Local Activists Push Bloomington Council for Sanctuary City Status

 Members of the Keep Families Together coalition staged a walkout at Monday night's Council meeting in protest of council members' inaction on a welcoming city ordinance. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Members of the Keep Families Together coalition staged a walkout at Monday night's Council meeting in protest of council members' inaction on a welcoming city ordinance. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Supporters of a welcoming city ordinance again called on Bloomington leaders Monday, using one of their signature lines: “Do the right thing--Pass the ordinance.”

Members of the Keep Families Together coalition staged a 24-hour fast in front of City Hall on Sunday Night and a walkout during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Coalition leaders said the demonstrations are a call to council members to take up the previously tabled measure.

'Not in Our Town' coordinator Mike Matejka said city leaders have been discussing the concept of formally making Bloomington a welcoming city (or sanctuary city) in some capacity for almost a year now. Matejka said the goal in passing an ordinance is to ensure police won’t cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to target immigrants for deportation, helping immigrants feel safer in their communities.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner previously stated that an internal search of BPD records revealed no instances of its assistance with any deportations. Heffner did not specify the time period included in the internal search.

Jennifer Carrillo is the Mission Impact Director at YMCA McLean County and an organizer with the Coalition.

“We feel the conversation about the welcoming city ordinance has become about politics and people’s personalities on the City Council,” she said, adding that the coalition hopes to reframe the discussion as a moral issue.

Coalition members invited aldermen to join them Monday evening for a symbolic ending of the fast, but the council had a scheduled special session. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner did attend the fast’s kick-off Sunday evening.

Dispute Between Mayor and Aldermen Continues

Renner came under fire Monday night from Alderman Kim Bray after Renner used his discussion time to bring up the welcoming city ordinance. The exchange echoed a heated Council meeting last month between the Mayor and aldermen.

Bray interrupted Renner as he was addressing Alderman Amelia Buragas on the matter: “Mayor you’ve already had your comments section. Alderman Buragas, you’ve made some comments, and now it’s time to move forward. I don’t find this productive or helpful. [The ordinance] is not on our agenda at this juncture.”

“We understand you have an agenda and that you actually have a position on this matter that may differ from others and that’s what democracy’s about, [but] taking a strong-arm approach to take up the comments at the end of the meeting I don’t think is in that sphere,” she added.  

Renner apologized for anything taken as “strong-arming”, saying, “I could certainly go on a lot longer about the benefits of a welcoming city ordinance, but I was trying to avoid that. How long someone has to speak is up to the presiding officer according to Illinois law.”

Bray said Renner was abusing that power to advance a personal platform when several council members had said they preferred an ongoing discussion.

“All I can say is I’m sorry you feel that way,” Renner responded.

 Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe addressed complaints issued by Illinois State students regarding Mwilambwe's stance on the welcoming city ordinance. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe addressed complaints issued by Illinois State students regarding Mwilambwe's stance on the welcoming city ordinance. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Mwilambwe Addresses ISU Students’ Concerns

Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe took a moment to address Monday morning’s protest at Illinois State University, where he works in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. Students reportedly complained that Mwilambwe, an immigrant himself, was one of five aldermen who tried to table a vote on the welcoming city ordinance.

Mwilambwe said the issue isn’t binary. “Several of [the alderman] have had the conversation. I don’t think we’re opposed to [a welcoming city ordinance]. I think what is more accurate to say is we have a difference of opinion on how we’re going to get to where people want.”

What’s Next: It’s unclear if or when council members will consider the ordinance again, with five out of nine aldermen opposed to voting on the measure. Alderman Karen Schmidt said she would support putting the measure on a future City Council agenda, and Alderman Scott Black suggested they discuss the matter at the next Committee of the Whole meeting. Jennifer Carrillo said coalition members will keep pushing for Council members to take action. “The ball is in their court...If nothing happens, you can bet you’ll see us out here again.”