Chicago’s Mayor Vows To Protect Immigrants From ICE, But Activists Say It’s Not Enough

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been outspoken against cooperation with federal immigration officials, but activists want her to sign an executive order proving it.

Chicago’s mayor has joined major city leaders across the country in denouncing looming federal raids on undocumented immigrants, but immigration activists on the ground say her words are not enough.

Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Chicago will permanently ban U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from accessing the city’s police databases, and that police “will not team up with ICE to detain any resident” ahead of mass roundups announced by President Donald Trump. She also made the rounds in immigrant enclaves to reassure families that police will not cooperate with ICE, and to remind them of their rights should they be confronted by an ICE agent.

She most recently penned an op-ed to the president Sunday in The Washington Post doubling down on her promise to protect the approximately 180,000 undocumented people living in her city. 

But aldermen and undocumented immigrant activists in Chicago, which has long been considered a “sanctuary city,” think the mayor needs to go further and sign an executive order denying access to Chicago databases to any agency under the Department of Homeland Security.

“We saw the threat of raids really press and, you know, raids happen all the time,” Rey Wences, activist with Organized Communities Against Deportations and member of the Chicago Immigration Policy Working Group, told HuffPost. “This time, it just felt like it was also being used to terrorize people to create panic and chaos.”

The Immigration Working Group is made up of community members that include labor groups, unions, attorneys and grassroots organizations. The group has been working with city council members since 2015 to amend the loophole-laden Welcoming City Ordinance (Chicago’s “sanctuary” law), but drafted an executive order last minute in response to the rapidly approaching ICE raids. The executive order would do the following to add extra protection for immigrants.

  1. Direct all police officers to deny ICE requests for support or aid in any capacity related to raids.
  2. Ensure no police officer can transfer anyone into ICE custody unless presented with a valid warrant.
  3. Prohibit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or any agency under it, including ICE, from having access to any electronic database or other data-sharing platform maintained by the police department.  

“As we understand it, ICE is not the only agency that is out in the streets doing these raids,” Wences said. “Depending on the group that they’re targeting, that’s the sub-agency of DHS that they’re going to activate to go to this. And we also know that even if ICE does not have access to the database, they do collaborate with other law enforcement agencies that may still have access to the database, such as the FBI.”

Lightfoot’s administration received a copy of the executive order on June 29, ahead of Trump’s initial plan for raids around July 4 weekend. The Immigration Working Group asked Lightfoot to sign the order as soon as possible due to the looming raids that were supposed to start this past weekend, but the mayor refused.

“It would be easy to pander to the crowd. But I want to do this in a way that’s actually gonna be meaningful and structural and lasting. And that can’t be done overnight,” Lightfoot said Friday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re working diligently on it. We’ll get to that point. But we want to do it in a way that is actually gonna be meaningful. Not just say something that doesn’t really have any real effect.”

The response frustrated activists, including Wences, who scoffed at Lightfoot’s usage of the word “crowd” to refer to the city’s immigrant community and the working group.

“When Mayor Lightfoot met with Immigration Working Group on June 21 she said she was a lawyer who believed it was important to put things in writing, now she says an Executive Order is ‘meaningless’ and dismissed undocumented Chicagoans asking for EO as ‘crowds,’” Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa tweeted on Friday. “Disappointing.”

Wences stressed the Immigration Working Group also wants to reform policy the right way, and that the executive order would be a step toward amending the Welcoming City Ordinance, which Lightfoot promised during her campaign she would fix. The city’s sanctuary ordinance has four carve-outs that allow Chicago police to cooperate with ICE. The working group plans to introduce an amended version of the ordinance that would remove those carve-outs at a July 24 city council meeting, but wanted faster action since ICE raids were planned to happen before that, Wences said.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Lightfoot announced a package of executive actions Friday meant to provide additional protections to the city’s immigrant and refugee communities. Those actions include formally halting ICE’s access to CPD databases, providing direct guidance and protocols to all city-owned facilities, and investing an additional $250,000 into Chicago’s Legal Protection Fund. But the actions don’t include the proposed executive order, and activists said the directive still honors three of the four carve-outs in the Welcoming City Ordinance.

“Ultimately, Chicago cannot be a sanctuary city until we get rid of those carve-outs,” Wences said.

OCAD created a petition last week calling on Lightfoot to sign the executive order. The petition had more than 1,600 signatures as of Monday afternoon, including from Ramirez-Rosa and Illinois state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D).

Trump announced last month that he would delay his plans for mass deportation roundups in at least 10 major cities, including Chicago. He later confirmed Friday that ICE officials would launch nationwide raids as soon as this weekend to arrest thousands of immigrants ordered deported (as initially reported by The New York Times), though such raids failed to materialize when Sunday arrived.

“The goal may be to wear us down. It is frustrating, it is chaotic. I’m not going to lie, it’s stressful. But we know that allowing an administration like this to be aggressive and standing up against that … we have been fighting for many years” and are ready to keep fighting, Wences said.

If you are undocumented, read up on your rights here.