By Tom Holmes
On Jan. 12, Rep. Emmanuel "Chris" Welch (D-8th District) filed a billed called the Immigration Safe Zones Act, HB426. A synopsis of HB426 on the State of Illinois General Assembly website states:
"[HB426] provides that schools, medical treatment and health care facilities, and places of worship may not grant access to state and local law enforcement agencies that have entered into an agreement with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] or undertake other joint efforts with federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies to investigate, detain, or arrest individuals for violation of federal immigration law, unless a court has issued a warrant."
Welch clarified the synopsis, noting, "The Immigrant Safe Zones Act is not a sanctuary bill. It is not saying that just by being in the state of Illinois you are protected from immigration officials."
"Without a warrant," he emphasized, "that's the key phrase. We're not trying to violate federal law. If law enforcement officials come to the door of a school, hospital or church, with a valid warrant, we're going to allow them to execute that warrant. If they show up at a school, hospital or place of worship without a warrant, we're saying, 'Come back when you get one. We're also saying that schools, hospitals and churches may not share information with law enforcement officials, again, without a warrant. Parents should feel comfortable sharing information when they register their children for school or when they enter a health care facility.
"I came up with the idea by working with Forest Parker Claudia Medina," Welch said, "who is a board member of an organization based in Melrose Park called PASO." The website of Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste, or West Suburban Action Project, states that it "is a community-based social justice organization that works to engage community members to act through their faith and values to address issues that affect them, their families, and neighbors with the mission to build stronger communities where all residents can live dignified lives, regardless of their race, socioeconomic or immigration status."
What motivated Rep. Welch to file HB426 was the presidential election. Medina, who is also a District 209 school board member, and Welch were troubled by the fact that many students at Proviso East came to school the day after the election in November extremely frightened.
"Students showed up at school crying," Welch remembered. "They were emotional wrecks because they were afraid they would get home and find that their parents had been deported. They were afraid that ICE officials would burst into their school and take them away."
"So many people are living in fear right now," he continued, "that it's important we send a signal to the about 2 million immigrants living in Illinois right now: You are welcome; don't live in fear; stay here; spend your money here; go to our colleges and universities."
In response to critics who contend that passage of the bill would cause the state of Illinois to lose federal dollars, Welch repeated that HB426 is not the kind of sanctuary bill that President Trump is talking about. To those who say it will encourage illegal immigrants to come to our area, Welch said he believes we have a right to protect our borders but that our nation's vetting process is already pretty good. And responding to folks who say immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens, Welch said, "The research I'm familiar with shows that welcoming cities that have policies similar to my bill have lower crime rates and lower unemployment."
He cited the example, of a Pakistani man who has run a hardware store in Broadview for 36 years and who employs people from the community and pays taxes there. Welch added that we want immigrants to feel safe to invest money and start businesses in our communities without the fear that they will be raided by the government.
HB426 is similar to the welcoming ordinance passed recently in Oak Park and to the one being proposed in Forest Park because PASO has been involved in the creation of all three.
On Feb. 8 the bill was passed by the Human Services Committee on a strictly partisan vote: 7 Democrats yes and 4 Republicans no. As of Feb. 9 the bill had been placed on the House calendar for what is called a second reading and 19 representatives had signed on as co-sponsors.
The Illinois Senate is now considering a bill called the Illinois Trust Act (SB 31 - J. Cullerton) which includes Welch's bill, HB 426 and adds three provisions to it:
1) No deputizing of local police to serve as immigration agents
2) Law enforcement certifications for immigrant crime victims
3) No discriminatory registry programs
The Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois on May 2 summarized the bill by stating: "The Illinois Trust Act sets reasonable, constitutional limits on local police interaction with ICE enforcement, and fosters trust between local police and immigrant communities."