Town Council Designates Normal a ‘Welcoming Community’ for Non-Citizens

News Government
 Members of the Keep Families Together Campaign spoke at a rally Monday evening at Uptown Circle. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

Members of the Keep Families Together Campaign spoke at a rally Monday evening at Uptown Circle. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

The Town of Normal now has a welcoming city ordinance on the books.

Council members voted 5-2 Monday night to approve an ordinance Normal Chief of Police Richard Bleichner said formalizes the department’s current practices regarding undocumented immigrants.

“This goes hand-in-hand with what our community policing model is: we provide police services to the entire community regardless of status.”

Bleichner said codifying the department’s practices helps build trust with immigrant communities, acknowledging that fear of deportation may keep some individuals from contacting police.

What the Ordinance Does and Does Not Do

Bleichner said the ordinance does not mean the NPD won’t ask about someone’s citizenship status or communicate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.

The ordinance does add a “check-and-balance” to department policies, requiring that officers obtain approval from Bleichner or a designee before contacting ICE. Bleichner said he’ll balance public safety against immigrants’ concerns in considering any such requests.

The “ordinance in support of a welcoming community,” as described in Town documents, is not a sanctuary city ordinance.

“The Town could not bar ICE from entering our town and removing its residents,” said Charlotte Alvarez, executive director and staff attorney at The Immigration Project’s Bloomington-Normal office. “Unfortunately our non-U.S. citizen neighbors in Normal can still be torn from their families.”

Alvarez said while the ordinance isn’t ideal for members of the Keep Families Together Campaign, who worked with Town and NPD staff since February to draft the proposal, it “is the solution that works best for this community at this time.”

The ordinance also details the department’s practices concerning obtaining an individual’s citizenship status, doing so as required or when pertinent to criminal investigations.

“This language gives the [Town] the flexibility to ask when necessary, but sets a clear default that in most cases immigration status will not be requested, and is not necessary,” said Alvarez.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said while the ordinance cannot solve the current national immigration debate, it can guarantee residents in the community will continue to receive public safety services regardless of their citizenship status.

Potential For Harm?

A rally at Uptown Circle urging council members to pass the ordinance drew a crowd of about 70, with many attending the meeting to address the council directly, but not all those in the council chambers Monday supported the proposal.

Longtime Normal landlord Ron Ulmer said from what he’s seen of how NPD officers interact with undocumented immigrants, the ordinance offers a solution to “a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Ulmer said Normal police have responded to three incidents involving a tenant not named in the lease at one of his properties. Ulmer said despite the tenant’s citizenship status, officers “have taken no action” against the individual.

Normal resident Karl Sila also worried the ordinance would prove redundant, “a waste of time for both council and the citizens,” or would effectively sanction crime among immigrant communities.

“The U.S. immigration process is deeply flawed...but the appropriate remedy is to address the real problem, not to apply makeshift bandages rife with unintended consequences,” said Sila.

Council member Kathleen Lorenz put her concerns to Bleichner: “Can you say unequivocally that your department, staff and police officers support this 100%?”

Bleichner replied he and NPD have already laid the groundwork for the ordinance with their practices to date, adding he received only positive feedback after sharing the drafted ordinance with the entire NPD personnel. Bleichner also told council members he would never have signed off on the ordinance if he believed it could jeopardize public safety.