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GLT stories about immigrants living in Bloomington-Normal.

Bloomington Headed For Welcoming Cities Vote - Again

Breanna Grow
A proposed Welcoming Cities ordinance narrowly advanced during a virtual Bloomington Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night.

The Bloomington City Council will again consider a proposal for a Welcoming Cities ordinance, nearly three years after a group of council members halted a vote on a similar proposal.

Council members voted 5-4 at Tuesday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting to direct staff to draft an ordinance to bring to the council for a future vote. 

Council member Jenn Carrillo submitted the latest proposal, written in conjunction with fellow alderman Jeff Crabill. 

In 2017, before winning the Ward 6 seat, Carrillo was one of the lead organizers behind the Keep Families Together Coalition aimed at passing Welcoming Cities ordinances in Bloomington and Normal.

Normal passed its ordinance in May 2018.

Carrillo said the past and current iterations of the proposal in Bloomington have the same goal: “protect our undocumented residents by establishing a very clear separation between ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and local law enforcement.”

She urged her colleagues to make the decision-making process this time around a transparent one, and finally give a public vote on a Welcoming Cities ordinance.

“Let’s not cut deals in the back room, and let’s not settle for the least common denominator,” she said. 

Council member Mollie Ward said as someone who personally advocated for a Welcoming Cities ordinance for years, she looks forward to "this council finally taking action, because no one in our community is safe until we're all safe."

Council members Julie Emig and Jamie Mathy also voted to bring the proposal to a vote.

Welcoming Cities opposition

Despite the proposal forward motion, it’s unclear whether a future ordinance will pass in Bloomington.

Mathy said while he supports bringing the proposal to a vote, he doesn’t agree with everything outlined in Carrillo’s draft version.

“There’s gonna need to be options,” he said. “I supported last time the portions that deal with immigration, and if it stays focused on immigration, then fine. But I think that there are pieces of this that wander loose of immigration and that’s where my concerns lie.”

With four other council members solidly opposed to the idea, Mathy’s could prove the deciding vote when the proposal is ready for consideration.

Council member and Bloomington mayoral candidate Mboka Mwilambwe said the topic of immigration is “extremely complex, and belongs in the arena of the federal government.”

Council member Joni Painter said police have been “horribly mischaracterized” throughout the years-long Welcoming Cities push. “I think our immigrant population has been lied to and made to be afraid, and I think that that is unspeakably cruel, it’s self-serving, and it’s immoral,” she said.

Preferring her proposal that the city join Welcoming America, which the council passed unanimously last week,  council member Donna Boelen also opposed Carrillo’s proposal. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t think there’s enough substance to (Welcoming America),” she said. “These itemized demands can be handled through the Welcoming America process.”

Council member Kim Bray cast the final “no” vote.

Bray, Mwilambwe and Painter were among the five council members who asked then-City Manager Steve Rasmussen to pull a proposed Welcoming Cities ordinance from the Feb. 12, 2017, meeting agenda. David Sage and Karen Schmidt, who also were on the council at the time, have since left. 

Public support

Before the council vote, 14 people representing at least 10 different area organizations voiced their support for a Welcoming Cities ordinance. 

Many pushed back on the idea that Bloomington doesn’t need an ordinance to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Robert Garcia is an asylum-seeker sponsor with the Asylum Seeker Sponsorship Project. He said for undocumented immigrants, any interaction with police carries the threat of deportation, and the potential for family separation, mistreatment or even death. 

“These individuals do not contact the police, even when they are the victim of crime,” he said. “So no, you don’t see them, and you don’t see the problem, because they choose to hide.”

Juliet Lynd spoke on behalf of the Coalition Advocating for Undocumented Student Achievement (CAUSA) at Illinois State University. 

Lynd said she’s spoken to students whose parents’ fear of deportation keeps them from visiting campus. “Imagine missing your child’s graduation because you’re worried about being stopped for a traffic violation,” she said.

Undocumented students sometimes avoid socializing at parties in case the police show up because the music’s too loud or there’s underage drinking, she said.

Don Carlson, executive director of Illinois People’s Action, thinks the Bloomington Police Department’s close relationship with ICE is one reason the city hasn’t passed a Welcoming Cities ordinance.

In February 2018, a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Illinois People’s Action and the Keep Families Together Coalition returned nearly 200 pages of emails between BPD and ICE between 2016 and 2018.

“Bloomington government and police had no interest in developing policy with community stakeholders, and maintained the status quo,” Carlson said. “The City of Bloomington simply failed in its basic social compact with its entire community, and as a result, we are here today with this still being unresolved.”

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.