In the 1980s, Mayor Harold Washington declared Chicago a sanctuary city. A gang database was started in the city at about the same time. This error-filled database remains a tool used to classify Chicagoans as gang members simply because of a haircut, a tattoo or an affiliation with a specific person.
If we fast forward to 2012, the Welcoming City Ordinance that declared Chicago a sanctuary city under Rahm Emanuel and that continues under Lori Lightfoot has three major carve outs. Individuals are not allowed to receive sanctuary if they have an outstanding criminal warrant, a felony conviction or if their name is found on the city’s gang database.
The gang database mentioned in this carveout, which exempts individuals from receiving sanctuary, currently holds the names of more than 135,000 people—over 90 percent of them Black and Brown Chicago residents. There is no way to get off this database, and an entry in the database can impact one’s ability to find a job, access housing, and can put anyone on the fast track to deportation and/or incarceration.
Fast forward a bit more to 2016, when Donald Trump took office as president of the United States on a platform of hate, bigotry and racism. The rhetoric was particularly hateful against immigrants—especially those of Mexican descent—whom he views as “rapists and drug dealers.”
When we live in a city, and a country, that targets Black and Brown people, when we are ourselves Black and Brown people, as are our students and their families, we must take action. This is why community organizations across the city (Organized Communities Against Deportation, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Enlace, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Logan Square Neighborhood Association) partnered with the Chicago Teachers Union Latinx Caucus to inform and help organize within the Union to draw attention to injustices that impact our students and communities.
All of the aforementioned work led to one of the major wins of our 2019 strike. In a huge victory, we were able to ensure sanctuary schools and sanctuary employer language in our contract for the first time in the history of our union. Living in a society where children and families have been separated at the border, where our immigrant students have endured trauma, and where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids destroy families and leave children parentless, it is critical that educators have a way to protect immigrant students and their families.
Thanks to our historic strike, we now have those protections written into our contract. The Union’s wins for sanctuary schools include the following provisions:
- Chicago Public Schools buildings are declared sanctuary spaces for all stakeholders.
- School personnel will not collect information regarding immigration status.
- CPS will not allow ICE agents on school grounds except with a criminal judicial warrant.
- CPS will develop a training program for staff on proper response to ICE entrance in schools, and take proactive steps to aid students and families in obtaining assistance with immigration-related actions.
- CPS and the CTU will send a joint letter to educators and support staff that includes immigration or citizen status resources.
Since 2012, more than 800,000 individuals have signed up and received approval for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with some 80,000 of those in Illinois. Now, thanks to our sanctuary employer contract language, DACA recipients in the CTU will also be protected. Under the contract, CPS will not demand proof or inquire about an employee’s legal status except as required by law and CPS will develop guidance and resources for up to $200,000 per school year to assist DACA employees with immigration issues. In addition, CPS will provide DACA employees up to 10 unpaid non-consecutive release days to tend to immigration matters, and also provide employees who are barred from work because of immigration issues up to a two-year leave of absence.
Now that we have these important protections in our contract we must continue to push the work forward. To begin, think about how you can make your school more welcoming. Are there signs, banners, bulletin boards, art in your school that make immigrant students and their families feel welcome? Next, start a Sanctuary Team at your school. Find other individuals who are as passionate about this issue as you are, and plan to respond to newly arrived students or students who have experienced a deportation in their family.
Make a plan about what to do if ICE is in your neighborhood or comes to your school. Reach out to partner organizations in your neighborhood that are doing this work and collaborate with them. Reach out and inform colleagues, parents, and students about new contract language, which can be done through the Professional Problems Committee, Local School Council, Professional Personnel Leadership Committee, Bilingual Advisory Committee or Parent Advisory Council. Get this on the agenda for one (or all) of those meetings, and start educating your school community and alerting the committees about any contract violations.
Contact the CTU Latinx Caucus at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more involved in this work and help ensure the historic sanctuary protections in our contract are enforced. Remember, this language will only be as strong as the members in our building who work to enforce it and hold CPS accountable for protecting our students and their educators.