Chicago stands firm as welcoming city for refugeesBy Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media — November 28, 2016
Despondent and panicky about the pending course of our nation following the General Election, Chicago’s 33rd Ward alderman, Deborah Mell, went last week to one of the two mosques in her ward.
World Relief, a State Department-endorsed entry point for refugees, is in the mosque and right now is working with refugees from Syria and the Congo.
“I just did a pop-in because I felt that is where I wanted to be,” Mell said. “I walked up and saw refugees sitting there and thought about where they came from and the horrors that they have seen, only to be coming to our country with uncertainty and fear of what their lives will be like here now.
“It was emotional and I’m really trying not to be completely freaked out, to stay vigilant; and I’m afraid that the Trump administration will quell dissent and us continuing to talk against discrimination and against hatred, and pitting one group against another group. It is so, so important to not live in fear from what the man behind the Twitter is going to be doing the next four years.”
A defiant Chicago City Council, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, says regardless of what the federal government does or says, Chicago will remain a welcoming city for immigrants and stay a safe haven for refugees.
President-elect Donald Trump has stated plans to strip federal funding from all cities with policies that protect undocumented immigrants and other non-citizen residents from deportation.
A resolution reaffirming Chicago as a welcoming city was sponsored by 33 aldermen, as well as City Clerk Susanna Mendoza and Emanuel, and introduced at last week’s City Council meeting.
The resolution states the city will:
- Engage in dialogue on immigration policies.
- Support policies that protect immigrants in Illinois.
- Partner with Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jerry Brown of California, Mayors Bill De Blasio of New York City and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and other elected leaders representing cities that welcome and protect immigrants to meet with the president-elect and his transition team.
- Encourage other states and cities to declare themselves to be welcoming communities.
- Issue a statement of support for cities that welcome undocumented individuals.
- Conduct a special City Council meeting to discuss the president-elect’s plans for cities that welcome and protect immigrants.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) said that if the Trump administration moves forward with a Muslim
registry his family, although not followers of the faith, will register as Muslim. Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) said he and his husband have also decided to register as Muslims, if such a registry is created.
“I’m convinced that the city of Chicago and its residents come together in times of need and we’ll come together to support all of those who could face discrimination,” Cappleman said.
Pawar said we cannot condone racist talk by the president-elect or anyone else and say that is just him being him.
“When we normalize the conversation and we act like there isn’t a white supremacist in his Cabinet and say, ‘Let’s give him a chance,’ we’re normalizing hate and I reject that,” Pawar said. “… I want to say he likes to talk about immigrants taking our jobs. Well, the beauty of immigration is our wonderful outgoing first lady of the United States is being replaced by an immigrant.
“So if we talk about immigrants being terrible people, this will never change and we have to stop pitting people against one another.”
Emanuel got choked up when talking to the council about his own family’s story, of his grandfather immigrating to Chicago at 13 years old because of the targeting and killing of Jews in Moldavia.
“What got him here was not only the safety of what Chicago offered, but the hope and promise of Chicago and the United States,” Emanuel said. “The 140 languages that are spoken in our schools is that hope and that promise, that journey, that sacrifice.”
The mayor said the dream that drove his grandparents and countless other immigrants will continue to live on in Chicago.
“Whether you’re from Israel or India, Mexico or Moldavia, it was sacrifice, it was struggle, and it was the values and the promise that here you could do something and your grandchildren can do something,” Emanuel said. “… I’m not shy about partisan politics because there is debate. There are differences, but there are more things that hold us together than separate us; and it’s those values and principals that give Chicago an identity on the map. It is a set of values of what the United States represents. It was never, ever not optimistic, welcoming, tolerant.”
He said Chicago, like New York City, Boston and Los Angeles, will remain a welcoming city for immigrants.
“This place, this city’s two feet will be firmly stood, with our heads high, our shoulders back and we will look to the future and people will know who we are and what we believe in. We’ll never be intimidated from being right and honest about our values and what we believe in.”
— Chicago stands firm as welcoming city for refugees —