CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — City leaders have issued a statement reminding immigrants that the police department is not participating in federal immigration actions.
The following is an excerpt of the statement:
“While US immigration policy continues to dominate the national news, the City of Champaign wishes to reaffirm our commitment to promoting a friendly, inclusive, and welcoming community, and reminds residents that the Champaign Police Department does not participate in federal matters related to immigration.”
Deputy Police Chief David Shaffer said he wants people to know the Champaign Police Department should be considered a resource for all.
“It’s a very volatile topic that’s in the media right now,” Shaffer said. “But you should know that your police department is here to provide a public safety function and we don’t stop, we don’t detain, we don’t question based on status.”
Shaffer said he’s unaware of any time that the department has been asked to participate in federal immigration action, and said “that’s just something we do not participate in or enforce.”
The city also reiterated “the State of Illinois’ TRUST Act prohibits local law enforcement from assisting with any federal immigration enforcement operation.”
“We’re here to protect human rights,” Rachel Joy, who leads the Office of Equity, Community and Human Rights, said. “We continue to do that. We’re here to provide.”
Mayor Deborah Feinen said she has been concerned about recent national headlines regarding immigration.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries over the last few weeks relating to the city’s immigration status,” Feinen said. “I think as everyone is aware, there’s been a lot on the national news relating to immigration and a lot of concern locally. I think the important thing is for our community to know that we are safe and welcoming.”
President Donald Trump has fought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. A New York federal judge has issued an order blocking the Trump administration from adding such a question in any form. This followed the president’s announcement last week that he intended to seek citizenship records from agencies that are already collecting data through an executive order. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in June to keep a lower court’s order blocking a citizenship question from the census. Feinen said as the 2020 Census approaches, she wants immigrants to feel safe coming forward.
“It’s really important for everyone to be counted, because cities get dollars from the federal government based on the number of people counted,” Feinen explained. “So, people need to know that they can step up and be counted and that they’re not putting themselves or their families in jeopardy.”
In April, 42 grantees across the state of Illinois received funding to work on removing barriers for hard-to-count populations in the 2020 Census. One of those recipients was the New Americans Welcome Center through the University YMCA. The center has been approved to provide legal assistance for people working toward citizenship. Its director, Gloria Yen, said she hopes announcements like the city’s statement on Thursday will help ease fears in the community.
She said a concern she has heard a lot is “is federal immigration enforcement going to be coming into my community and what does that mean and how do we really prepare to make sure that individuals and families are fully informed of their rights and ready to protect themselves,” Yen explained.
C-U Immigration Reform President Tom Garza said he’s heard the same fears from immigrants he advocates for. He said he was heartened by Champaign’s statement, but he’s worried it won’t reach everyone who needs to hear it.
“The problem is that a lot of new immigrants are language-challenged,” Garza said. “So, they don’t watch stations like this one because they don’t understand what’s going on.”
While the City of Champaign website does offer dozens of translations, Garza said he’s worried many don’t know to even check the website in the first place. He said he’s also concerned that some immigrants don’t understand the distinction between federal, state and local authorities.
“In some countries, that line is blurred,” Garza said. “So the fact that police here are not working for the federal government is a concept that’s a little difficult for some to grasp.”
He said the best way for city leaders to spread their message is by getting out in the community.
“A lot of people who are new, they trust their friends, they trust their relatives,” Garza explained. “The level of trust decreases dramatically as you go away from immediate family and friends.”