By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
The day President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending, either temporarily or indefinitely, admittance of non-citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, a Chicago area group is looking to protect undocumented immigrants who were already there.
On Jan. 27, Americans in Solidarity-Chicago, a group headed by Morton Grove resident Jonathan Lahn, sent out a letter to the Mayor Dan DiMaria and members of the village’s Board of Trustees urging officials to adopt an ordinance that would make Morton Grove a “sanctuary” village. If adopted, village employees, including law enforcement officials, wouldn’t detain residents solely based on their immigration. AISC is looking to advance similar ordinances in other suburbs around Chicago to create what it describes as a “safety belt.”
As of Feb. 1, the village hasn’t responded to Lahn’s letter. He told the Bugle that he was willing to give them another week to respond. If the board doesn’t react at all, the group would look at ways to ramp up the public pressure and compel it to action.
The last three decades have seen the village’s population become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. The 2010 census indicated that it’s population increased by 3.6 percent compared to the 2000 population, with 66.2 percent of residents identifying as white, 1.2 percent as African American, 28 percent Asian, and 2.7 percent of the residents identified as more than one racial category.
According to the 2015 U.S. Census American Community Survey estimates based on reported ancestry, the village is home to 467 Arabs, 119 of whom are Iraqi, 24 are Lebanese, 82 are Syrian and 24 are Egyptian. It’s also home to 137 Iranians, 34 Afghanis and 456 Assyrians – an ethnic group that traditionally lived in portions of modern-day Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
The 2015 community survey estimates that Morton Grove is home to 1,392 people who identify as Hispanic. 1,029 of them are Mexican, 143 are Puerto Rican and 63 are Cuban.
The survey estimates that 1,539 of Morton Grove residents are non-citizens, but it doesn’t break that category down by status, so it’s not clear how many of them are permanent residents, visa holders or hold some other status.
In his first full week in office, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders affecting immigrants. The Jan. 25 order required the federal government to suspend grants to “sanctuary cities,” municipalities where law enforcement doesn’t ask residents about immigration status and doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration status investigations. The Jan. 27 executive order blocked all citizens of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen for 90 days, even if they were permanent residents, held dual citizenships or were previously issued visas. Admittance of Syrian refugees was suspended indefinitely. The program affected all those who were already in transit at the time the executive order was issued. While the ban on permanent residents has since been lifted, other issues remain, and the order still faces multiple legal challenges.
The AISC letter was sent before the second order was issued. In it, Lahn, a life-long Morton Grove resident and a litigation attorney with Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis LLP law firm, urged the village trustees to adopt an ordinance he prepared. As he explained, it was modeled after “sanctuary city” ordinances, such as the one that has been in place in Chicago since the 1980s. Adopting it, Lahn argued, would be constant with Morton Grove values.
“Today we are witnessing a repugnant surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, often motivated by racial, ethnic
and religious-based animus towards particular groups viewed by some as less American than others,” he wrote. “And that sentiment is, unfortunately, taking shape in laws and policy directives that seek to divide our communities. Because I know the values of the Village and I know that a community such as ours must distance itself from divisive and discriminatory actions targeting immigrants, I urge the Village to adopt the proposed resolution and ordinance I am attaching to this correspondence.”
The ordinance would require police officers not to detain residents simply because of issues related to their immigration status, nor would they help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. However, the ordinance specifies that this wouldn’t apply if the residents in question are wanted for some other reason, such as alleged crimes.
In his letter, Lahn noted that he was a clerk for federal judge Martin C. Ashman, who, as an attorney, defended the since-struck Morton Grove ban on handguns. It was the first ban of its kind in United States, and Lahn argued that adopting the sanctuary village ordinance would be consistent with that legacy.
“Then and now, Morton Grove was a community that was ahead of the curve in embracing novel laws for the well-being of its people,” he wrote.
AISC is a fairly new organization, officially launching in Jan. 17. Lahn said that he wanted to have an organization that would focus on multiple causes, such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and compatting anti-Muslim prejudices. While there are groups already working toward that, he said, different groups focus on different issues, and there isn’t as much collaboration as he would like.
“AISC’s perspective is to say, now more than any time in recent memory, we all face a common threat,” Lahn said. “Rather than approaching this as a bunch of disparate groups making a temporary alliance, let’s be a group that is formed at the intersection of all these diverse groups that exists just for the purpose of being an alliance, and crafting a platform that is organic from the grassroots up and includes all these diverse voices.”
He also wanted a group that would focus on how those issues affect people on the local level instead of fighting abstract issue.
Lahn said that, as of Feb. 1, AISC’s has 120 members who are active online. As he readily admitted, online particpation doesn’t necessarily translate into real-world activism, but he said he’s optimistic.
“I have been fortunate to know many experienced activists and I have been recruiting them into the group quite successfully,” Lahn said.
He said that, while he was disappointment that the village hasn’t responded to his letter, he realized that they might meed time to discuss the issue. But if nothing happens by the time the next village board meeting, which is scheduled for Feb 13, rolls around, Lahn said he would look into trying to increase pressure.
“If they refuse to do anything about it – which seems like a needlessly silly approach – then we will have to consider protests and PR-related efforts to draw attention to the issue,” he said. “One would hope that a town with as many immigrants and descendants of immigrants as Morton Grove wouldn’t choose to have that fight rather than address the issue on the merits.”
Morton Grove Village Administrator Ralph Czerwinski told the Bugle that the village response is still being discussed.
“At this point, [the proposal] is under review,” he said. “We will dissect it and determine the best [course of action] for the village’s future.”
While the AISC letter doesn’t address the Jan. 27 executive order, Lahn said he doesn’t think much of it either. He was among the lawyers who volunteered to help travelers from the affected countries who were detained upon landing at O’Hare International Airport. Lahn siad he had no doubt that it wouldn’t survive the legal challenges.
“I believe the executive order is absolutely unconstitutional. It is deeply, deeply flawed and presents due process, equal protection and First Amendment issues by differentiating the treatment of individual immigrants and asylum seekers based on their religion,” he said. “Furthermore, the implementation – which appears to have started without consulting the actual agencies that were implementing the rule – was a travesty and led to people, such as legal permanent residents (aka Green Card holders) being detained who never should have been. “