Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk called the meeting to answer questions from residents about immigration. The forum drew about 700 people, mostly Latinos.
Last week, federal authorities arrested hundreds of people living in the U.S. illegally in a series of raids across several states. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement described the action as routine, but some viewed the raids as part of a crackdown pushed by the Trump administration, prompting fear in some immigrant communities.
O'Dekirk said Joliet has not been asked to — nor does it plan to — round up people living in the U.S. illegally. He also noted that the city does not have the resources to do the job of federal agents.
O'Dekirk told the gathering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church that the city will continue to do what it always has done to enforce state and local laws and keep the community safe. While immigrants will not be targeted, Joliet will not declare itself a sanctuary city, the mayor said.
"I believe it's a mistake to openly declare that we are defying the federal government," O'Dekirk said, adding that Chicago's sanctuary city status did not stop recent immigration arrests.
"We understand the entire subject of immigration is a deeply emotional subject. ... I can assure you that we can offer compassion," City Council member Larry Hug said. "(But) we cannot honestly break the law as elected officials."
Despite city assurances, many in the audience had questions about what to do if they get stopped for a traffic violation or if federal agents come knocking on their door. Some worried about what to do if they were separated from their U.S.-born children.
"We have many, many immigrants in our community who are scared," said Mary Helen Reyna, an immigration attorney from Bolingbrook.
She advised people to have their papers with them when they go out. She also suggested carrying a list of phone numbers of local agencies, their immigration attorney and others they could call for help if detained by immigration authorities. Parents also should fill out paperwork for guardianship of their children, she said.
"It's better for us as parents to decide where our children go and not put them in the hands of any other agency," Reyna said.
She reminded those in the crowd to be sure immigration officials have the proper paperwork, such as a warrant, before going with them, that they have a right to an attorney and that they do not have to talk to agents.
Others called for immigrants to take action. Some suggested participating in protests or calling elected officials to urge changes to immigration law.
Additional meetings are planned to assist immigrants.
On March 11, Our Lady of Mount Carmel will host a forum from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., when immigration attorneys and officials from the Mexican Consulate will be available.
The Spanish Community Center in Joliet also announced it recently was awarded grant funding and will offer immigration services for the next six months.
|Joliet police Chief Brian Benton talks with members of the audience during a special session of the City Council on Feb. 15, 2017, to address residents' concerns over recent deportations. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)|
People seek answers on Joliet's role in immigration enforcement
JOLIET – Several hundred people on Wednesday packed a church hall with dozens of questions about the potential impact of new federal immigration policies on their lives.
The meeting was called by Mayor Bob O’Dekirk to deal with questions he has been fielding and rumors spread on social media about what role Joliet police would have in immigration enforcement in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s executive orders.
O’Dekirk and Police Chief Brian Benton repeatedly said the city police have no role and do not question people’s immigration status. But questions persisted from the predominately Hispanic gathering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
People wanted to know whether Joliet police would question them about their citizenship, what would happen to children if their parents are deported and what should they do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to their door.
“What people are scared of right now are the raids,” Alma Montero of Joliet said. “Are you guys going to block ICE from doing raids in Joliet or notifying people ahead of time that there are going to be raids in the city?”
O’Dekirk and Benton also repeatedly said they had no control of the federal government or any efforts by ICE to enforce immigration laws.
“There have not been any raids in Joliet,” O’Dekirk said, adding that the city has not been contacted about any raids being planned. But he also said it’s not likely the federal government would notify Joliet.
O’Dekirk started out the meeting telling the audience that Joliet does not intend to become a sanctuary city. Pointing to last weekend’s ICE raids in Chicago, a sanctuary city, the mayor said such a proclamation would only draw attention in Joliet and offer no protection to residents.
“I’m telling you that any mayor that says this is a sanctuary city and nothing bad is going to happen to you is lying,” O’Dekirk said.
But Elizabeth Cervantes, a co-founder of the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project in Bolingbrook, asked the mayor to reconsider his stance. She said proclaiming Joliet a sanctuary city would send a message to residents.
“Making a public statement on a sanctuary city would be no different from what you are already doing,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes was one of several immigrant advocates who attended the meeting, also answering questions.
Bolingbrook attorney Mary Helen Reyna advised parents worried about detention to make guardianship arrangements. Many people were encouraging the city to take a role in caring for children in such circumstances. But city officials said Joliet does not have the capacity to care for children, and they would have to call the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in such situations.
Joliet officials wanted to make key points on immigration
JOLIET – City officials at a meeting on immigration issues this week repeatedly said Joliet police are doing nothing more or less than they had in the past.
The official police policy, Chief Brian Benton said, is that police do not get involved in immigration matters, although a couple of people in the audience suggested otherwise.
“At no time has the Joliet Police Department been asked to or proactively enforced immigration laws,” Benton said at the start of the meeting. “We don’t have either the resources or the training to do the job of ICE officials.”
ICE, the acronym for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was one of the big topics of the Wednesday meeting that attracted several hundred people to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Benton and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk both said that Joliet does not plan to take on the job of ICE.
But they also stressed that they would do nothing to stand in the way of ICE.
“I believe it’s a mistake for the city of Joliet to say we are going to openly defy the federal government and we’re not going to follow the law,” O’Dekirk said.
O’Dekirk said Joliet does not intend to become a sanctuary city, saying it could bring unwanted attention. The mayor pointed to the weekend raids by ICE in Chicago and said its sanctuary city status did nothing to stop the federal government.
Joliet’s position could be tested by President Trump’s new version of his executive order on immigration, which he said in a Thursday news conference would be filed next week.
The community meeting, which doubled as a special meeting of the City Council, was called because of concerns that the executive order would turn Joliet police into immigration agents.
“A lot of people think that the executive order makes local law enforcement immigration officials. This is not the case,” said Moises Barraza, an immigration attorney at the meeting.
But, Barraza said, the previous order did carry the threat that local communities could lose federal funds if they do not enforce immigration laws.
Benton said Thursday that communities across the country are following the litigation over the executive order to gauge the potential effect.
“If President Trump follows up on his threat to withhold federal money from cities that don’t enforce immigration law, the cities could be hit hard,” Benton said.
He added that Joliet police would not refuse to make an arrest on an ICE warrant, just as it would not ignore a warrant from the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration.