Illinois Trust Act Extends Protections for Undocumented Students, Families

Christopher Hacker | The PHOENIXHispanic elementary students walked out of school on the day of Trump's inauguration to protest his anti-immigrant policies.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law Monday to protect undocumented immigrants statewide. It offers a new level of security for many of Loyola’s almost 150 undocumented students and their families.

Senate Bill 31, known as the Illinois Trust Act, prevents any Illinois law enforcement agencies or officials from detaining an individual based solely on an “immigration hold,” also known as an administrative detainer, from a federal agency such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates and enforces violations of U.S. immigration policy. Immigration holds are non-binding requests by federal agencies that local law enforcement hold an individual in custody for up to 48 hours after they are arrested to determine if they should be deported.

The Trust Act also mandates that local law enforcement agencies and officials not stop, arrest, search or detain any person based solely on their immigration status and shields law enforcement officials from legal repercussions if they release such an individual.

Rauner signed the bill into law at an event in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood Monday, Aug. 28.

“I think it gives a feeling of security, specifically here in Illinois,” said one undocumented Loyola student, who asked to only be identified by his first name, Vince. “When [Trump] was first in office … there were rumors of Illinois becoming a sanctuary [state]. I think this is the first stop to [undocumented immigrants] feeling safe in Illinois.”

Immigrant rights groups such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) favor the Trust bill because it lacks loopholes that could threaten undocumented immigrants. This differs from Chicago’s sanctuary policy, which allows law enforcement officials to comply with a hold if a suspect has a criminal record or is listed in the Chicago Police Department (CPD) gang database, which immigrant rights activists claim is discriminatory and unfairly targets Hispanic immigrants with no connection to gangs.

In a press release celebrating Rauner’s support of the bill, the ICIRR said the Trust Act “will provide an unprecedented level of protection for Illinois’ half-million undocumented residents who could otherwise enter the deportation pipeline through any simple interaction with police including a traffic violation.”  

For one undocumented Loyola student, who asked to only be identified by her last name, Ramirez, the Trust Act offers a level of security her family hasn’t had since they came to the United States when she was 4-years-old.

“My dad works in construction, so he has to travel to faraway places sometimes, and in those commutes, he could get pulled over by the police or one of his customers might get mad — anything could happen out there,” Ramirez said in June, echoing the fears of many undocumented immigrants across Illinois. “That’s always been my greatest fear: my dad getting deported.”

Ramirez said the Trust Act would allow her father to travel without fear that an encounter with the police could result in his deportation.

“It’s comforting, and it makes me feel better about my parents, too,” Ramirez said. “I know my dad travels far and stuff, and … a lot of the counties he drives through are mostly white and wealthy people who have very heavy police monitoring, so you really never know who’s going to pull you over. It’s good to see that there’s at least something being done.”

Joseph Saucedo, director of Loyola’s Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, said the Loyola administration supports any bill that empowers undocumented students.

“I truly hope this will lead to greater sense of safety for our undocumented students,” Saucedo said. “But, at the same time, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty around DACA.”

Ramirez said the heated debate about undocumented immigrants has strained her and her family. Her most recent application to renew her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) status, which grants her temporary protections from deportation as long as she adheres to a list of requirements, was recently delayed.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and overturn DACA. He softened his stance after his inauguration, announcing that DACA recipients will be allowed to continue living in the country.

“It was starting to get very scary for me because I was trying to get a job at an ambulance company, so I needed to get my work permit and I needed to get my credentials and everything to be up-to-date,” Ramirez said. “My other work permit was about to expire, and then I also have a job at Loyola and I’m going to have to start work soon. Everything was just sort of catching up and my permit wasn’t coming in and it was starting to get really scary.”

While the Trust Act assuaged some of the fears of Illinois’ more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants, two key parts of the original bill were stripped out after receiving pressure from law enforcement agencies.

One amendment that would have established “safe zones” that would prevent ICE agents from conducting raids in public places such as hospitals and schools was included in the Senate version of the bill but was removed in the House of Representatives before being sent to Rauner. A separate bill that would establish such zones is making its way through the House.

Another amendment, known as a U-Visa, which would have granted temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who report a crime or cooperate with the investigation of a crime, was also removed from the bill following backlash from law enforcement.

Vince said he knows undocumented immigrants who are afraid to cooperate with any law enforcement, even if they are the victims of a crime, because they are too afraid of being deported. He specifically mentioned an undocumented high school student he works with who is struggling with frequent bullying at school. Vince said the boy cannot report the harassment because the police might find out he is undocumented.

“He can’t really even speak English, but his fear is that involving any higher authority is going to backfire on him just because of his [immigration] status,” Vince said. “It’s heartbreaking to see someone go through that.”

After signing the bill at the Mi Tierra restaurant in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, Rauner praised the bill for establishing Illinois as one of the most welcoming states in the country.

“This was not an easy bill to pass, believe me,” Rauner said. “This took months and months of difficult negotiations.”

Chicago is considered a sanctuary city because, like the Trust Act, it prohibits city officials from cooperating with federal immigration holds. The Trust Act will expand Chicago’s sanctuary rules, preventing law enforcement from cooperating with any immigration hold, even if a person has a criminal record or arrest warrant.

ICE, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House did not respond to requests for comment, but the Trump administration has frequently sparred with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the city’s sanctuary policies.

“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a July 25 statement. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law.”

In the same statement, the DOJ promised to only provide certain federal grants “to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”

On Aug. 7, Emanuel announced in a statement that he plans to sue the Trump administration for promising to revoke grants if Chicago and other cities do not comply with federal immigration policy.

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