Nov 7, 2023 - Politics

The incredible fight over whether Chicago should stay a sanctuary city

Illustration of the Chicago skyline cut out of a ballot.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

City Council is expected to resume a heated debate Tuesday about putting Chicago's sanctuary city status up for a referendum vote next year.

Why it matters: Several alders are calling for the status to be reconsidered in response to the more than 20,000 migrants who've recently arrived in Chicago, but others say sanctuary protections are largely irrelevant to the current crisis.

Context: Chicago has been considered a sanctuary city since 1985, when then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an order prohibiting local officials from withholding city services, investigating or prosecuting people solely based on their immigration status.

Driving the news: The debate has divided the council, culminating in Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa's resignation from his role as floor leader Monday after acknowledging that he had acted disrespectfully toward a fellow alder over the issue last week.

What they're saying: "When … Harold Washington did this, times were different. We didn't have people coming into this city by the thousands," Ald. Anthony Beale said at last week's contentious council meeting.

  • He views the proposed referendum as "a non-binding question to ask the people who are paying $30 and $40 million a month [for migrant services] if they want to continue down this road or do we want to make our elected officials try to do something different."

The other side: "The people who are attacking the sanctuary city ordinance don't know what they're talking about," Ramirez-Rosa told ABC 7 on Thursday. "[The ordinance] has nothing to do with refugee resettlement and has nothing to do with the current crisis."

Reality check: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights spokesperson Brandon Lee points out that sanctuary rules apply to undocumented residents, while most new arrivals are asylum seekers and those with Temporary Protected Status — statuses that carry federal protections.

Plus: Even if the referendum made it to the ballot, was approved and somehow became binding (it's not), the state's Trust Act, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017, would still prohibit the Chicago Police Department from cooperating with immigration authorities, ICIRR tells Axios.

What we're watching: The council is also expected to resume voting this week on a potential migrant base camp site in Morgan Park


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