Morton Grove residents sound off on proposed sanctuary village ordinance

The Bugle estimates that about 160 people attended the Morton Grove town hall meeting about the proposed sanctuary village ordinance.

UPDATE May 16, 1:42 p.m.

In the May 4 story “Morton Grove residents sound off on proposed sanctuary village ordinance,” that appeared in print and online,  the comments regarding the cost of detainees was wrongly attributed to Chuck Falzone (misspelled as Felsoni). The Bugle regrets the error and had corrected it below.

By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle

Morton Grove residents and a few non-residents testified for almost two-and-a-half hours at a standing room only April 24 town hall meeting about the proposed sanctuary village ordinance.

If approved, the ordinance would prohibit Morton Grove Police Department from detaining suspects or honoring federal warrants to detain suspects, based solely on their immigration status. It would also ban all village employees from investigating residents’ immigration status, and it preemptively requires the village not to participate in a Muslim registry, or any other federal registry based on ethnic, racial or religious status. The ordinance emphasizes that nothing there prevents detention of individuals based on something other than violation of immigration laws.

The supporters of the ordinance argued that it would affirm village values and provide the force of the law behind what has been a less formal procedure. The opponents argued that there was no need for the law, and that all it would do is restrict the police. Through it all, village trustees and Mayor Dan DiMaria remained carefully neural, saying that they would take all feedback under consideration before deciding how to proceed.

As previously reported by the Bugle, the ordinance was proposed by Americans In Solidary-Chicago, a group founded by Morton Grove attorney Johnathan Lahn in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The group originally sent the proposal in Jan. 27, and, after it failed to get traction, they attended several village board meetings to press the issue. The village ultimately decided to hold a town hall meeting at the American Legion Civic Center to get resident feedback.

In Jan. 25, Trump issued an executive order ordering the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to block sanctuary cities from receiving federal funds. Since being appointed U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions made a number of statements insisting that sanctuary cities will be penalized. On April 21, he sent a letters to Chicago and several other large sanctuary cities, warning them that they must show proof that they’re complying with federal laws or risk losing access to Justice Department grants.

On April 26, two days after the town hall meeting, federal judge William Orrick blocked key parts of Trump’s executive order, ruling that they were more likely to be found unconstitutional. He did rule that the Justice Department could enforce conditions of the federal grants. The Justice Department subsequently announced that it would appeal.

The Bugle estimates that about 160 people attended the town hall. As the meeting got underway, Morton Grove Village Administrator Ralph Czerwinski explained that Morton Grove residents would get to speak first, and each speaker would get two minutes. Non-residents were allowed to speak afterwards, and they only got one minute each.

Lahn spoke first, summarizing the ordinance. Responding to concerns about loss of federal grants, he argued that nothing in the proposal actually violates Justice Department guidelines.

Michael Simo, the Morton Grove Chief of Police, spoke next, explaining that the department focuses on going after criminal offenses. But, he explained, violations of immigration laws don’t necessarily fall into this category If someone snuck across the border, or entered the country using forged documents, it was a criminal a offense, but if someone entered the country legally and overstayed their visa, that’s a civil offense.

“We do not arrest people for federal civil violations,” he said. “We don’t stop people to ask for their immigration status. We don’t hold people on ICE [detainer requests], unless that person is [accused of] a federal crime.”

When asked by the village board what Morton Grove would stand to lose if its federal funding is cut off, Czerwinski explained that it could be anywhere between $100,000 – $500,000 a year. However, that figure includes all federal grants, not just the ones issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

Most of the supporters of the ordinance argued that, even if it wouldn’t change much in practice, it would be an important gesture that would reflect village values.about the proposed sanctuary village ordinance

Fr. Dennis O’Neill, of Morton Grove’s St. Martha Catholic parish, said that he had experience dealing with Orthodox and Catholic Christian refugees from Iraq. Two weeks ago, he tried to broach the topic of their immigration status. Even though they were in United States legally, their experience in their home country made them afraid of dealing with the police.

“When I brought up the subject, I scared them off,” O’Neill said. “They’re coming from a different political situation, and they afraid.”

The ordinance, he argued, would help assuage those fears.

Psychologist Jon Cole supported residents from the mental health perspective, saying that undocumented immigrant families already experience stress, especially in families where some members are either U.S. citizens or legal residents.

“Our kind words are not enough – we need to pass something with real [legal authority],” he said.

Habeeb Quadri, the principal at Morton Grove’s Muslim Education Center, recalled how, 13-14 years earlier, he attended an equally contentious town hall when his employer was trying to open in the village – noting that, since then, whatever concerns there may have been have died down. He said he supports the ordinance.

“[The ordinance] is not here to harbor criminals – I myself have kids here, I’m a principal of a school” Quadri said.

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Early during the town hall, Naushira Rahman, whose father came to United States on a work visa and who had to wait 9 years to be reunited with him in United States, said that she often gets told that, as someone who immigrated legally, she shouldn’t support people who “cut in line.” She said she had no patience for that argument.

“There are a number of reasons that will be give in opposing to the sanctuary city ordinance, and it boils down to one thing – bigotry,” she said.

Most of the opponents who spoke during the town hall took pains to emphasize that they appreciated Morton Grove’s diversity and had no issue with immigrants per se. Rather, they felt that the ordinance was unnecessary and that the only thing it would do is tie police officers’ hands.

“[The ordinance] does say ‘It limits the police department from doing its job,’” Steven Yasell, a 2017 Niles mayoral candidate, said.

Pam Lundsberg said she was worried about legal consequences to Morton Grove.

“To say that [undocumented immigrants] haven’t broke our laws is incorrect, because they’re illegal,” she said. “Just because you can sneak into our country doesn’t give you the right to sidestep [our laws]. And I’m concerned about the village liability because we shield illegal aliens.”

John Listin emphasized that it was undocumented immigrants that he was worried about.

“Illegal aliens, when we got them in the community, property values go down,’ he said.




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