The Normal Town Council passed a Welcoming Community ordinance Monday that aims to create a new “check and balance” system for police interactions with immigration officials while still adhering to state and federal law.
Prior to the council's meeting, more than 50 people gathered at Uptown Circle to rally in support for the ordinance. Speakers included YWCA Mission Impact Director Jenn Carrillo, Central Illinois ACLU member Tom Cullen, Illinois People's Action member Sonny Garcia, Committee Assisting Undocumented Student Achievement (CAUSA) co-founder Maura Toro-Morn and Charlotte Alvarez from The Immigration Project.
Several public comment participants spoke on behalf of their families and local organizations, including Bloomington-Normal's Black Lives Matter chapter, the YWCA and the McLean County League of Women Voters. YWCA McLean County CEO and President Dontae Latson said the ordinance is a strong first step in the right direction.
"It isn't everything we ever wanted. We recognize the willingness to give up some of what Normal officials wanted us to, so that together we can embrace this important endeavor to produce the best results for our 'radically normal' community," Latson said.
Three individuals unaffiliated with organizations spoke in opposition to the ordinance.
The ordinance says, among other things:
- Town employees can’t ask about someone’s citizenship or immigration status unless it’s required by law or court order or necessary for a criminal investigation. If they ask, town employees must explain why they’re asking.
- Normal Police can’t investigate someone solely for an immigration violation.
- NPD officers must get approval from the police chief prior to collaborating or communicating with ICE. Normal officials say this extra step will create a "check and balance … acknowledging that additional care will be given to such situations.”
- The town will comply with the state’s new Trust Act as well as a federal law that prohibits local restrictions on information flow with the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding citizenship or immigration status.
‘About Safety For All’
The council and police department want to encourage undocumented residents to report crimes or call 911 if needed. Council member Chemberly Cummings said these agreements between city staff and police must be in writing to reduce fear among such immigrants.
"Why all of us sit here is to improve the quality of life for our residents and ensure safety for our residents. And this is really about safety for all," she said.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said community policing is a way to further community conversations.
"I think this goes hand-in-hand on what our community policing model is," Bleichner said. "We provide police services to the entire community regardless of status. We also understand the sensitivity of the immigrant community toward contact with law enforcement, how some individuals are concerned, and how that creates a risk for some to be victimized. Or, if they are victims or witnesses, maybe reluctant to come forward because of what the tenor is with the federal government, especially with how immigration has been treated."
Preston and Fritzen Vote Against
The council voted 5-2 with Scott Preston and Jeff Fritzen opposing the measure. Preston said the council shouldn't be involved in matters between city staff and the Normal Police.
"The substance of it, I am a supporter of, it's just not something I thought was a decision for this body to make. It was a decision for staff to make," Preston said.
During public comment, longtime Normal landlord Ron Ulmer questioned the need for the resolution. Fritzen echoed similar concerns.
"And so my question is, are we searching for a solution to a problem that doesn't exist?" Ulmer asked.
"We want to commit to an ordinance that puts these practices on paper, but there's been other testimony that says we haven't had an issue in Normal. And I guess I have to wonder if that's basically been our policy all along, does it really make a difference?" Fritzen asked. "Is there something different in that draft policy that what practices have been?"
The Town of Normal has been talking with the Keep Families Together coalition for about six months. City Manager Pam Reece said more than 1,000 people have contributed to putting together the ordinance.
Bloomington has had the issue before it for a year and a half. Aldermen there don’t appear close to a vote on the issue.
Editor's note: Normal Town Council member R.C. McBride is also general manager at GLT.
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