This story is being co-published with editorial support from In These Times.

Alds. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) and David Moore’s (17th Ward) latest attempt to alter Chicago’s designation as a sanctuary city failed during a special City Council meeting on Thursday morning. City Council members on Dec. 14 voted 16-31 against their resolution that, if approved, would have asked voters whether the city should maintain its sanctuary status. 

Thursday’s special meeting, which was called by Beale, Lopez and Moore and lasted about one hour, is a repeat of last month’s efforts to start the process of potentially repealing Chicago’s sanctuary status, which unfolded during a chaotic City Council meeting that set the stage for Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) to eventually resign his position as Floor Leader and chair of the Zoning Committee.

Chicago’s particular status as a sanctuary city dates back to Mayor Harold Washington and his 1985 executive order barring employees from enforcing federal immigration law. He also ended the city’s practice of asking job applicants and driver’s license applicants for their immigration status. Starting a few years earlier, before Washington’s historic election, refugees fleeing political repression and violence from El Salvador and Guatemala were being housed at hundreds of congregations across the country. Locally this happened at Chicago’s Wellington Avenue Church, an early sanctuary church in the United States where the congregation’s leaders resisted the nation’s harsh laws around refugees seeking asylum. 

In the four decades since, progressive leaders have often touted Washington’s legacy and the city’s imperative to protect undocumented residents. The most recent effort came in 2021 under Mayor Lori Lightfoot when the Welcoming City Ordinance was updated to further protect undocumented immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ramirez-Rosa and a broad, multiracial coalition that made up the Chicago Immigration Working Group led those efforts. In an opinion article published in South Side Weekly after the ordinance passed, Ramirez-Rosa wrote: “removing the loopholes puts Chicago closer to becoming a true sanctuary for our Black and brown communities — one where our communities are not criminalized, but supported and protected.” 

While tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Chicago over roughly the last 18 months, including some 30,000 Ukrainian refugees and others from the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East, the current wave of Latin American migrants has captured national headlines and the city’s attention, in part because of how Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is sending unannounced buses full of refugees to sanctuary cities like Chicago. And while the arrival of so many migrants has both been a cause for continued solidarity and coalition building, the ensuing (often toxic) political discourse has also unearthed some pre-existing tensions between Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities. 

Those tensions have “deep roots in the city,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) said recently on The Ben Joravsky Show.

Black communities are still grappling with decades of disinvestment and racist real-estate practices, and many Black Chicagoans and their businesses have been forced out of the city due to a lack of nourishing public institutions and support for Black entrepreneurship. Among the many examples are ones highlighted in a 2021 Politico article titled “The Demise of America’s Onetime Capital of Black Wealth” and Eve L. Ewing’s investigation into the widespread racist school closings on Chicago’s South Side, Ghosts in the Schoolyard

At the same time, the number of Latinx residents has been rising and in 2020, Latinx people became the city’s second-largest ethnic group, surpassing the city’s Black population. City Council meetings recently have become a space where Chicago residents and alders have explicitly aired out the grievances of oft-forgotten and neglected Black communities, while policies centering migrant care have necessitated urgent response from public officials.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) speaks during a Nov. 15 City Council meeting. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

“These chasms have been created on purpose, to keep us from ever being together, working together, and exercising our collective power,” veteran political and media consultant Delmarie Cobb told The TRiiBE

She points to the early 2000s, when Mayor Richard M. Daley couldn’t muster enough Black support and instead relied on members of the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) to be his foot soldiers. Former Daley political aide Victor Reyes and Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez created the HDO. During its heyday, according to the Chicago Reader, the HDO was charged with “beating up independents on behalf of Daley’s political machine.” In return, Daley gave HDO and their allies access to jobs within the water and streets and sanitation departments, which effectively shut Black people out of obtaining many city jobs. The public sector is one of the largest employers for Black people nationwide. 

“Black people are watching what has been deliberately done to them, and they’re losing power. Anybody who’s losing power is going to fight to maintain it, and anybody who thinks they should have power is going to fight to get it. That’s what we’re seeing,” Cobb said.

The recent series of events that started with a high-profile interaction between Ramirez-Rosa and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) on Nov. 2, according to Cobb, is an example of those tensions and wounds being used as distractions that sow discord between Black and Latinx communities.

Cobb said it’s impossible to separate the ongoing tensions between Black and Latinx communities from the city’s deliberate disinvestment in Black neighborhoods. However, these interactions in City Council and their consequences fundamentally highlight the need for Black and Latinx people to recognize their collective power and work collaboratively to get the necessary resources to thrive. 

“If we were to work together, we could run this city, but as long as you keep a wedge between us, that will never happen,” she said.

WHAT HAPPENED ON NOV. 2?

What unfolded in the aftermath of a chaotic Nov. 2 special City Council meeting was a whirlwind: a mix of dishonest messaging and political maneuvering. The meeting had been called by Alds. Beale, Lopez, Marty Quinn (13th Ward), Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward) and Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) to approve a referendum that would place the city’s status as a sanctuary city on the ballot.

A chorus of critics of Mayor Brandon Johnson including Lopez and Ja’Mal Green, who endorsed Johnson’s opponent Paul Vallas in the April 4 runoff, and political protesters that align with right-wing interests, took to social media and the press to make multiple inflammatory and in some cases false statements about an interaction between Ramirez-Rosa and Mitts.

On Nov. 2, Lopez posted a tweet that would set off a firestorm, writing about how Ramirez-Rosa was allegedly “harassing & manhandling” Mitts as she was entering Council Chambers for a special meeting. Lopez then specifically targeted Johnson: “The only question is why does our mayor allow you to serve in any capacity? … [Ramirez-Rosa] you are clearly a threat to women, especially of color. Resign!”

Alderman Raymond Lopez at the official City Council meeting on May 24. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE®

Part of the accusations against Ramirez-Rosa was that he was trying to block Mitts’ entry into the meeting in order for the council not to reach quorum and so that they would not be able to vote on the effort.

“I felt like I was back in the South. I felt like everything in me was shaking,” Mitts said in City Council Chambers on Nov. 7, referring to the altercation with Ramirez-Rosa. Mitts was born in Arkansas and moved to Chicago as an adult. 

During those Nov. 7 remarks, Mitts confirmed she wasn’t manhandled but that she was blocked from entering City Council Chambers. (This rebuts some of the key claims from Lopez and others.)

A day earlier, on Nov. 6, CBS Chicago released a video that showed Ramirez-Rosa briefly touching Mitts on the arm and standing in her path toward the door. A few seconds later, he moves out of the way and she enters council chambers.

But by the time the video was released, the allegations and uproar had spiraled wildly, and in a Nov. 7 press conference, Ramirez-Rosa said: “What widened that divide [between Black and brown people] was Ald. Raymond Lopez’s false allegations that I physically assaulted and I manhandled someone. Those allegations took on a life of their own.”

Some members of the Latino Caucus and the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus (CABC) called for Ramirez-Rosa to apologize to Mitts and resign as Floor Leader and Chair of the Zoning Committee because of what happened on Nov. 2. He resigned from both positions on Nov. 6, and stayed on as zoning chair until Dec. 1. 

During his public address in City Council chambers on Nov. 7, Ramirez-Rosa apologized to Mitts for his “overzealous attempts throughout the day to try and convince you not to be part of a quorum.” 

“There was an effort to strip Chicago of its sanctuary status, and in my efforts to stop that from happening, I did make mistakes, and I went too far,” Ramirez-Rosa told The TRiiBE in a one-on-one interview in mid-November. “I’ve apologized and taken responsibility for that.”

Though the appearance of chaos may have temporarily overshadowed the policies coming out of the City Council, emerging progressive voices are actively challenging many of those politicians who were once in lockstep allegiance to a much more centrist Democratic machine, according to Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward), Ramirez-Rosa and Cobb. 

Some key progressive policies championed by Johnson, Ramirez-Rosa, and other progressives — including the One Fair Wage Ordinance, Bring Chicago Home, Treatment Not Trauma — have already passed or are in process and have the potential to lead to transformational change for all Chicagoans. One Fair Wage eliminates the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Bring Chicago Home is a proposal to raise the real estate transfer tax on properties sold for over $1 million to tackle homelessness. Treatment Not Trauma would invest in mental health services and provide alternatives to traditional policing.

“There have been some right-wing forces who have sought to intentionally confuse the public about what the sanctuary city ordinance is, who it protects and how it works,” Ramirez-Rosa said. 

The Welcoming City Ordinance, according to a South Side Weekly article, is designed to “[prohibit] Chicago police from questioning, arresting, and prosecuting people solely on the suspicion that they may be undocumented.” 

With these protections, the ordinance tears down barriers that make undocumented residents afraid to call 911, Ramirez-Rosa told The TRiiBE.  If the ordinance were to be repealed, it would not impact those in the city legally as refugees and asylum seekers. Ramirez-Rosa added that the city’s sanctuary ordinance, officially called the Welcoming City Ordinance, is a public safety policy.

“So, at this point, the people of Chicago deserve to know what’s true and what’s false,” he said.

A large group of Chicago’s progressive leaders — including Cook County Commissioner Anthony Joel Quezada, members of the Chicago Teachers Union, the United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, and members of 33rd Ward Working Families — issued a statement denouncing the “hasty” removal of Ramirez-Rosa and claiming the elected leaders attacking him “have actively caused harm to communities of color and have stood by corrupt politicians in unwavering support.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward) speaks during a Nov. 15 City Council Meeting. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

They didn’t deny that Ramirez-Rosa acted incorrectly, but wrote that “we stand for accountability, not politically motivated punishment.”

For his part, Ramirez-Rosa said he plans to learn from the experience and move forward—there’s much work to still be done.

“I have consistently been a progressive voice, and I’m going to consistently continue to be a progressive voice. I have taken responsibility for the mistakes that I’ve made and I want to make sure that we can continue to work together as a council for the good of Chicago,” he said. 

“WE CREATED THIS MESS”

Taylor was critical of Ramirez-Rosa on the Nov. 28 episode of The Ben Joravsky Show, saying that “as the floor leader, you are supposed to bring us together to vote on things.”

“Wrong is wrong. I don’t care what caucus you’re part of, I don’t care whose team you’re a part of,” said Taylor, who is a member of both the Black and Progressive caucuses.

Taylor said she was frustrated with the migrant crisis and put the blame at the feet of elected officials.

“We created this mess. I don’t blame Black folks for being mad, I don’t blame Latino folks for being mad, I don’t blame Asian people [for being mad],” Taylor said. “Right now the right, the white, are winning … we look like complete fools because ‘A’ we’re not organizing, and ‘B’ we’re not organizing together.”

Prior to Taylor’s comments, The TRiiBE spoke with Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward), who defeated 28-year incumbent Joe Moore in the 2019 municipal election. She acknowledged that today’s City Council — composed of many more progressive leaders than previous years — is finding its identity after decades of mayoral authority.  

“The Chicago City Hall is a very different City Hall than it was when some of our elder colleagues got in office, like, [in terms of] what aldermen could and couldn’t do, and how it impacted them has changed. I’ve come into Council in a much more open environment where it is easier for us to act,” Hadden explained. 

In the past, members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus (CABC) largely voted in agreement with both Daley and Rahm Emanuel during their administrations. That includes “yes” votes on Daley’s 75-year parking meter privatization deal, Emanuel’s closure of half the city’s public mental health clinics, and plans for a $95 million cop academy. 

For example, the very first iteration of Bring Chicago Home was introduced and sponsored by Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), according to Hadden, who’s now the lead sponsor of the current Bring Chicago Home resolution that’s on the ballot in March.

“Alderman Burnett brought it up under the Daley administration. Daley said ‘Absolutely not.’ And so they didn’t [pass it],” Hadden said. 

The progressive legislative victories that the Johnson administration is seeing are due to the City Council becoming more independent from its mayorship, according to Hadden. 

Some CABC members who voted in alignment with Daley and Emanuel are no longer in office because they were voted out, exposed as corrupt, or retired from office. And in some cases, more progressive-minded alderpersons have replaced them.

“Alderman Ramirez-Rosa, I would argue, entered council during the beginning of that transition, where it was still really difficult to be an independent alderperson,” Hadden said.

For more than a decade, multiracial and multi-generational coalitions have organized on issues of affordable housing, shuttered Chicago Public Schools, an elected representative school board, police accountability, community benefits agreements, mental health, Black liberation, paid time off, and more. The fruits of their labor are now reflected in the makeup of the current City Council. 

“You have a host of … newer alderpeople that are being more proactive, trying to address issues legislatively and through policy, and also working to fix a lot of the problems left to us in the city by previous administrations that didn’t tackle those problems,” Hadden said.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.