NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News
GLT stories about immigrants living in Bloomington-Normal.

Bloomington Council Majority Nixes Draft Welcoming City Ordinance

Speakers hold signs and stand in front of Bloomington City Hall
Charlie Schlenker
Speakers addressing a crowd of several hundred during a May 1, 2017, march on Bloomington City Hall by the Keep Families Together Coalition demanding a Welcoming City ordinance.

Bloomington aldermen are asking to halt scheduled discussion of a Welcoming City ordinance, clouding the prospects for future public consideration.

A coalition of advocacy groups has asked for an ordinance limiting cooperation between Bloomington Police and federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They marched on City Hall last May, and in December more than 350 people turned out to a meeting to offer public comment at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

An email from five aldermen to Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen indicates a majority of the council have asked Rasmussen to pull the issue from the Feb. 12 meeting agenda. Council members Joni Painter, Mboka Mwilambwe, David Sage, Kim Bray, and Karen Schmidt said in the message the council gave the public a fair hearing in December when it extended public comment to 60 minutes to accommodate everyone.

“Individually, we have studied this issue and met with members of the immigration coalition, as well as members of the Bloomington Police Department. We have learned that BPD has not turned anyone over to ICE. Our officers do not detain people to trigger entry into the immigration database, nor raid stores to find immigrant managers. These are state and national policies that must be dealt with at that level. This ordinance casts unfavorable and unfair criticism on our outstanding police force, which is extremely unfortunate,” said the message.

Schmidt, Bray, and Mwilambwe had not responded to a GLT request for comment as of 6 p.m. Monday. Sage picked up the phone earlier in the day.

“Until we have a chance to have more conversations about that, I’m not going to have any more comment,” said Sage.

GLT asked: How will you eventually decide the issue in a public way?

“As I said, until we have a chance to possibly talk more about this, I’m not going to have any comment,” said Sage.

How would the council talk about it if not in a public session?

“I don’t have any comment right now, OK,” said Sage.

Coordinating with Normal

At the December meeting in the BCPA, some aldermen indicated they would not support a Welcoming City ordinance unless the Town of Normal were also to pass one. City Manager Mark Peterson and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal have both said they have reservations about such a rule and do not favor the policy.

The email from Bloomington aldermen also stated the aldermen “sought support from the Town of Normal and McLean County to address the concerns as a united community and have learned that neither of these entities sees merit in this proposed ordinance. We will need to work together to identify other avenues to support the residents who feel vulnerable.”

But the Keep Families Together Coalition cautioned against drawing the conclusion that Normal and the county’s position are set in stone. Don Carlson with Illinois People’s Action said the coalition has been working on the issue for more than a year and had hoped to go to Bloomington first, move on to Normal, and then finally to McLean County government, which has jurisdiction over the jail.

“In politics things are fluid and nothing is static and we are still proceeding ahead,” said Carlson.

Some Bloomington aldermen in December also asked City Attorney Jeff Jurgens and Police Chief Brendan Heffner to see if they could come up with language that would allow cooperation between police and ICE on criminal investigation while still satisfying immigrant fears. In the e-mail, a majority of the council indicated that effort had produced a document they do not wish to formally consider.

“The revised ordinance simply reinforces the Trust Act. This redundancy is unnecessary; we do not need to pass a law that says we follow the law,” said the email.

On that, the Keep Families Together coalition agrees.

“We don’t support an ordinance that has no meaningful policy to it,” said Carlson.

Carlson said the coalition has not met with the five signatories to the email, but still hopes to secure meetings with all aldermen to move ahead with something that will be meaningful.

“We have a better draft Welcoming City ordinance we think that has some real policy teeth to it. It clearly explicitly abides by federal law. It does provide some bright lines on the kind of communication that is appropriate between the city and ICE or Department of Justice officials. It would have to do with abiding by state law but not inquiring, ‘Well, we think this person might be undocumented. Are you interested?’ And we have agreed to a compromise that would carve out an exception that would allow communication between ICE and the city as regards human trafficking or sex cases,” said Carlson.

Harmful Public Debate?

Another passage in the email could throw cold water on that proposal, suggesting further council reluctance because public debate could be harmful.

“Misunderstandings about this ordinance have the potential to cause our immigrant community further harm. Many citizens now harbor animosity toward those who feel differently than they do, with the result that our community is becoming further divided, at a time when all citizens should pull together,” said the email.

Alderman Joni Painter suggested the proper forum for dealing with this is in Washington, D.C.

“There are some things that are better dealt with from the bottom up and some from the top down. This is a top down issue,” said Painter.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Related Content