Lawmakers consider expanding Ill. immigrant protections

One proposal would limit cooperation and communication between local police and immigration authorities


By Sophia Tareen 
Associated Press

CHICAGO — Illinois legislators are proposing to boost immigrant protections statewide in response to President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, a move advocates say would essentially give the state "sanctuary" status.

One proposal says schools, medical facilities and places of worship don't have to give access to federal immigration authorities or local law enforcement working on their behalf. Another proposal would limit cooperation and communication between local police and immigration authorities.

In this Feb. 1, 2017 photo, immigrant rights advocates protest President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration in Chicago. (AP Photo by Sophia Tareen)
In this Feb. 1, 2017 photo, immigrant rights advocates protest President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration in Chicago. (AP Photo by Sophia Tareen)

"If there was ever a moment for things to move, it is now when we're seeing immigrant communities under unprecedented attacks," said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, a leader of a suburban Chicago immigrant organizing group called PASO.

The legislation's chances of passage are uncertain. Backers of Trump's moves say he is just fulfilling promises he made during the campaign, and warn that "sanctuary" cities and states risk losing their federal funding.

Ruiz-Velasco and others said the goal is to extend so-called sanctuary protections already on the books in Chicago and Cook County, where police aren't allowed to ask about citizenship status and don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Reaction has been divided to a series of immigration-related executive orders signed in Trump's first days as president, including one designed to allow local law enforcement to investigate, apprehend or detain immigrants living in the country without legal permission. Some states, like Texas, have moved to reinforce Trump's orders, while lawmakers in California are advancing a statewide sanctuary proposal.

Illinois already has some of the nation's most immigrant-friendly laws. Advocates are pushing sanctuary ordinances in suburbs like Oak Park. The state's largest immigrant advocacy group, the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, is pushing city officials to make Chicago's rules stronger.

Democratic lawmakers say the two statewide proposals are just the beginning of what they want to do. But the extent of any opposition isn't known.

While Democrats control the Illinois House and Senate, it's not clear where Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner stands. He said that there are "serious concerns" about another Trump executive order suspending the nation's refugee program, and urged resolution "through the courts." When asked about sanctuary cities and states, he said in a statement that it's "not a state issue" and he supports "comprehensive immigration reform."

Other Republicans are opposed.

Rep. John Cabello, a Republican from Machesney Park, noted that any entities adopting sanctuary status risk losing federal funding. Trump has threatened to strip federal money from sanctuary states.

"We're kind of playing a dangerous game," Cabello said of Illinois' plans, adding that Trump is simply following through on campaign promises. "He is doing absolutely everything he said he was going to do."

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch of Hillside, who sponsored the schools bill, said his bill would offer peace of mind for immigrants in schools, churches or hospitals.

His plan would bar federal immigration agents from those sites, with few exceptions, such as obtaining a court-issued warrant. It'd also prohibit employees from asking about immigration status and require training on immigration issues.

"The day after the November election, I received calls that teaching and learning did not go on at my local school," he said. "Students were crying and worried about whether immigration officials were going to come into a school and teachers were predominantly counselors that day."

Of Illinois' nearly 13 million residents, close to 1.8 million are foreign born, according to Census data. The Pew Research Center estimates roughly 450,000 are living in Illinois illegally.

Democratic Rep. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero is drafting a separate bill that'd limit interaction between local authorities and immigration agencies. It would discourage information sharing and allow local police to decline requests from immigration officials to keep defendants in custody while they await deportation.

She said it would provide safeguards against Trump's orders.

"Either we submit to his request that we are going to go his way or we push back," Hernandez said.

Associated PressCopyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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