lopez said.
"We’ve seen instances already where, particularly with our newest arrivals, they’re engaging in this kind of behavior," he added, saying police have "no stick" to stop it, since they can’t work with immigration officials. "If you’re gonna allow this kind of behavior, and you have no recourse, then you’re basically welcoming that behavior as well."
Lopez said that exceptions to working with immigration were eliminated "before you had tens of thousands of individuals being shipped to our city engaging in this kind of behavior, as we’ve seen at Wadsworth [Elementary], Piotrowski Park" and other migrant shelters.
"We need to start setting up some parameters for just how welcoming we’re willing to be and what activity we’re willing to accept from our newest arrivals before it gets out of hand," he said.
In late July, during a 3 1⁄2-hour hearing, Council members decried the "lawlessness" — including drinking, sex-trafficking, drug-dealing, narcotic use and gang recruitment — occurring outside Chicago’s migrant shelters. They demanded a crackdown before the behavior led to violence.
City Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze responded to the complaints with a promise to expel the "bad actors."
Not satisfied with the city’s response, Lopez is taking matters into his own hands, even if it results in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in only a handful of cases.
"Symbolism has a real impact, because the symbolism of being a welcoming city is what brought this humanitarian crisis to our doorstep," he said. "We need to show that we are willing to be compassionate, but with parameters."
The 41-8 vote in January 2021 eliminating exceptions to working with federal immigration officials was the culmination of a six-year campaign by immigrant rights advocates that spanned two mayoral administrations.
Lopez was one of eight "no" votes on that day.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who led that campaign, is now Mayor Brandon Johnson’s City Council floor leader. Ramirez-Rosa could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Nor could Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, or Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), chairman of the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Those who chose to speak during the hourslong debate before that vote warned that eliminating the exceptions would only increase already skyrocketing violent crime.
"We are essentially welcoming criminals to our city. … If you are an illegal immigrant and a convicted felon or a fugitive, what better place to go than Chicago?" Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that day.
Lopez agreed that giving sanctuary to violent felons and gang-bangers would only increase the bloodbath on Chicago streets. The measure removing the exceptions was being "rammed down our throats for a headline, using fear tactics and political buffoonery to get this passed," he argued back then.
"What this ordinance does is treats those few individuals with the same compassion that you claim to want to give to the individuals who are here undocumented, trying to do right, trying to create a better Chicago, trying to do better for them and their families. That is wrong. To lump those groups together is not what the undocumented community wants," Lopez said.
"If they do not want to be here, why are we protecting them? Those that are committed to violence in our neighborhoods should not be given refuge."