The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to strengthen protections for undocumented immigrants living in the city and designate the home of Emmett Till a landmark in the first meeting of 2021.
Several Chicago aldermen who worked on closing certain loopholes in the city’s Welcoming City Ordinance said the changes will signal to undocumented residents that they should not be afraid that their cooperation with police or past criminal history will put them in jeopardy of deportation.
But the vote wasn’t unanimous— eight aldermen voted against it saying it would embolden and protect “criminals.” As Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st Ward, put it before casting his “no” vote, “We are essentially welcoming criminals to our city.”
He added, “Many people might ask, Who else besides illegal immigrants will be granted this amazing privilege? The answer is no one.”
Speaking after the council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a point to publicly shame Ald. Napolitano and Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, for similar concerns he made about the ordinance, saying their comments were racist.
“We had to eliminate any exceptions that would prevent the welcoming city ordinance from fully guaranteeing safeguards for our residents,” the mayor said before shifting focus to the aldermen.
“I also want to strongly condemn the racist and misguided comments by two members of the city council,” Lightfoot said, noting it is “rare” for her to call out aldermen by name while at the podium talking to reporters.
“I just have to say, shame on you. We can and we will disagree on policy, and I believe that we must continue to press for immigration reform. But spirited debate, which is at the heart of our democracy is not the same as using racist tropes and xenophobic rhetoric, to promote yourself on the backs of others and demonize them.”
Chicago aldermen also voted to designate the former Woodlawn home of Emmitt Till as a city landmark. The two-story, brick home is in Ald. Jeanette Taylor’s 20th Ward. After the item passed, she recalled that just a year ago the neighborhood had memorialized the 65th anniversary of Till’s brutal murder in Mississippi, which was a catalyst for the growing civil rights movement at the time.
“And a lot of times history that happens for African Americans are forgotten about,” Taylor said. “And so before there was Trayvon Martin, before there was Eric Garner, there was Emmett Till and so we still have a real problem in this country […] We will repeat history if we don’t address it.”
Aldermen also approved a grab bag of development-related items, including two administration-led zoning changes that seek to reverse an affordable housing problem in gentrifying neighborhoods — the conversion of two-, three- and four- flat residential buildings into single-family homes, or mini-mansions.
Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.