Declaring River Forest a welcoming community could be gaining some momentum, although one village trustee seemed skeptical of the idea and its importance to local college students who would be most affected by it.

During recent candidate forums, trustee candidates incumbent Tom Cargie, Patty Henek and Respicio Vazquez said they would support the move.

Last year, Dominican University reaffirmed its status as a sanctuary campus. And during the March 13 village board meeting, two students and two administrators from the institution came before trustees to share what the university had done and ask them to consider something similar.

After their remarks, Trustee Mike Gibbs said he took umbrage with their comments about safety and interaction with immigration officials and seemed disinterested in even hearing about the issue.

Gibbs said he took an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States. Federal government agents, he said, have their jobs to do. There are laws on the books, they have a sworn duty to uphold laws and follow directives from their higher-ups. His higher-ups were the citizens of the village, he said.

“To have government and law enforcement presented as the bad guys in this situation, I’m uncomfortable with that,” said Gibbs, who has relatives who work for the FBI and a brother-in-law, Tom Dee, who is a trustee of Dominican University. “I would hope everyone realizes there’s a process that needs to be followed, and by not following the process, a law is broken.

“To present River Forest as unsafe and unwelcoming community, I take umbrage with that, because I don’t feel we are.”

One of the students at the board meeting was affected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. The policy, which began in 2012, allowed certain undocumented immigrants to the United States who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility.

Carolina Talavera, a senior and student leader of the Dominican Immigrant Student Collective, a campus advocacy group, said she has been dealing with students’ anxieties and concerns around safety and it would mean a lot if River Forest could help allay their fears.

“We cannot avoid the law,” Talavera said. “Students don’t want to be criminalized; they don’t feel safe. Not finding a family member at home, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

The students and college administrators were at the meeting to let the trustees know the richness and diversity of the campus and how meaningful it would be to adopt an ordinance, said Trudi Goggin, Dominican’s dean of students.

Claire Noonan, vice president of ministry and mission at Dominican, suggested that the village craft an ordinance similar to one in adopted in Seattle and another passed just last month in Oak Park. Forest Park is reviewing one as well, Village President Catherine Adduci said.

“This would be a place to start,” Noonan said. “For us having a welcoming city would guide the behavior of our city officials and our whole community and is consistent with Catholic identity and the mission of this institution.

“Some of the students who are here are undocumented. They are among our brightest and most promising. They are among the students who have contributed the most and the life and vitality of our community.”

A long-standing advocate for undocumented students, Dominican University President Donna Carroll recently told Wednesday Journal that about 5 to 10 percent of Dominican’s student population is undocumented.

She noted that many undocumented students were more vulnerable now than they were before the signing of DACA in 2012 as some 750,000 people registered under DACA have provided the federal government information that could lead to their deportation.

River Forest trustees have not yet discussed whether to become a welcoming, or sanctuary, community. A recent article in the New York Times defined a sanctuary city as a community that generally does not comply with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants and turn them over to the federal authorities for possible deportation.

In a community designated a welcoming community, or sanctuary city, citizenship or immigration status would not factor in any interaction between individuals and municipal employees, including police.

Adduci, who mentioned at a recent candidate forum that she would put the item on the agenda at a future date, said it would be discussed first at a committee of the whole meeting, where issues may be discussed. A date has not been set. 

“We have to have a conversation around what we want it to be and what it would look like,” said Adduci.

The fourth trustee candidate on the April ballot, incumbent Tom Dwyer, did not say anything at the meeting and was not at the two public forums where he could have addressed the question.

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