Bloomington to Consider Welcoming City Ordinance Monday; Activists Unhappy with Certain Provisions

Members of the Keep Families Together coalition staged a walkout at a March 26th 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 a March 26th Council meeting in protest of council members' inaction on a welcoming city ordinance. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

UPDATE: Renner Cancels Planned Welcoming City Discussion, Cites Lack of Council Support

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner says it’s high time the City council decided whether or not Bloomington will become a “welcoming city” for immigrants.

Renner scheduled a special session 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 9 for the council to vote on the proposed ordinance meant to reassure immigrants who may be hesitant to report crimes for fear of deportation.

“This is something that I think at this point is good for us to just, one way or another, vote it up, vote it down, and move on,” Renner, who supports the ordinance, said Friday.

Discussions over a similar ordinance dating back to at least December stalled when five aldermen asked then-Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen to remove the proposal from a February 12 special meeting agenda.

After speaking to aldermen last week it seems the council remains divided on the issue -- Renner said he expects Monday’s vote will be a close one.

Bloomington’s proposal comes two months after Normal passed its own “welcoming community” ordinance.

Like Normal’s ordinance, the proposal does not designate Bloomington as a “sanctuary city” -- Bloomington police are still free to share information on individuals’ immigration status with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). State and local government action to prohibit such communication violates U.S. Code, the basis for recent federal lawsuits against sanctuary cities in California.

Rather, the ordinance codifies current Bloomington Police Department practices, including that the BPD won’t detain individuals solely on the basis of immigration status or ask for immigration status, and will continue participating in the federal U-visa program granting immigration benefits to undocumented immigrants reporting crime.

One major difference is the level of support the two ordinances have received from local activist groups.

The Keep Families Together Campaign -- a coalition of several local immigrant rights advocacy groups -- issued a statement Friday evening detailing the group’s opposition to Bloomington’s proposed ordinance.

The group argued the proposal falls short of a true welcoming city ordinance without any meaningful action to limit collaboration between Bloomington police and ICE.

In particular, the group argued a provision requiring officers seek Bloomington Chief of Police Clay Wheeler’s approval before contacting ICE gives the police chief too much power, “without providing any measures of transparency, disclosure, or accountability,”

Unlike Normal’s ordinance, which contained a similar provision, “this proposal does not set clear parameters as to how police will deal with ICE,” the statement continued.

Speaking with AdaptBN in February, Jenn Carrillo, YMCA McLean County Mission Impact Director and coalition leader, contrasted the group’s relationship with Normal and Bloomington police.

While a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed late last year uncovered emails purportedly showing a close working relationship between BPD and ICE, “we didn’t find such a thing in Normal,” Carrillo said. “So it’s a lot easier for us to establish that relationship of trust.”

Whereas Town staff and Normal Chief of Police Rick Bleichner met with coalition members to develop Normal’s ordinance, the group noted in Friday’s statement the ordinance up for a vote in Bloomington Monday was drafted by City staff without input from the Keep Families Together Campaign.

Some coalition members aren’t convinced Bloomington should wait for “the right ordinance.”

In a difference of opinion with the rest of the coalition, member group Not In Our Town issued its own statement Saturday in support of the proposal.

“Not In Our Town felt it was vital to have a starting place with Bloomington, no matter how imperfect,” explained NIOT Organizer Mike Matejka.

After a nearly 16-month conversation around immigration, “it is important that the Council express themselves publicly on this issue,” the statement reads. “We trust there will be a positive vote to pass this ordinance as a first step to further refinement.”