Evanston aldermen Monday night unanimously adopted a so-called sanctuary city ordinance, pledging to welcome illegal immigrants and not cooperate with federal government efforts to deport them.

Michelle Vazquez, who counsels undocumented students at Evanston Township High School on their higher-education and career options, said the school supports undocumented students and that she wants the city to do so as well.

Other speakers, including high school students and a Northwestern University professor, also spoke in favor of helping immigrants make successful lives in the community.

The only objection to the proposal during public comment came from community activist Madelyn Ducre, who said the ordinance would violate federal law. “Illegal people in American are illegal,” Ducre said, suggesting the city shouldn’t be welcoming them when federal law makes their presence illegal.

The new ordinance bars police from holding a person solely on the belief that the person is not legally present in the country or based on an administrative warrant or immigration detainer that is based solely on a violation of a civil immigration law.

It also, under most circumstances, bars police from giving immigration agents access to a person in custody or to police facilities.

But the restrictions wouldn’t apply when the subject of an investigation has an outstanding criminal warrant, has been convicted of a felony, has felony charges pending or has been identified as a known gang member.

The Evanston ordinance goes further than a Chicago ordinance upon which it is largely based by prohibiting any city official from requesting information about or assisting in the investigation of the citizenship or immmigration status of any person unless required by state statute, federal regulation or court decision.

However it carves out an exception for the city’s law department to inquire about immigration status when that’s relevant to litigation to which the city may be a party.

The Evanston ordinance also bars city officials from making threats based on the citizenship or immigration status of a person or that person’s family members and would restrict employees from disclosing information about anyone’s immigration status.

It also forbids denying city services based on immigration status, unless required by law. And it requires that city officials accept foreign drivers licenses and other documents as proof of identity where an Illinois driver’s license or identification card would otherwise be accepted — except for verification of employment eligibility.

Finally the ordinance denies people who claim the city violated its rules the option of going to court to challenge the city’s action — limiting remedies to internal city employee disciplinary procedures.

About half a million of the nearly 13 million people in Illinois are believed to be undocumented. And Cook County is said to have the third largest undocumented immigrant population of any county in the nation. One researcher has estimated that there may be as many as 4,000 undocumented immigrants in Evanston.

Related stories

Strong backing for sanctuary city ordinance (11/29/16)

Mayor seeks to strengthen ‘sanctuary city’ policy (11/23/16)

Mayor reaffirms ‘sanctuary city’ policy (11/15/16)

Aldermen split on immigration tactics (2/19/08)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. We should all really try to
    We should all really try to eliminate the use of the word “illegal” and replace it with “undocumented”. This article could be more impactful if the heading reflected that.

    1. Word choices

      The term "illegal immigrants" is still in widespread media use, despite a decision by the Associated Press a few years back to try to ban it — and to ban your preferred "undocumented immigrants" term as well.

      See this story from the Columbia Journalism Review.

      You may notice that Evanston Now's story used both "illegal" and "undocumented" in different references.

      Circumlocutions like "persons in the country illegally" or "persons in the country without documentation" that AP apparently would prefer are simply clumsy.

      The fact is that the "undocumented" status of these folks makes their presence in the country "illegal" under federal law.

      But the fact that they are currently in the country illegally does not bar residents of Evanston from welcoming them and supporting efforts to legalize their status — if we choose to do so. We can have compassion for their situation without having to euphemize it.

      — Bill

      1. Just because the term is
        Just because the term is still being used widespread in the media does not make it okay. It would be very meaningful if your publication took the stance to not use that term, even if it is only an individual effort. Using it interchangeably with “undocumented'”, or at all, simply perpetuates an unsympathetic view of the families’ situations and adds fuel to the fires of people who think they should not be welcome here.

        I can see your argument that technically their status here is against the law, making them “illegal”, but that comes from a perspective very aligned with the group that historical held power in our country. Who decided to come to the country, colonize and create borders and laws determining legal status? I can tell you it was not the people who originally inhabited this country, but that’s not how history is written in our books.

        Overall I simply think the language we use should be aligned with the “welcoming” and “compassionate” efforts we are trying to make. The media has a lot of power in shaping people’s viewpoints.

        1. Politicizing language

          Your argument that we should sanitize language to favor a political position makes sense for propaganda. It is without merit for news reporting.

          — Bill

        2. Ideology, Words, etc.

          Many immigrants, migrants, come to this country with a means to support themselves legally and illegally with financial aid from their country of origin whether that country is supplying illegal means is a matter to mention.  There is no excuse for anyone to enter into what we as American citizens hold near and dear is our freedoms.  To think, to act, to conduct our lives in a manner that is acceptable to our neighbors.  There is no welcome sign into Evanston for the poor other than those that will serve the need of those that have the means to support them.  The government has laws on immigration from some countries.  The burden to sustain those that have assumed the right to enter the country on a passport, or other means and stay without gaining citizenship should or should not be welcomed.  A guest in your home that is not a citizen and remains in your home is a personal choice.  To run a nation with loose, vague terms, words that are not understood or misunderstood in meaning is questionable as we see in the above article of reference. It is all a matter of personal opinion.  The events that have shaped history have led to the point of entry and again our freedom is questionable and should be protected at all costs.  If the churches are a safe place then let it be as Mother Mary says.  The passing of laws that threaten our quality of life may become a police state of mind for every thinking individual.

      2. Illegals

        The correct term is "illegal alien". You know…. foreign nationals who are illegally present in the country.

    2. Driving without a license? You’re an undocumented driver!

      Applying your logic, anyone driving without a driver's license for whatever reason should not be arrested or fined but considered undocumented drivers and allowed to go on their merry way.

      Illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, whatever you want to call them they are NOT American citizens but rather citizens of a foreign country. 

      Why not just call them foreigners and be done with it.

      Does the law mean anything anymore?


      1. Same for moving into your home ?
        If you come home and someone moved in and demands the right to live there, are they just “undocumented” or would you call them illegal and call the police ?
        If they demand food and a job, would you then provide it—even if your children [or those you chose to adopt] wanted to move in/back with you ?

    3. Why eliminate appropriate words?

      Why should we "all really try to eliminate" using the word "illegal" when that is precisely correct?

      I realize this is not the Politically Correct way to view the people who enter the country without going through the legal steps.

      But there are people who are waiting for their "turn" and are seemingly being punished for following the law.

      I am personally offended by the labels of anyone. I can see the labels flying my way now calling me "racist" or "xenophobic" . I've worked most of my life serving the poor and underprivileged and have no lack of empathy for others.

      I am weary of sanitizing language for the sake of avoiding criticism or being called names.

  2. Courts “illegal” ?
    The article says” “Finally the ordinance denies people who claim the city violated its rules the option of going to court to challenge the city’s action — limiting remedies to internal city employee disciplinary procedures.”
    Very odd that they pass and ordinance that says citizens cannot go to court esp. over what is an illegal act–being in the country illegally. Odd view of the justice system that you can outlaw access/acts by the court.

    1. Big Mess

      Given the ideology of the city council and mayor it is surprising that they didn't make it a criminal offense for citizens to support federal law 

  3. Illegal…undocumented
    I just hope that we would all apply the same standard when applying the law at its most restrictive. An example: many people who would like to see undocumented foreigners deported by reason of being in the country without the proper documentation are ok with Wikileaks spreading information obtained illegally (hacking into private or government email accounts is illegal, unless the law changed without much fanfare). Why is it that we give some people or groups a pass but we would like to full extent of law enforcement for others, regardless of context?

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