Nov 2, 2023 - Politics

Chicago City Council punts on sanctuary city debate — for now

Illustration of Chicago City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

While Mayor Brandon Johnson was in Washington, D.C., lobbying the federal government for more migrant funding, a group of alders tried but failed to put a sanctuary city referendum on the spring 2024 ballot.

Why it matters: The narrowly avoided vote — which could still take place — demonstrates deepening citywide divisions about how to handle the mounting migrant crisis.

What happened: Thursday's City Council meeting ended abruptly when, after a fourth roll call, the body was one person short of the 26-member quorum required to vote.

  • Several progressive alders skipped the meeting or stayed just outside chamber doors to ensure the council would not have a quorum.

Flashback: Former Mayor Harold Washington, in 1985, first designated Chicago as a sanctuary city, which means officials don't report a person's immigration status to federal authorities nor deny them city services.

Yes, but: Several alders want the city to reevaluate that status, citing limited municipal resources and years of underinvestment in many of its longtime citizens.

What they said: "I have a bleeding heart for people that come here that are honestly trying to do better for themselves," Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said on the council floor Thursday.

  • "I'm with that, but I'm telling you one thing, I'm with my people more."

The intrigue: At one point Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who co-sponsored the measure, asked the sergeant-at-arms to physically bring in the alders who were sidelining themselves outside the chamber to prevent the vote.

  • A quorum was established using alders who joined the meeting remotely, but by the fourth roll call, officials decided not to count them, quashing the vote.

Between the lines: This end run by moderate and conservative members of the council recalled the parliamentary tricks and voting blocks used during Washington's tenure to thwart his City Council agenda.

What's next: Johnson is back in town Friday, and the debate is expected to resume Tuesday.


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