BLOOMINGTON — A determined group of local residents supporting protection for immigrants regardless of their legal status say they will continue to fight for Bloomington to pass a welcoming-city ordinance.
About 100 people attended Monday night’s City Council meeting, many carrying signs in support of such an ordinance, even after a special meeting to discuss the ordinance Monday night was canceled last week at the request of five aldermen.
Don Carlson, the executive director of Illinois People’s Action, spoke during the public comment period on behalf of a compromise ordinance drafted by the Keeping Families Together Campaign. It would prohibit the exchange of information between city employees and federal immigration officials except for investigations of felony sex or labor trafficking cases.
“Bloomington residents have spoken up loud and clear,” he told the council at the end of his allotted comment time. “The time for the City Council to enact a meaningful welcoming-city ordinance is now.”
Carlson then asked those in support of a welcoming-city ordinance to join him in leaving the meeting, and about 70 walked out.
As is customary, members did not respond to statements made during the public comment period. The council did discuss the ordinance idea later in the meeting but took no action.
In their letter asking to cancel the special meeting, Aldermen Joni Painter, Mboka Mwilambwe, Dave Sage, Kim Bray and Karen Schmidt said the ordinance would be redundant because it covers the same territory as the state's Trust Act. That law, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in September, sets limits on how police agencies may interact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the subsequent discussion, aldermen who favored taking the ordinance off the agenda said they wanted more time, especially because they hadn't seen the text of the latest proposal.
“I think the real surprise was the welcoming-city ordinance in its current state … was poor, and was being put on the agenda for a vote when a majority of (the council) had already fully and carefully and thoroughly expressed their concern to have further discussion in a broader community manner and kind of do, I guess, some real community engagement on this piece,” said Bray. “So it was very disappointing to see that while being justified now with a passion for a particular issue, Mayor, you pressed forward without listening to your elected body.”
For more than a year, the council had been considering an ordinance that would declare the city’s support for immigrants, regardless of their legal status, and limit city cooperation with ICE.
The Keep Families Together Campaign, which includes Illinois People's Action, Illinois American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigration Project, Not in Our Town, the Unitarian Universalist Church, League of Women Voters, Black Lives Matter and New Covenant Community Church, wrote the latest version of the ordinance proposal that Carlson presented Monday night.
Carlson said the newly written ordinance would fill gaps the Trust Act left open.
“The original ordinance we proposed, and the compromise ordinance we are proposing now, both recognize the Trust Act,” he said. “The Trust Act says nothing about how the Bloomington Police Department will act with ICE if they come to Bloomington requesting assistance in conducting a raid on local businesses.
Bloomington resident Scott Steinley told the council he hopes the council doesn’t consider the proposed ordinance.
“If people are here illegally, then send them back,” he said. “If they are in the country legally, then fine. If not, send them back.
"I had a sister-in-law that went through the naturalization process. It isn’t easy, so we should allow these Dreamers to come in illegally?”
Others attending the meeting did not speak to the council but showed their support with signs and banners.
“I think the support is there for them to vote a welcoming city-ordinance in,” said Shannon Thornbloom of Bloomington. “They were voted in to make the decisions the people want and it’s clear: This is what the people want.”
“We aren’t going to give up on this,” said Torrey Parker of Bloomington. “We will continue to ask for this and they may get tired of seeing us, but we aren’t going away.”