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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 12:09 am

Bill would create immigrant “safe zones”



Proposed legislation would provide “safe zone” locations to immigrants by requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to issue a warrant prior to investigating, detaining or arresting people for violating the federal immigration law.

Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, sponsor of the bill, said during a press conference the bill does not require Illinois to become a sanctuary state.

“It acknowledges the fear of deportation many families face today and provides them with somewhere they can go to feel safe,” he said. “Common-sense immigration policies like these need to be part of the conversation.”

Welch said schools, medical facilities and places of worship would be “safe zones” where immigrant families could avoid raids and racial profiling.

Under the bill, these locations would not grant access to state and local law enforcement agencies that work with the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other joint efforts with federal, state or local law enforcement agencies without a warrant. Federal agencies would also require a warrant.

The warrant would need to be issued by a court, undergo review and must be consented by “appropriate personnel,” according to the bill.

During the week of Feb. 4 through Feb. 10, Illinois and five other states including Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Missouri experienced arrests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.

Itedal Shalabi, co-founder and executive director of Arab American Family Services, shared her immigration story during the press conference.

“On 9/11 [Sept. 11, 2001] I had the FBI come knocking on my door and saying I was raising a terrorist for Hamas,” she said.  “That fear of having someone, as an enforcement agency walking into your home, but (me) knowing that I am a citizen and my children are citizens, this is what I remember when we talk about children worrying if their parents will pick them up (from school).”

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero,  said President Trump has sparked fear among immigrants regardless of their legal status.

“Although Latinos are the largest immigrant community in Illinois, we are far from the only ones,” she said.

Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, also spoke in support of the bill referring to President Trump’s recent executive orders.

“Because of the unpredictability of these…policies that have been approved, it’s our obligation to do what we can to stabilize the economy, (and) provide safe spaces for immigrants,” she said.

Mah said her Chinese grandfather came to the U.S in 1924, during the Asian Exclusion Act, which prohibited Asian immigrants from entering the country. The act was part of the Immigration Act of 1924.

“That act was passed at a time when there was no one to speak up for Chinese immigrants or the other Asians that were added to the laws,” she said. “We have to acknowledge the history of this country that was built by immigrants.”

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of the West Suburban Action Project, a social justice advocacy organization that serves the west Cook County suburbs, said the bill ensures people feel safe.

“We should not be the type of country where children are worried whether they are safe in schools, whether their parents are safe dropping them off… and whether their parents will pick them up,” she said.

Velasco also spoke during a committee hearing Feb. 7, where she said about 3.5 percent of the population in Illinois is made up of undocumented immigrants, with about 88 percent of them having at least one child who is a U.S. citizen.

“People always ask me why people don’t just get papers. Politicians often talk about getting in the back of the line. The reality is there is no line in immigration law,” she said, referring to the misconception that the path to citizenship is processed in order of first come, first served, rather than on a case-by-case basis.

Velasco said the bill supports due process rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The bill would also require state agencies, public schools and institutions to remove certain file information, and prohibit employees from these places from inquiring about a student’s immigration status or that of their family, with exceptions.

In addition, the Illinois Department of Human Services would be mandated to provide or make training available to personnel on how to deal with immigration issues, and how to notify families of those issues in multiple languages.

Sean Davis, a liaison for DHS, said during a committee hearing the department opposes the bill because the training requirement would require additional funding.

Davis said while DHS currently serves immigrants and refugees through various outreach and assistance programs, required training of personnel under the bill would cost the department a minimum of $5 million.

“Current programs operate solely in areas with high immigrant populations, while this bill would require a statewide training and education program for implementation,” he said.

Welch said because DHS already has personnel who work with immigration issues, the department would not need additional funding for training,

“It is a political effort to kill the bill,” he said. “Let’s assume that’s true, $5 million is a drop in the bucket for a $35 billion budget.”

Welch added losing immigrants to deportation would have a far greater economic hit on the state.

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, also spoke out against the bill during the committee hearing.

Demmer said the bill raises questions, including the language of obtaining a warrant consented by “appropriate personnel.” He said this creates tension between federal and state law.

“We can’t as a state put conditions on federal warrants,” he said in an interview. “We can’t say it has to go through other processes first.”

Demmer added the bill places “burdens” on federal, state and local immigration law enforcement agencies to perform their job.

“This puts hurdles in the way law enforcement agencies carry out past laws of this land,” he said during the committee hearing.

However, Welch said the bill does not prohibit law enforcement agencies from carrying out their job.

“Our judges have the discretion to issue a warrant or not based on the information that is being presented to them. If a valid warrant is presented…we should allow them to do their job,” he said.  

Contact Debby Hernandez at editintern@illinoistimes.com.


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