Evanston City Council unanimously passed legislation Monday to strengthen the north suburb’s Welcoming City Ordinance.
The measure now expressly forbids police and other city employees from asking about immigration status and reporting undocumented immigrants to the federal government.
The legislation comes as President-elect Donald Trump has called for the deportation of more than two million undocumented immigrants. Trump has also vowed to cut off federal funds to municipalities that do not work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Without addressing any potential loss of federal funds, several aldermen said they felt the step was vital to reassure immigrant communities.
Ald. Melissa Wynne noted she, and several other aldermen, were on the city council in 2008, when Evanston passed its original, weaker, Welcoming City Ordinance.
“We were very proud to pass that ordinance,” Wynne said. “Frankly, it saddens me that we have to strengthen our ordinance now.”
Despite the unanimous vote, and the stack of public comments in favor of the measure, the evening was tinged with a note of sobriety. Several residents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting about an incident they said exposes deep-seated racial inequities and injustice in Evanston.
“On the eve of passing an ordinance about being a Welcoming City, a 24-year old African-American is arrested for exercising his first amendment right,” said Alex Block, a candidate for alderman in Evanston’s 3rd Ward.
Block was referring to Devon Reid, who was later released with misdemeanor charges dropped. The officers involved were put on leave.
Reid called on city council members to address police accountability and racial inequity much more seriously.
“We need to address the conditions that create a segregated city,” Reid said. “It’s an extremely segregated city, and each and every one of you should truly be appalled by this and make sure you take action.”
Several speakers said their support of the council’s Welcoming City measure was accompanied by outrage over the perceived racial injustice of Reid’s arrest.
Evanston’s law is based on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 Welcoming City Ordinance. After Trump won the presidential election, Emanuel joined immigrant and business community leaders to say the city would remain a so-called sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
Evanston’s rules have exceptions for when police can report an undocumented immigrant, such as when a person is charged with a felony, if they are listed in a law enforcement agency’s gang database or if they admit to being in a gang.
Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said those exemptions are problematic.
He said being on a gang registry or having a criminal record are not grounds for police to arrest a U.S. citizen, so they should not be the basis for deportation.
“What we are really calling for is equal treatment,” he said.
Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she introduced the ordinance to protect her residents after Trump’s election.
In response to criticisms on the carve-outs, Tisdahl said she thought they were reasonable, and she thinks the ordinance puts immigrants in a much better position than they would be in otherwise.