Local lawmakers push Safe Zones immigration bill

Harmon, Welch win OK in legislature. Now up to Rauner

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

As the Trump Administration continues to ramp up arrests and deportation of undocumented immigrants across the nation, two local state lawmakers have advanced a proposal aimed at creating safe zones for them in public spaces.

Illinois Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Chris Welch (D-Westchester), who represents parts of River Forest, Forest Park and Maywood, recently received legislative approval for their "Safe Zones Act" and now await approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The proposed bill would direct the state attorney general's office to establish guidelines for how state law enforcement agents can assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in state-funded buildings. Those so-called safe zones include: schools; daycare centers; hospitals; health clinics; emergency and urgent care facilities; nursing homes; group homes; mental health facilities; libraries; courthouses and facilities run by the secretary of state.

The bill was approved in the Illinois Senate in a 31-16 votes and in the House by a vote of 62-53.

Harmon said in a telephone interview that the proposal grew out of the Illinois Trust Act, which was signed into law in 2017, which, among other things, states that "state and local police are not deputized immigration agents and … not expected to expend resources enforcing or complying with federal civil immigration detainers and administrative warrants" and "prohibits state and local police from searching, arresting or detaining a person based solely on citizenship or immigration status or an administrative warrant."

Harmon said he and other lawmakers have worked with state police and the Illinois Sheriffs Association to mitigate their concerns that the Safe Zones Act could hamper their ability to enforce state laws.

"We began by saying that local law enforcement could not cooperate with federal officers unless they had a warrant in those public places," Harmon said.

"This bill will make people feel safer in their everyday lives taking their children to school or the doctor," Harmon said in a press release. "While every immigrant is now a target for deportation, this provides added safety in our communities. Our diverse immigrant history is what defines Illinois, and we need to make the state welcoming for everyone."

Harmon said in an interview that he "can't imagine the horror of being separated from a small child at the border as a parent" or "being taken away from a child at the hospital because they've been hurt or at a school because they chose to attend a play or a parent-teacher conference."

"That's not American. We don't ask people for their papers. We don't rip families apart," he said.

Rep. Chris Welch said that along with the Trust Act, Illinois is leading the nation in sending a signal to immigrants that they are welcomed here.

"Kids should be at their desks learning, not worrying about ICE agents," he said in a telephone interview.

Welch said his office has never received so many calls as in the days following the election of President Donald Trump. He received reports that children were crying in schools at Proviso West in Hillside and Proviso East in Maywood, over fear that their parents would be deported.

"I remember that day like it was yesterday," Welch said. "Those phone calls were horrific and it was purely based on fear."

Oak Parker Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of the immigrant rights group PASO, which helped convince Oak Park and Forest Park to approve a sanctuary city ordinance in 2017, said in a telephone interview that her organization has recently been working with undocumented immigrants detained by ICE agents in Berwyn, Cicero, Lyons, Stone Park and elsewhere.

Her group has lobbied Springfield for both the Trust Act and the Safe Zones Act.

She noted that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security "has more funding than all other (federal) law-enforcement agencies combined" and operates without "accountability (or) transparency".

Action must be taken at the state level to protect undocumented immigrants because "Congress has not positioned itself to really address these issues," she said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 7:55 PM

If we are going to stop obeying laws here in Illinois, lets all stop paying our property taxes and state income taxes. Then maybe Don Harmon will help us get away with that, because the tax increases he brings us are "horrific". After all, every citizen "is now a target" for the tax man around here.

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 10:40 AM

We have to decide, as a nation, what we want to become. Without laws and borders, nations do not exist. We elect people to create laws for a orderly society. It sounds like anyone can decide what laws they wish to follow, and break the laws they don't like without consequences.

Dale Jones  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 9:59 AM

@Jeff Evans: One person's spin is another's fact check. You can google an interview by former Obama Administration DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson when he appeared last week on Fox News Sunday. He had the following to say regarding Obama Administration policy of separating families of illegal immigrants being detained. Johnson told host Chris Wallace that they "thought it was necessary at the time," and that it is still is. "Without a doubt the images, and the reality, from 2014, just like 2018, are not pretty," Johnson said. "We expanded it, I freely admit it was controversial, we believed it was necessary at the time, I still believe it is necessary to remain a certain capability for families."

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 27th, 2018 6:35 PM

The law of the land, as I am sure the good Senator knows - is that people who are undocumented or overstayed their visa have committed a civil (not criminal) violation where the penalty, is in fact deportation. That is the law of the land. According to the 10th amendment of the US Constitution (the anti- commandeering interpretation as put forth by the Godfather of original intent: Antonin Scalia) the federal government can not "commandeer" the police apparatus of the states to do their ?" the Fed's (ICE) - "dirty work". That too is the law of the land. So the resolution to this seeming contradiction rests with the Congress. That's right. The Congress ? that august body that has been kicking this particular can down the road for the past few decades.

Mary Jo Erickson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 27th, 2018 3:58 PM

"Harmon said in a press release. "While every immigrant is now a target for deportation" No, this is simply not true. Legal immigrants, people who have followed the proper procedures to come to the US, are not in danger of deportation. Illegal immigrants are.

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: June 27th, 2018 12:52 PM

Dale, keep spinning all you like, but there was a change in policy by the current admin that started causing this. To be very specific, it was in arresting and detaining first time border crossers (a misdemeanor), even those who file an asylum claim. The reasons the White House gave for this policy change were quite varied, but the first justification seemed to come from Sessions on May 7. Debate the merits of the change in policy all you like, but please spare us the "same as Obama!" nonsense.

Dale Jones  

Posted: June 27th, 2018 10:03 AM

The Democrats and their propaganda machine in the media are spreading the false narrative that there is something unique in separating children from parents who have broken the law when those parents are being held in accordance with the law. The key point is that the parents broke the law, laws that were passed with the support of Democrats. Whenever anyone is jailed or otherwise held for a violation of law, the children are not held in custody with the parents. They are either placed with a family member or placed in protective or foster care. That is what is being done here and that was what was done in the Obama Administration as well. The media pictures of children in "cages" were taken during the Obama Presidency.

Nick Polido  

Posted: June 26th, 2018 8:46 PM

While we all feel disgrace of the separation of children from a family member lets broaden our horizon to some horrific events: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/algeria-abandons-13000-migrants-forced-sahara-desert-march/

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