Keep Families Together Coalition Opposes Bloomington Immigration Ordinance | WGLT

Keep Families Together Coalition Opposes Bloomington Immigration Ordinance

Jul 7, 2018

UPDATED 8:30 p.m. | The pro-immigrant activists who pushed the Bloomington City Council to vote on a Welcoming City ordinance are opposed to the version being considered Monday night.

The Keep Families Together coalition lobbied both Normal and Bloomington city councils in recent months to pass Welcoming ordinances, arguing their urgency in light of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration. Normal passed its ordinance in May with the coalition’s support.

Bloomington's three-page proposed ordinance is similar to Normal’s but not identical. In a statement, the Keep Families Together coalition said Bloomington's proposed ordinance “does not take any meaningful action to limit collaboration between the Bloomington Police Department (BPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is the very purpose of welcoming community ordinances."

"Unlike the ordinance that was adopted by the Town of Normal, this proposal does not set clear parameters as to how police will deal with ICE. In contrast, the Bloomington proposal centralizes power in the hands of the Bloomington chief of police to decide how BPD should work with ICE, without providing any measures of transparency, disclosure, or accountability," the Keep Families Together coalition said.

Like the Normal ordinance, Bloomington’s version says its officers will follow the state’s 1-year-old Trust Act, designed to protect unauthorized immigrants from federal agents by limiting the role of state and local law enforcement. The ordinance would also codify that Bloomington Police “responds to criminal activity without regard to the citizenship status of those involved.”

Like the Normal ordinance, Bloomington’s would require officers to get approval from the police chief for any communications with ICE agents beyond the information sharing about citizenship and immigration status that’s required by federal law.

Coalition Concerns

The coalition is concerned by “multiple subtle but significant differences” between the Bloomington and Normal ordinances, spokesperson Louis Goseland said Saturday.

One example: Normal’s ordinance prohibits its employees from requesting “information about or otherwise investigating or assisting in the investigation of the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless such inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal law, or court order or is deemed to be necessary for a criminal investigation.” It also requires the town employee, such as a police officer, to explain why the information is being requested.

The proposed Bloomington ordinance does not have such language, Goseland said. It only says Bloomington Police does not ask about citizenship status “as part of its routine practice,” and it doesn’t include the transparency measure of explaining why the information is sought, he said.

Another key difference, Goseland said, is that “Bloomington has a history of questionable interactions with ICE.” He’s referring to emails between Bloomington officers and ICE showing a close working relationship. Those emails were disclosed in February though a records request. Then-Police Chief Brendan Heffner defended his department’s conduct.

“Their ordinance should be stronger than Normal’s in order to correct past misbehavior on the part of BPD. Instead the Bloomington proposal is weaker and more permissive,” Goseland told GLT.

Enough Votes To Pass?

It’s unclear if there are enough votes to pass the ordinance on the Bloomington City Council. Aldermen were opposed to a previous version of the ordinance, banding together to stop a planned February discussion about it. Some aldermen raised questions about whether such an ordinance was necessary given the state’s Trust Act. They also said it “casts unfavorable and unfair criticism on our outstanding police force."

Keep Families Together is comprised of Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington-Normal DSA, CAUSA (Committee Assisting Undocumented Student Achievement), Conexiones Latinas, Illinois People’s Action, The Immigration Project, McLean County League of Women Voters, Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal, and YWCA McLean County.

The Keep Families Together coalition said Bloomington's new version is not the "compromise" version that it supports. They said it's a "very different document that has been drafted by Bloomington city staff without our input."

"We want a Welcoming City ordinance, but this is not it," the coalition said.

Mayor Tari Renner, who has supported a Welcoming City ordinance, called Monday's special meeting. The Not In Our Town organization said Saturday it supported the proposed ordinance, calling Monday's vote a "first step to further refinement." It suggested changes to the ordinance's section relating to police communication with ICE, including language from Normal's.

"Whatever policy is determined for city staff and law enforcement to contact ICE, community organizations that work with immigrants should have a voice in developing that policy," NIOT said in a statement, issued by group leader Mike Matejka. "The implicit hope is that a Welcoming City will assure our immigrant neighbors that they are not subject to random action; including advocates in developing that policy can help build that trust."

Bloomington’s ordinance will be discussed at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

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