Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday August 18th, 2015, 9:46pm

Chicago Aldermen, Advocates Release City Proposals To Strengthen Immigrant Integration

Chicago aldermen and immigrant advocates unveiled a list of proposals Tuesday aimed at improving the lives of immigrants across the city.

Issues of language access, legal representation, safety and services for immigrants are addressed in the Chicago Immigration Policy Working Group's six-point immigrant integration plan.

The newly-formed working group is comprised of three Chicago council members, Alds. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), and 14 leading immigrant advocacy organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Latino Policy Forum and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

"Two years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that he is committed to making Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the United States," Ramirez-Rosa said at a Tuesday press conference. "As the Chicago Immigration Working Group, we share that commitment, and we're excited to get to work alongside the mayor to fulfill that goal."

The group has proposed expanding programs that offer free or low-cost legal counsel to low-income immigrants; revising the city's "Welcoming City Ordinance," which looks to protect undocumented immigrants from unfair detentions and deportations, to include a clear separation between police and federal immigration enforcement; amending the city's "Language Access Ordinance" to cover the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago fire and police departments as well as accommodations for smaller or emerging immigrant communities; creating a municipal ID card program; establishing a grant or low-interest loan program for low-income immigrants applying for federal deferred action; and improving access to Chicago services for immigrants who are crime survivors or victims of labor or civil rights abuses.

The working group does not yet have estimates on how much the proposals would cost the city, which is grappling with large budget and pension concerns. 

Ramirez-Rosa said the group met with representatives from the mayor's office last week to work through the immigrant integration proposals.

"They've made a commitment to work with us, and we're now gonna workshop these ordinances and begin bringing them before the city council in the near future," the alderman said.

Working group members said there is a possibility of having certain initiatives on the list funded by private sources.

"In addition to having private support for some of these proposals, some of them actually will bring money to the city as an investment," noted Tania Unzueta with Organized Communities Against Deportations. "For example, the idea of investing in people to apply for the deferred action program, there's actually studies that show that this will increase the income that immigrants can bring into the city via taxes. This isn't just immigrants taking money, it's also an issue of how it's gonna benefit the city of Chicago."

One of the working group's policy proposals involves creating a municipal ID card program in Chicago. 

Emanuel has already convened a task force to develop an implementation plan for such a program, under which all Chicago residents would get a city-issued identification card connecting them to city services, programs and benefits.

Municipal ID cards are already used in places like New York City and Newark.

Fred Tsao with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said municipal ID programs are important because it can be difficult for certain populations of people, such as those who are undocumented, homeless, transgender or formerly incarcerated, to obtain other forms of identification.

"A city ID document would provide a valid form of identification for city purposes, but it would also be a document that we hope would be a vehicle for civic pride, something that would tie all city residents together as one Chicago," Tsao added.

At least one way the city could pay for a municipal ID program is by charging a fee for the cards, working group members said.

Meanwhile, the aldermen and advocates also say the protections for undocumented immigrants under the city's Welcoming City Ordinance should be strengthened. Specifically, the group wants the ordinance to be more in line with Cook County's stricter policies related to local law enforcement and immigration enforcement.

Working group members said some "carveouts" in Chicago's Welcoming City Ordinance need to be addressed, including one involving undocumented immigrants who already have cases pending in the criminal justice system.

"Now mind you, they're already being charged and prosecuted for an offense," Tsao said. "Unfortunately under the city law, if that person is stopped at a traffic stop again, the information for that individual can be turned over to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which does not seem like a reasonable exception or carveout in such cases."

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