DOWNTOWN — Chicago will not turn away Syrian refugees, no matter how heated the political discourse becomes.
That's what Chicago aldermen declared Wednesday at a City Council meeting, where powerful Ald. Ed Burke joined other aldermen in passing a symbolic resolution welcoming refugees to show that Chicago is a "city of not only big shoulders but big hearts."
"Interestingly enough, since the tragedy of Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center, there’ve been 745,000 refugees relocated in the United States of America. 745,000. Of that 745,000, two have been arrested. That’s a pretty good record," Burke said.
On Tuesday, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to disregard statements from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who said he wanted the flow of refugees into the state halted. Rauner has no power to block the flow of refugees — and aldermen don't either — but the City Council resolution was a "symbolic" one.
Ramirez-Rosa approached Ald. Burke with the idea of a resolution, and said, "I knew that if he brought it to the floor there was no doubt it would pass." He added that the support showed the world how accepting Chicago is.
Acknowledging that "the tragic events in Paris have led to an unprecedented level of political grandstanding," Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said his position on refugees hasn't changed, and that Rogers Park has long been a home for immigrants and refugees around the world.
"Refugees are amongst some of the bravest and most resilient people on the planet," Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said. "Some literally walking across continents to flee persecution and provide a new life for their families. Illinois has a long history of refugee resettlement work and providing safe haven and it's embarrassing that it's all at risk because of Gov. Rauner's shameful beliefs."
Pawar added that his wife used to work to resettle refugees, and half of her family came to America fleeing from Germany.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th), whose ward includes Chinatown and Pilsen, said he will co-sponsor the resolution Wednesday.
"This is greatest country in the world. Yes we had out 9/11, but we can do a good job, better than most [countries], in vetting these people," Solis said. "We have to take a lead role [as a nation]."
Solis, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, said he has many memories of how proud his foreign-born parents were to contribute to their new Pilsen community although they endured struggles.
"Every once in a while, my dad would look around the dinner table and say, 'We won the lottery,'" Solis said. "And 'Make sure that you give back to this country that has given you so much.'"
Welcoming the refugees in need is just another way for Chicagoans to give back, Solis said.
Not all aldermen were on board. Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said he was skeptical of the vetting process and quickly changed the subject to homeless veterans.
“I think there’s a lot that needs to be done. There’s a lot of vetting that needs to be done," he said. "We can’t be just letting people in. We need to find churches that can house them, residents that are here already. ... We have homeless veterans out there, we have homeless residents, so we’ve got other things we need to get in order. We need to figure out a process, but the process isn’t just let ‘em in without figuring anything out."
Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) supported the symbolic gesture and added that World Relief Chicago in Albany Park is gearing up to accept refugees.
"I really thought Carlos said it best in his letter to the president," Mell said, pointing to photos on the internet of a little boy who washed up on the shore. "How can you look at that and not have compassion?"
Sposato said his "heart pours" for "99.9 percent" of the refugees — "but that one-10th of one percent worries me.”
Chicago immigrants from all over the world also chimed in by starting a petition calling on state and local elected officials to welcome Syrian refugees. More than 5,000 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday morning.
Even before the attacks in Paris, however, Syrian refugees had a hard time making Illinois home thanks to the state's budget woes. Organizations here that help immigrants learn English and adjust to American life have lost funding.
From the beginning of the year until Sept. 28, 71 refugees from Syria have been resettled in Chicago.
"We have as much power as the governor has, which is none," Burke said. "But what we do have is the opportunity to go on the record as stating that Chicago, the most American of American cities, welcomes people in distress and in trouble and tries to help rather than demonize them. I hope it will encourage other like-minded cities around the nation to do the same.”
Immigrant rights groups will march in support of refugees and against deportations Saturday at 10 a.m. The march will start at Harrison Park, 1824 S. Wood St., and arrive at Chicago ICE offices, 101 W. Congress Pkwy. around noon.
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