Constable: Why suburban schools back immigration safe zones
Recent bills signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner change the rules surrounding rabies inoculations, add one school to a bus route, mandate that massage parlors post notices about human trafficking, increase the number of visitors an inmate can have each month, allow nonresidents under age 18 to apply for archery deer permits, and make it clear that a fishing license can be electronic instead of just physical.
But one important bill has been sitting on the governor's desk since June 29, and supporters of that legislation rallied outside the Thompson Center in Chicago on Wednesday asking that Rauner sign it.
The Immigration Safe Zones Act would require the Illinois attorney general to develop policies to limit the power of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to make arrests at courthouses, hospitals, libraries and schools without violating federal laws.
That would be welcome news for Josefina, a 39-year-old Round Lake Park mother who has lived in the United States for 15 years and has three children who were born here.
"I feel worried that the public places around here aren't as safe as we feel they should be," she says in Spanish to Yesenia Silva, office manager at Mano a Mano, a community group founded in 2000 in a Round Lake Park storefront that has grown to became a social service agency offering resources to immigrant families across northeastern Illinois. Josefina, whose children are ages 6 to 14, says a rumor spread through the community a couple of weeks ago that ICE agents were in the neighborhood, making her scared to pull her car into the library parking lot or wait outside school for her children. Children also fret that their parents might be taken away.
"On the national level we've seen people being arrested dropping off their kids at school and on their way to the hospital," said immigration attorney Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project, who has been working on the safe zone law for more than two years.
"We were hearing from our students because they were worried. When you have that, you have an environment where they can't learn," says Kevin Myers, superintendent of Mundelein High School District 120, who supports the safe zone act for people regardless of their immigration status. "We want to tell our students and the parents that our facility is a safe zone for them. It's where they can come and learn."
Round Lake Area School District 116 Superintendent Donn Mendoza supports the bill for his schools and 7,300 students.
"We always want our schools to be viewed as a safe, welcoming and nurturing atmosphere for our students, staff and families," Mendoza says.
"We're constantly working with our local families."
Both superintendents say the schools continue to coordinate efforts with local law enforcement agencies and local governments.
"If someone comes in, they must have a warrant," says Myers, who wrote a letter to Rauner supporting the bill. "We had community members coming out and saying, 'Thank you.' It comes down to humanity and how you want our students treated."
Myers said no community members faulted him for writing the letter of support. Elsewhere, critics of the bill have said the state should not protect those who are here illegally and that the Illinois attorney general already could set guidelines for immigration enforcement.
Many schools have written their own policies and a statewide law would put everybody on the same page, Ruiz-Velasco says.
The law would ease fears for Josefina, who says her children enjoy school and have friends. "I will feel more secure of going to school and dropping off my kids at school or going to the hospital if needed," she says.
"It's just going to give them peace of mind," Mano a Mano's Silva says of the law. "You can see the fear. Parents don't know what to expect. They worry about having an uncertain future."
That future is in Rauner's hands.