The River Forest Board of Trustees adopted a welcoming resolution at its Aug. 21 meeting after nearly an hour of, at times, passionate discussion before a standing-room-only crowd at village hall. 

The vote, a 4-2 split with trustees Mike Gibbs and Carmela Corsini dissenting, came after Corsini moved to strike a section of the resolution related to non-judicial immigration warrants or detainers. But Trustee Thomas Cargie immediately moved to table her motion, which then passed. 

River Forest now joins other neighboring communities, like Forest Park and Oak Park, which have adopted similar ordinances and resolutions in recent months, spelling out protections for undocumented individuals. 

“I cannot and will not be associated with language in Section 6 or any other language that does not provide for full cooperation with all levels of law enforcement,” Gibbs said. “I do not apologize that I feel confident in United States law enforcement. I would rather thank them for protecting me than restrict the tools that they provide that protection with.” 

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer or warrant is not issued by a judge. It is a request from an ICE officer to a local law enforcement agency to hold an individual. 

Gibbs said the board had reached unanimous consent at its June meeting to pass something similar to Forest Park. As reported by Wednesday Journal, some River Forest residents and elected officials, including Trustee Respicio Vazquez, said Forest Park’s language was not strong enough and wanted to tweak it, in part by adding specific language about using local funds to enforce federal immigration laws. 

Village President Catherine Adduci said at the board’s July meeting that trustees needed to “build some consensus” around a draft document. But Monday’s board discussion and the 4-2 vote showed a split remained. 

“I respect everyone’s opinion, but I am not sure why we are struggling with this,” Vazquez said. “What people are asking for is a commitment. We are claiming, and I say claiming, that we are welcoming, and that we respect everybody and that we want to make sure we live in a peaceful community. But yet when someone asks us to put it in writing, we’re coming up with more reasons we shouldn’t.”

Cargie, who is a lawyer, said he was supportive of the resolution for several reasons. 

“From a legal perspective, I am quite comfortable everything in here is appropriate,” Cargie said. “The other prism with which I looked at this was the morality of it. … These are human beings. The way that ICE has carried out these orders is abominable. They’re staking out child care centers, court houses; they are staking out hospitals.”

Vazquez, responding to Gibbs and Corsini, said Section 6 does not disregard court orders or warrants issued by a judge. 

“It says that if there is a valid, enforceable warrant or court order, then we would abide by that,” Vazquez said. “What that language is saying is we are not going to be enforcing an order that is not enforceable by a judge.”

“I feel very comfortable with this resolution and urge the village board to approve this resolution as stands,” Adduci said. “It is a statement of our values for our community. It clearly tells neighboring communities and others who we are.”

“I am afraid as I look around our country that there are groups that think they are superior to other groups,” Trustee Susan Conti said.

 She later added she was not “thrilled” with Section 6 of the resolution but would vote for it. 

“I am happy to support a resolution that reaffirms our village’s continued commitment that we treat all people equally, respectfully and lawfully.” Corsini said. “I am troubled however with Section 6.” 

Corsini later said Section 6 created a “slippery slope” and that instances of ICE requests to River Forest police have not been very common, so that section was unnecessary. 

“What problem are we trying to solve?” Corsini said. “The language is confusing and ambiguous.” 

As at previous board meetings in June and July, a handful of River Forest residents spoke, using historical anecdotes and personal stories, to urge trustees to pass the resolution. 

“Right now, we are being asked to reaffirm our values,” Heidi Kieselstein said. “It is not enough to say we are fine here, we do the right thing, that we are welcoming village. That’s not sufficient. It’s not sufficient because people are questioning it, people are challenging it. When someone challenges us, we have to be very, very clear exactly where we stand.”

“The reason I am so for this resolution is because I believe it represents the values of River Forest today,” said Vanessa Druckman, who was born in France and moved to the United States when she was 10. “By voting yes, we are sending a message.” 

“I’ve always been for it, but things are different now. It is even more important now than ever to demonstrate who we are as a village,” said Deb Goldstein, mentioning recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. “The context in which you’ll be voting on this ordinance has changed in the last week.” 

“The overwhelming public input we have received on this topic has been from non-residents of River Forest,” Gibbs said. At board meetings in the last several months, public comment has been a mix of residents and non-residents. OPRF teacher and local activist Anthony Clark, for instance, has spoken several times. There have been faith leaders and other activists from neighboring communities, too. “In contrast,” Gibbs added, “the private contact I’ve had has encouraged me to not approve this resolution.” 

That comment in particular prompted a few attendees to yell out. 

“That’s not true,” one man said.

“Shame on you,” said a woman. 

“What about us?” another woman asked. 

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