6 things that would make Chicago better for immigrants


Since June 2015 Organized Communities Against Deportations has been working with a coalition of City of Chicago Aldermen and community organizations to put together a series of proposals that would improve life for Chicago immigrants. Below iare the 6 proposals put forward by the Chicago Immigration Working Group on August 18, 2015.

Chicago Immigration Policy Working Group Platform

The city of Chicago has a long-standing history of welcoming immigrant communities. In response to the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s challenge to make Chicago “the most immigrant-friendly city”[1] in the country, the following is a set of proposed policies that would address the needs of immigrant communities and improve the life of all Chicago residents. The working group platform includes new proposals for the city to improve immigrant integration, services, and protection, as well as support for policies already being considered by the city.

The proposals were put together by a group of immigrant rights, labor rights, civil rights, legal advocacy, and policy advocacy organizations working in the city of Chicago, including the National Immigrant Justice Center, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Latino Policy Forum, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, The Resurrection Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice –Chicago, Enlace Chicago, Korean American Resource and Cultural Center, Southwest Organizing Project, Latino Union of Chicago, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Organized Communities Against Deportations, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America and Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights.

  1. Provide pro bono or low-cost representation to low-income immigrants in Chicago’s immigration courts by expanding existing legal services.

    Immigrants facing deportation have no right to government-appointed representation in proceedings. In Chicago less than 14% of women assigned to the “adults with children docket” in immigration court have legal representation, according to data from Syracuse University.[2] This rate is one of the lowest among courts that hear a large number of cases, which means that fewer immigrants have a chance to get a fair hearing of their case in the city of Chicago than in other major metropolitan areas. According to the Chicago Reporter, “women and children with an attorney are 16 times more likely to be allowed to stay in the U.S. than those without an attorney.”[3] Access to legal representation is also a matter of fairness under the law, especially when stakes are so high for immigrants and their families.

    In 2013 New York city launched the first program to provide free representation to low-income immigrants by expanding the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a public defender program for immigrants in removal proceedings.[4] The pilot program began at the cost of $500,000,[5] which was offset by savings in social service expenses caused by deportations (for example, the cost of taxpayer-funded foster care for children whose parents are deported). The city of Chicago should work with legal providers to assess the cost and benefits of providing legal representation for Chicago’s low income immigrants and children, and work towards a program that provides access to court-appointed representation in immigration court to low income immigrants and children by expanding the capacity of already existing agencies that provide pro bono, low-bono, or free legal services

  2. Expand protections for undocumented immigrants under Chicago’s “Welcoming Cities Ordinance” to align with Cook County policy.

    Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance”[6] separating local police and immigration enforcement is inconsistent with Cook County policies. While the county ordinance completely prevents submission of unconstitutional immigration detainers[7] and communications with immigration agents,[8] the city ordinance contains exceptions based on what have been criticized as arbitrary criteria, including whether the person is a defendant in a criminal case being tried for a felony – even if he has not been yet tried.[9] Revising the city ordinance to include all immigrants in Chicago and create a clear line separating local law enforcement and immigration enforcement would show the city’s commitment to the immigrant community, and would create consistency between Cook County and city policies. The Welcoming Cities Ordinance should be revisited to review the existing exclusions and create a clearer separation between local law enforcement and federal deportation pursuits.

  3. Strengthen the city language ordinance to assure quality access of emergency services to non-English speakers and improve relationship between Chicago’s emergency services, the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago’s immigrant communities.

    According to the Mayor’s office, more than 400,000 Chicago residents have difficulty speaking or understanding English.[10] The recent language access ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council seeks to provide “meaningful access” to city programs, services, and resources in Spanish, Polish, Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic. Although the passage of the ordinance is a good first step, it has been criticized for not requiring that certain emergency services, like the Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Police Department, adopt language access protocols.[11] The ordinance also excludes the Chicago Public Schools from having to assure language access to non-English speakers. The ordinance also does not consider relatively newer, smaller language communities (such as new refugee groups) that may face linguistic isolation. Finally, the ordinance does not include a complaint process or other accountability mechanism allowing individuals who are injured by a city agency’s noncompliance to raise the issue.

    The city language access ordinance needs to be amended to include the Chicago Fire Department, the Chicago Police Department, and the Chicago Public Schools and assure access for all Chicagoans; include provisions to consider the needs of smaller or emerging immigrant communities in certain neighborhoods with extremely low rates of English proficiency (linguistic isolation); and provide for a formal mechanism through which complaints about noncompliance can be brought.

  4. Support the creation of a municipal identification card for all Chicago residents and assure that the privacy of information provided by immigrant families is protected.

    Modeled after the New York and New Jersey municipal identification cards, this city-issued identification card would be accessible to all Chicago residents, and would connect them to services, programs, and benefits, regardless of immigration status, homeless status, or gender identity. The cards would also be considered official IDs for city of Chicago services, including interactions with the Chicago Police Department. Potential benefits for city residents could include access to government services (including library and recreational programs), banking and financial services, public transit, medical services, and discounts at museums and cultural venues.

    The Mayor has already created a taskforce to explore the potential for a municipal ID card. The immigration working group supports the creation of an identification card, and will join advocacy efforts to make this a reality. We emphasize that the city should not retain copies of documents submitted by applicants and should keep any data retention regarding applicants to a minimum to guard against potential use for immigration enforcement purposes.[12] Newark, New Jersey, and Hartford, Connecticut, offer models for policies on document and data retention.

  5. Convene grant-makers, business leaders and private donors to create a mini-grant program and a low-interest loan program for low-income DACA/DAPA applicants and train the city’s non-emergency 311 to include information needed for the application process.

    As President Obama’s expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program go into effect, thousands of immigrants will need support to navigate the system and access government documents. Research shows that cities benefit economically when their residents are able to obtain benefits like DAPA and DACA. A recent study reports that 80,300 people will be eligible for DAPA or DACA in Chicago, and that the increase in their collective wages would add more than $4.2 billion in GDP to the city.[13]

    In order to address the roadblocks faced by potential applicants and to invest in Chicago residents, the city should convene grant-makers, business leaders and private funders to provide mini-grants and low-interest loans to immigrants seeking funding to pay the DAPA and DACA application fees. In addition, applicable government agencies should train and assign at least one person to provide referral information for immigrants going through the process of applying for relief, and that referral information to legal services should be readily available through the city’s 311 information request services. Mayor Emanuel has already played an active role in defending the deferred action programs and has committed to ready the City for implementation.

  6. Improve access to services provided by city of Chicago agencies and departments for immigrants who are survivors of crime and victims of civil and labor rights abuses.

    Undocumented immigrants are often reluctant to report criminal activity or participate in police investigations. According to a study that includes interviews with Chicago residents, up to 44 percent of Latinos and 70 percent of undocumented immigrants report being less likely to contact police if they were victims of a crime, citing lack of trust in the police and fear that they would be asked their immigration status.[14] Similarly, workers who are victims of severe labor abuses are often unaware of avenues to defend their rights, such as support that municipal agencies can give in the process and existing protections from deportation for immigrant workers in these situation.

    Preparing city departments that provide public services to immigrants who are survivors of crime and/or victims of severe labor rights abuses with appropriate training and support is crucial to improving relationships between immigrant communities and city departments, in particular the Chicago Police Department. The city of Chicago and relevant agencies should work with legal and advocacy organizations to assess specific needs and implement training and accountability procedures to improve services to these immigrant populations.






[1] “How becoming Mayor changed Emanuel on immigration reform,” The Atlantic, July 16, 2013 www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/07/how-becoming-mayor-changed-rahm-emanuel-on-immigration-reform/277818/.

[2] “Representation is Key in Immigration Proceedings Involving Women with Children,”Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC), Syracuse University, Feb. 18, 2015, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/377/.

[3] “Finding a lawyer a huge obstacle for asylum seekers in Chicago,” Chicago Reporter. May 20, 2015. http://chicagoreporter.com/finding-a-lawyer-a-huge-obstacle-for-asylum-seekers-in-chicago/

[4] Information on the New York Immigrant Family Unit: http://www.vera.org/project/new-york-immigrant-family-unity-project

[5] “New York city Council, immigration justice clinic, and other groups announce program for immigrants facing deportation,” Cardozo Law Clinic, July 19, 2013. http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/news/ny-city-council-immigration-justice-clinic-and-other-groups-announce-program-immigrants-facing

[6] Read the Welcoming Cities ordinance here: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/SO2012-4984.pdf

[7] See American Civil Liberties Union’s “Briefing Paper: Constitutional Deficiencies of Immigration Detainers,” http://www.aclu-md.org/uploaded_files/0000/0578/2014.2_detainers_briefing_paper_to_counties_and_gov_and_ag.pdf

[8] See Cook County policy for responding to ICE detainers, http://www.immigrantjustice.org/sites/immigrantjustice.org/files/Cook%20County%20Detainer%20Ordinance%20(enacted).pdf

[9] Other exceptions include when the person has an outstanding criminal warrant, has been convicted of a felony or has been identified as a known gang member either in a law enforcement agency’s database or by their own admission.

[10] As quoted in Chicago Sun Times article on language access ordinance, “Emanuel plans language access ordinance to boost appeal amongst hispanic voters,” Chicago Sun Times, March 17, 2015 http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/448726/emanuel-plans-language-access-ordinance-boost-appeal-hispanic-voters

[11] See Asian Americans Advancing Justice press release regarding language access ordinance, “Chicago Language Access Ordinance a Good Step,” May 06, 2015. http://www.advancingjustice-chicago.org/language-access-good-first-step

[12] See statement outlining potential dangers of document retention from the American Civil Liberties Union to the city of New York, http://www.nyclu.org/content/statement-of-nyclu-regarding-new-york-city-municipal-id-bill

[13] “The Economic Benefits of Expanding the Dream: DAPA and DACA impacts on Illinois, Cook County and Chicago” by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda at the University of California, Los Angeles published January 2015.

[14] University of Illinois at Chicago study “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement” (2013), http://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/INSECURE_COMMUNITIES_REPORT_FINAL.PDF


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