CHICAGO (CBS) — A newly formed City Council Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights has backed a proposal from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to expand protections for undocumented immigrants, by prohibiting Chicago police from cooperating with federal immigration agents.

The measure advanced by a unanimous committee vote on Tuesday would eliminate exemptions in Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which allowed officers to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in certain limited circumstances.

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Under the current version of the Welcoming City Ordinance, Chicago Police officers are allowed to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the name of a person in CPD custody appears in the city’s gang database, if they have a prior felony conviction or pending felony case, or if they have an outstanding criminal warrant.

The mayor’s proposal would eliminate those exceptions, and prohibit city agencies from detaining anyone solely based on their immigration status, or from transferring anyone into ICE custody solely for civil immigration enforcement.

Police also would be barred from setting up a traffic perimeter or providing on-site support to assist federal agents in civil immigration enforcement operations.

Police supervisors would be required to approve any requests for assistance for ICE. If a supervisor determines a federal agency is seeking help enforcing civil immigration laws, the supervisor would be required to decline the request.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who was instrumental in crafting the changes to the Welcoming City Ordinance, said it creates “a clear line separating local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement.”

Nubia Willman, director of the city’s Office of New Americans, said the changes would “allow for real trust building between police and the community.”

Two more provisions were added to the mayor’s proposal after she first introduced it in December.

The measure would require the Chicago Police Department to review and certify within 90 days any applications for a so-called “U-Visa” available to undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes and help police with the investigation.

It also would replace outdated language in the city’s code that refers to people who hold some city licenses as citizens, even though citizenship isn’t a requirement to obtain those licenses.

“Immigrants helped build our city, drive our economy, and many are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health pandemic. They are a vital part of our city’s fabric,” said Ald. Ariel Reboyras, who chairs the newly-formed Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Ramirez-Rosa said the changes to the ordinance come at a symbolic time: President Donald Trump’s last full day in office.

“Over the past four years, Trump has used our nation’s highest office to wage war against our immigrant communities and our sanctuary cities. Chicago has been targeted by ICE raids on neighborhoods and in homes. By passing this item through committee today, we will be turning the page on Trump and Trumpism with meaningful legislation to protect our immigrant communities,” he said.

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Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) also noted the changes to the Welcoming City Ordinance are coming just weeks after a mob of extremists, many of them white supremacists, stormed the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress to formalize President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

“Right now, in the context of this historical moment, when we are seeing so much white supremacist right-wing violence in our country, it becomes an emergency that we make sure our undocumented people feel safe,” she said.

By introducing the latest changes to the Welcoming City Ordinance directly to committee on Tuesday, Lightfoot’s office bypassed an effort by Ald. Raymond Lopez to stall an earlier version of the proposal by sending it to the Rules Committee, where controversial ordinances are typically sent to languish without a vote.

Lopez has argued the proposal carries “dangerous consequences.”

“Those few people that are committed to violence and terrorizing our neighborhoods should not be given the same respect and concern we give to those wanting to actually lift up Chicago,” Lopez said in a statement last month. “I believe firmly that Chicago must remain a sanctuary for all that wish to add to our city’s greatness, regardless of how they got here. However, we must continue to recognize the difference between those undocumented individuals wanting to improve our city versus those that would seek to harm it.”

Supporters of the ordinance, however, have said it actually will make the city safer, noting many undocumented immigrants fear cooperating with police when they are victims of or witnesses of a crime.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), whose largely Latino ward includes 26th Street, often called the “Second Magnificent Mile” or the “Mexican Magnificent Mile,” said eliminating the carve-outs makes it much more likely undocumented immigrants will call police in the event of a crime.

“Immigrants need to feel welcome, they need to feel safe, and particularly in a city like Chicago they should be living in a real sanctuary,” he said.

Willman said the changes to the ordinance also will make it more likely undocumented immigrants will seek out other basic city services.

“If people are comfortable seeking help with the police, they will feel more at ease applying for a business permit, or signing up for a vaccine, because they trust the city government,” Willman said.

Lightfoot had campaigned on a promise to eliminate the carve-outs from the Welcoming City Ordinance, but did not follow through until introducing the proposal last fall. Originally, she tried to include the measure as part of her 2021 budget plan in an effort to leverage more support for her spending plan from aldermen, but later agreed to introduce it as a standalone proposal after getting angry pushback from the Hispanic Caucus.

“It’s a really, really, really big deal; and I am incredibly happy that we have gotten to this place, because we know everything takes so much work, and the progress is always so slow,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

The measure now goes to the full City Council for consideration at its next meeting on Jan. 27.

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