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Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 12:08 am

A “welcoming city” in the making

 A citywide committee is promoting a resolution affirming the city of Springfield as a “welcoming city that respects the innate dignity of all people,” according to an email circulated by the committee. “A public statement will convey that Springfield is a community that is compassionate, immigrant-friendly and welcoming.”

Veronica Espina, an instructor at University of Illinois Springfield, is spearheading the effort, and emphasized that it is essential to make sure people know the difference between a sanctuary city and a welcoming city. “Welcoming cities acknowledge the contributions of immigrants and refugees to the community. They are unlike sanctuary cities, which focus on protection of immigrants and refugees by saying local and state police will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” she said.

Espina said immigrants contribute to the economy and to the social fabric, civic life, diversity and innovation of industries of a city and also pay taxes even when they are not documented. The idea of the resolution is to work with law enforcement and other municipal institutions to make sure that immigrants are welcome in Springfield and that the community is allowed to thrive. “Carbondale, Normal and Champaign are all designated as welcoming cities, Chicago is a sanctuary city, but the capital is nothing. I have students who look at Springfield from Beardstown, Jacksonville or Decatur and ask ‘Why isn’t the state capital a welcoming city?’”

The committee members view the resolution as essentially bipartisan. “We are a nation of immigrants,” said Espina. “People of different nationalities have been coming to Springfield since the 1800s. So when you talk about a welcoming Springfield, you are talking about the benefit of the entire community.”

Ward Six Alderman Kristin DiCenso has agreed to sponsor the resolution in city council. Committee members have spoke to representative of some of the nearby welcoming cities about best strategies to get the resolution passed. In the meeting, there was speculation that the greatest resistance might be expected from people who equate immigrants with high crime rates. But second generation immigrants have lowest crime rate of all demographic groups nationally. The committee also hopes to counter the myth that undocumented people receive benefits from government. In truth they cannot even apply.

“The focus is on shared values and innovation,” said Meg Evans, owner of Grab-a-Java and a member of the committee tasked with getting her fellow businesspeople on board. “A piece of paper doesn’t make us welcoming,” she continued, “but it’s a great first step.”

The committee is optimistic about the resolution’s prospects, pointing to an anti-hate resolution which passed the city council unanimously the day after the vehicular homicide of a protester during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this past August. “A resolution has no money behind it and it makes them look good,” said Evans. “A resolution is not a proclamation or an ordinance, it is more of a gesture.”

For more information about the welcoming cities movement nationwide, visit www.WelcomingAmerica.org  

Contact Scott Faingold at
 sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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