Emanuel to introduce new protections for undocumented immigrants

July 10, 2012

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he will propose an ordinance that cuts some city police ties to federal immigration enforcement.

His office released a statement that says the measure would “ensure that undocumented Chicagoans will only be detained if they are wanted on a criminal warrant by local or federal authorities, if they have been convicted of a serious crime and remain in the United States illegally, or if they are otherwise a clear threat to public safety or national security.”

Emanuel’s aides said he would introduce the measure July 25. They declined to provide a draft.

Since the 1980s, Chicago has barred its agencies and employees from enforcing immigration law. The employees, including police officers, are not allowed to ask the immigration status of people who want services. Cops also are not allowed to question victims or witnesses about legal status. The policy aims to build trust with the city’s undocumented residents and promote their assistance in local law enforcement.

But a loophole in that policy has emerged. These days the criminal background checks that police officers run as part of a routine stop enable them to spot some immigration violators. Chicago, according to Emanuel, has been delivering “a few” of those residents — even if they’ve committed no serious crime — to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Tuesday, Emanuel said his measure would close that loophole.

“If you’re an immigrant, and you have no criminal background, I don’t want that to be prohibitive from contacting the police,” Emanuel said at a news conference at Little Village High School. “You see a crime? Report it. You’re a victim? Report it.”

The statement from Emanuel’s office says the city will continue cooperating with federal authorities in catching violent criminals who may be undocumented immigrants.

As Chicago distances itself from ICE, local jurisdictions in some other parts of the country are moving closer to the federal agency. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona measure that allows police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons.