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By Mike Sandrolini
Donald Trump’s election as president Nov. 8 is considered to be one of the most stunning upsets in political history. But, according to State Rep. Chris Welch, there was a segment of his constituency that’s upset—literally—with Trump’s ascension to the White House.
Welch said his district office in Westchester fielded calls from constituents the day after the election who were concerned about getting deported. “People were just so traumatized with Trump winning the election,” Welch recalled. “The things that went on at Proviso West (High School) the day after the election were just unbelievable. Kids were coming to school crying; they had to be counseled and assured that no one was going to be deported. When I heard these stories, I said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ ”
So, Welch crafted HB 462—the Immigration Safe Zones Act. The legislation would, according to the Website, “The Whim” (a political news site) “grant permission to schools, medical treatment and healthcare facilities, and places of worship to prevent local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from investigating, detaining or arresting individuals who are (or may be) in the country illegally.”
The bill would require local, state and federal law-enforcement officials to obtain a court-ordered warrant in order to go into these aforementioned venues before investigating, detaining or arresting individuals suspected of violating immigration laws.
“We don’t want people to be afraid to go to school like they were the day after the election,” Welch said. “Getting calls in my office and hearing that students were crying and needing to be counseled all day because of the rhetoric they heard in the presidential campaign was quite disturbing.
“It bars them (law-enforcement officials) from entering the premises without a valid warrant. If they have a valid warrant, that warrant is going to allow them to do whatever they want. So this doesn’t protect someone who is doing something illegal. If they don’t (have a warrant), this law will say, ‘Come back when you have a valid warrant.’ “If they’re not able to get a valid warrant, they should not be able to raid a school. I have small children, and the last thing I want to see happen is law enforcement officials rushing into a school or arresting kids and putting them in handcuffs … can you imagine the trauma that is upon schools?”
Welch said the bill was developed “clearly from the rhetoric during the (presidential) campaign.” He noted that he filed the bill twice: once during the State Legislature’s lame duck session and again on Jan. 12—both well before Trump took office and before Trump’s controversial executive order issued a week after his inauguration. That order temporarily banned anyone coming into the United States from seven Muslim majority countries—seven nations that the White House said had been identified by the Obama administration as being “countries of concern” for sources of terrorism.
A federal appellant court has since ruled against reinstating the ban. “I think we crafted a very tightly written bill to make sure that we ensure constitutional protections but also granted additional protections under state law,” Welch said. “I think we’ve done that and I think we’ve done a very good job of putting some policy forth that I think other states will follow. I’m just proud of what we can come up with when we all work together.”
The Pew Research Center estimated in 2015 that around 475,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Illinois, or 3.7 percent of the state’s total population. Welch said that number is now estimated to be around 500,000.
“Illinois is a welcoming state,” Welch said. “We want you to come to our state, and rather than having people flee our state, here’s a reason to come to Illinois.”
Welch discussed the proposed bill during a news conference held last week in Springfield. He was joined at the conference by a handful of state representatives and Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of West Suburban Action project— a social justice, advocacy and legal services organization that serves western cook county, including Maywood.
“At a time where immigrant and Muslim communities are under unprecedented attack, we ask our representatives to do the right thing, to listen to the voices in strong support of this bill and these efforts,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “No matter where we are on immigration, we want our children to feel safe at school, we want people to have access to life-saving and necessary medical services and we want people to feel safe when they’re attending religious services with their families.
“Passing this bill would allow and ensure our communities are safer and integrated, and that certain communities are not racially profiled or targeted, and ensure protection of U.S. Constitutional principles.” Welch emphasized the bill is not one that would make Illinois a sanctuary state. “This is about zones, schools health facilities and churches. Illinois is not a sanctuary state,” he said. “Our goal is just to make sure people don’t live in fear. We don’t want people living in fear in this country or in this state. We want people to feel welcome here, but if they’re doing something illegal, and law enforcement presents a valid warrant, we’re not going to get in their way.”
Elizabeth Hernandez, a Democratic state representative from the 24th District, was one of the legislators who spoke at the news conference. She said this bill would “give immigrants in Illinois who are our neighbors, friends, family and constituents the protections to keep their families together.
“After the November election, the Trump victory and his hateful, divisive rhetoric set off an immediate surge of fear across the country,” Hernandez said. “(In) the entire immigrant community, regardless of legal status, it’s caused tragic and devastating actions in classrooms, businesses, and public space against individuals already reeling from feelings of hopelessness and dread for their families. “Representative Chris Welch stepped up and took a stand. I immediately reached out to Representative Welch when I heard he had legislation that would establish safe zones.”
Immediately after the news conference, Welch took the bill to committee, and it passed committee on a 7-4 vote along party lines. Welch doesn’t expect the bill to come up on the House floor for consideration this week because the Legislature will only be in session for two days. However, he indicated that the bill should come up for consideration next week.
“I’m not too confident about (getting) bipartisan support (for the bill) because it came out of committee on a party line vote and the Republicans were pretty harsh,” Welch said. “We’re going to continue to work the bill and hopefully we can get some bipartisan support, but I didn’t leave the committee confident that the Republicans were going to support it.”