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Joliet officials respond to concerns about immigration reform

Joliet officials recently sought to address community concerns for federal immigration issues during a special session of the Joliet City Council held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

The city organized last week’s meeting in the wake of debate, national headlines and President Donald Trump’s executive orders surrounding immigration reform. Questions concerning undocumented immigrants, the power of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and sanctuary city designations were among some of the topics addressed.

“What we’re hoping to do tonight number one is answer any questions you have or concerns with what’s going on nationally,” said Joliet Mayor Bob O’DeKirk. “I met with community leaders who’ve talked about the concern in this community about what’s happening. I believe the best thing we can do is come out and speak, and let know you what the city of Joliet is and is not doing regarding the changes that are coming out of Washington D.C.”

One safeguard that communities across the nation are seeing is the designation of sanctuary cities, just like the City of Chicago has done.

Mayor Bob O’DeKirk said he couldn’t support the implementation of this measure.

“I believe it’s a mistake for the city of Joliet to openly declare that we are going to be defiant of the federal government, and that we’re not going to follow the law,” he said. “I think the position of city of Joliet should be that we are going to follow federal law. However, that’s not going to change what’s happening inside the city of Joliet.”

The members of the crowd expressed dismay, responding to the mayor’s statement with some boos.

Though the mayor and city council shared similar sentiments regarding the idea of the sanctuary city designation, officials stressed that it is not the work of the Joliet Police Department to perform the work of immigration enforcement authorities.

Police Chief Brian Benton tried to explain.

“We don’t have either the resources or the training to do the job of ICE officials,” he said. “Some of what you’re hearing in the news [and] some of the mandates that are being spread through the media are unfunded and [we] wouldn’t have that as a priority here in Joliet any point. Our priority will be to enforce the state and local laws, like, we have always done in order to provide a safe community for all us.”

Benton said the Joliet Police Department doesn’t have the resources, the database or anyway to check, or confirm, the citizenship for anybody they come in contact with. The procedure that Joliet law enforcement officials would follow if contacted by ICE officials is clear, he said.

As it stood last week, the city had not been in contact with ICE officials.

“The way that the contact is typically made with ICE would be once a subject is arrested for a criminal offense, is detained over in the county jail, they’re finger printed, [and] the finger prints are then sent to the FBI,” Benton said. “That would be the only way that information would be shared.”

One attendee questioned what the city would do if ICE officials target Hispanics, even if they are U.S. citizens.

Benton tried to explain.

“One of the problems that we, as municipal law enforcement, and I, as the chief, see with enforcing federal immigration is the trust issues that would be compromised with the community,” Benton said. “Our goal has been to build trust with each and every one of you in this room, so that you will come to us in time of need. We need you to come to us serve as witnesses, we need you to come to us if you’re the victim of a crime, and we need you to trust us that we’re going to treat you like we would any other citizen if you’re here undocumented.”

Attorneys at the special meeting offered advice including:

  • Keep recent information on organization that provides assistance to individuals regarding immigration issues, such as Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project (Bolingbrook) and the Spanish Community Center (Joliet)

  • Consult an immigration attorney or a registered agency to find out what forms of relief are available

  • If confronted at home by federal officials with a signed warrant from a judge, individuals are instructed to open the door, give your name and remain silent.

  • If detained, know who will be able to take care of children who are U.S. born.

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