About 50 people gathered at the Eagles Hall, 446 Hannah in Forest Park on Monday evening, to participate in a conversation about the welcoming village resolution which was first introduced to the village council over four months ago.
The flier promoting the event stated, “The Forest Park Town Hall, Forest Park Progressive Citizens, and Suburban Unity Alliance have teamed up to present a panel to answer questions and have a general dialogue on Diversity in Forest Park and the proposed Welcoming Resolution.”
Betty Alzamora, who was active in organizing the gathering, said the three groups, led by Maui Jones, Chris Harris and Anthony Clark, felt some impatience that the council is taking so long to get the resolution passed, especially since Oak Park and Berwyn have already passed welcoming ordinances.
The panel was composed of Diversity Commission chair Kate Webster, PASO board co-chair and District 209 board secretary Claudia Medina, Mayor Anthony Calderone, immigration rights attorney Mony Ruiz Velasco, and Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas.
One of the 16 questions asked of panel members was directed at Mayor Calderone: Why is the welcoming resolution taking so long to be passed? Calderone responded first by declaring that a welcoming resolution will be passed.
He then explained that Forest Park is really breaking new ground in passing a resolution. Oak Park and Berwyn have home rule, he said, which allows them to pass welcoming ordinances that have the force of law. Forest Park, because it does not have home rule, can only pass a resolution, which doesn’t carry the force of law and that means the village won’t be copying the language used in neighboring villages.
“I prefer to have a resolution that’s meaningful and doable,” he said. “We mean business, but I want to be certain our police can implement whatever we pass and that it won’t put them in jeopardy.”
Several questions were addressed to Chief Aftanas expressing concerns that the police in town will be handing over undocumented persons to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials. Aftanas forcefully stated that there is a lot of misinformation floating around the village and Forest Park police are not working with ICE officials and will not be handing undocumented people over to them.
Aftanas was also asked about racial profiling, followed by an exchange between him and Ruiz Velasco regarding just what exactly constituted racial profiling and if Forest Park officers were engaging in it when they advised some people to contact their consulate if picked up for a traffic violation and were not able to present a valid driver’s license.
Many of the questions voiced the fear, present especially in the Latino community, of being picked up in sweeps without a warrant. Rep. Chris Welch, who has introduced HB426 in the state assembly which would make Illinois a welcoming state was present at the town hall and clarified that his bill, along with the resolution being proposed in Forest Park, simply affirms what the law already requires but which is not always complied with by some law enforcement officials, i.e. that individuals cannot be required to present their documentation without a warrant issued by a judge.
Ruiz Velasco added that what some ICE officials are doing is also against the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment but they are not being held to it.
Many suggestions were made regarding how to make Forest Park more inclusive and how to address incorrect perceptions. One suggestion was to have a Latin band play at Music Fest this summer. Mayor Calderone liked the idea but said that was an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the suggestion should be passed on to them.
Alzamora said many people were motivated to have a town hall meeting where they could question village officials and the police, but especially the mayor. She said, “I think part of the concern are statements by the mayor printed in the Review and things we have heard him say at village council meetings that have seemed to diminish some of the concerns of residents of the village, given what’s happening at the national level and are also a concern at the Forest Park level.”
Although difficult to gauge, the conversations heard after the meeting seemed to indicate that those concerns had been both voiced and addressed.
As participants at the town hall were leaving to go home, Chris Harris said, “I thought the discussion was healthy and productive, that the information exchanged was fantastic.”
Maui Jones agreed saying, “I think it was a very positive discussion. Clearly not everyone agreed, but that didn’t stop us from communicating and that’s really what I wanted. I wanted people to voice different viewpoints freely and openly and still feel accepted within their community. I’m really happy.”
In addition to being a regular contributor to the Review, Tom Holmes is a member of the Forest Park Diversity Commission.