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Mayor declares new Welcoming City ordinance makes city the most immigrant-friendly in the nation

Updated: August 12, 2012 6:44AM

Rahm Emanuel, who defeated two Latino candidates in his run for mayor while fending off accusations that he had been less than supportive of immigrant issues during his days in Washington, seems determined never to be put in that position again.

Declaring that his new Welcoming City ordinance would make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly in the nation — by making immigration status off-limits to police — Emanuel on Tuesday took a big step toward making the city a sort of anti-Arizona.

It was none other than his one-time adversary on immigration and politics, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who stood at Emanuel’s side to make the Arizona comparison while praising the mayor for the new initiative that he said faces the realities of illegal immigration.

“In Arizona, they deal with this reality by enacting laws to sanction racial profiling and by condoning the irrational acts of cowboys — sometimes ones who happen to be sheriff and carry guns — and set them loose on immigrants or anyone who sounds or looks like an immigrant,” Gutierrez said.

“In Chicago,” he added, “we do things a little differently because we put public safety above political stunts, and we put creating a united, cohesive society over trying to draw dividing lines or driving political wedges.”

To be fair to our many expatriates in Arizona, it should probably be acknowledged that we have our own political stunts here, with Tuesday’s announcement at Little Village High School counting as one of them. It was a political stunt that didn’t particularly bother me, being supportive of its policy goals, but a stunt nonetheless considering that the legal changes involved are relatively minor for the splash.

Still, it was a welcome opportunity to harken back to a skewering that Gutierrez gave Emanuel during the mayor’s race.

“He has not stood up for immigrants. He has not made the right decisions. He has made political decisions,” Gutierrez thundered to reporters in January 2011.

That was a reference to Emanuel as White House chief of staff trying to steer President Barack Obama away from the quagmire of immigration reform, and before that, for once having counseled Democratic congressional candidates to cast votes in favor of a particularly loathsome piece of anti-immigrant legislation if it would help them win.

These days, however, Emanuel is dealing with a decidedly different constituency and has made entirely different political decisions as he shores up his Hispanic support.

Since his election, Emanuel has helped pass the first state Dream Act to provide privately funded financial aid to undocumented college students. He also recently created the city’s first Office of New Americans to provide support to immigrant communities.

Now he has gone a step further with this proposed measure, still being drafted by the way, which would expand upon the city’s existing “sanctuary ordinance,” which already bars city agencies from inquiring about the immigration status of individuals seeking city services and also limits police in what inquries they can make.

The new ordinance seeks to prohibit police from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or previously were deported for conviction of a serious crime.

Some police will tell you that’s already how it’s done, but advocates from the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights made the mayor’s office aware of at least one incident involving police turning over an immigrant to federal immigration officials — and they suspect there have been more.

With his stated goal of making Chicago the most “immigrant-friendly city” in the nation, the mayor was also in effect saying that he would make it the most friendly to illegal or undocumented immigrants, pick your favored terminology (he used neither).

That doesn’t bother me in the least, as any of you know if you’ve ever read anything I’ve had to say on the subject. I favor some form of amnesty for most illegal immigrants and the sooner the better.

Having made my opinions known, however, I’m therefore keenly aware that many Chicago police take a dim view of the city’s existing immigration policies and aren’t going to welcome this expansion.

“As a police officer, I can demand identification from a citizen but not from an illegal alien?” Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields told me, giving voice to that frustration if perhaps exaggerating a bit.

“Either the federal laws apply all the time or they don’t,” Shields said. “We’re Chicago police officers, and we’re here to enforce the law. I think the federal law should trump the city ordinance if passed.”

Actually, it will be the opinion of the mayor that trumps the opinion of the FOP president.

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