Chicago Police Aren’t Helping ICE Detain Immigrants, Report Says

immigrant handcuffed at ICE Bridgeview facility
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at ICE's Broadview, Ill. facility in 2008. A new report obtained by WBEZ shows that Chicago Police refused to comply with 14 requests to aid ICE agents detain immigrants, citing the city's sanctuary ordinance. Brian Kersey / Associated Press
immigrant handcuffed at ICE Bridgeview facility
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at ICE's Broadview, Ill. facility in 2008. A new report obtained by WBEZ shows that Chicago Police refused to comply with 14 requests to aid ICE agents detain immigrants, citing the city's sanctuary ordinance. Brian Kersey / Associated Press

Chicago Police Aren’t Helping ICE Detain Immigrants, Report Says

In the last three months, federal immigration agents asked the Chicago Police Department to help detain immigrants 14 times. But CPD refused each time, citing the city’s sanctuary ordinance, according to a report obtained by WBEZ.

“CPD received 14 such requests for assistance, and did not transfer any individual into a federal agency’s custody,” according to the report sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Joe Ferguson, the city’s inspector general.

“Being an immigrant is not a crime. Chicago stands with its immigrant community, especially in the face of politicized immigration enforcement,” Lightfoot said in a written statement. “This is why earlier this year I led a major overhaul to the Welcoming City Ordinance including the creation of this critically important CPD requirement. This report serves as a reminder that protecting our immigrant community is more than words on paper, it’s a promise.”

The report covers requests between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020. This was the first ever quarterly report showing how the Police Department is complying with Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance.

“It is a good sign that the Chicago police are complying with both the spirit and the letter of the ordinance,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance has been the subject of many changes over the years. And while Chicago has been praised by some as a sanctuary city due to the ordinance, the city has also received criticism from both ends of the immigration debate. President Donald Trump has been critical of the city for offering protection to undocumented immigrants, while immigration advocates have complained that the ordinance doesn’t offer enough protections and that more changes are needed.

The latest amendment to the ordinance was added in January. Those changes include ending cooperation with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents and cutting off access to CPD’s gang database.

Tsao said immigration activists advocated for those changes not just with Lightfoot but also with other mayors. But there’s still more work to do, he said.

“Over the years immigrant rights groups have asked for transparency from our local government about the extent of police-ICE collaboration in the city of Chicago,” said activist Rey Wences, with Organized Communities Against Deportation.

“This first report is a good move in the right direction. However, we cannot truly call this a victory. Under the current amended [Welcoming City Ordinance], carve outs still exist.”

There are four exceptions in which police officers can collaborate with ICE agents, including instances when an immigrant has a criminal warrant or a felony conviction. And that’s been at the heart of a battle between activists and city officials.

“Chicago’s immigrant community won’t truly be protected until we remove those exceptions,” Wences said.

The Welcoming City ordinance was approved in 2012 under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but the original sanctuary ordinance dates back to the 1980s. The ordinance prohibits local agencies from asking immigrants about their legal status while seeking city services or talking with Chicago police officers. It also protects immigrants from being detained by federal agencies unless they are convicted of a serious crime or are seen as a threat to public safety.

Last year, a report from the city’s inspector general revealed that over the past two decades, federal immigration agencies searched the Chicago Police Department’s gang database at least 32,000 times.

The report also criticized the accuracy of CPD’s gang database. And those errors can have real life consequences for undocumented immigrants like Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, who sued CPD and ICE for alledgedly obtaining false information from the gang database identifying him as a gang member.

Catalan-Ramirez was seriously injured after being shot leaving a restaurant in 2017. Two months later, seven ICE agents raided his home without a warrant, and agents fractured his left shoulder before arresting him, according to the lawsuit.

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.