CITY HALL — Running counter to Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican politicians across the nation, Chicago's City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution welcoming Syrian refugees and reaffirming "Chicago's status as a sanctuary city."
After Rauner joined other Republican governors, in the aftermath of Friday's terror attack in Paris, in resisting President Barack Obama's plans to greet 10,000 Syrian refugees, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) led in sponsoring a resolution welcoming the refugees to Chicago.
"They don’t have any power to block the federal government from relocating refugees," Burke said of the governors. "But what it does, I’m afraid, is it just demonizes a whole class of people who are struggling as it is to keep their families together and to stay alive.
"We have as much power as the governor has, which is none," Burke added. "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."
Burke said, "We should go on record as being a city of not only big shoulders but big hearts."
Burke insisted Syrian refugees were being subjected to a two-year "vetting process," investigating them "far more thoroughly than American gun owners."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined in hailing the resolution and made pointed reference to a suggestion by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to "pause" the refugee process after the Paris attacks.
"For those who talk about putting a 'pause' on our values, what built this country wasn't putting a pause on our values and our freedoms and our ideals, it was doubling down and committing to those values, because that is why America is still a beacon of hope," Emanuel said.
Emanuel went on to call Chicago "the Paris of the prairie."
"Some folks decided to pop off and say these Syrian refugees weren't welcome here," said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who co-sponsored the resolution and helped write the draft. "Let us greet them as sisters and brothers."
Ramirez-Rosa drew attention to Fatima and Fadi Idriss and their two sons in the gallery, a Syrian refugee family that resettled in Chicago in February. "They came from Syria seeking safety, and we welcome them to Chicago here today," he added.
Ramirez-Rosa quoted Pope Francis in saying that "we believe Jesus was a refugee," while other aldermen connected the current crisis to their personal pasts.
"This resolution really embodies what America is all about," said an emotional Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Solis said he arrived in Chicago as a 6-year-old in 1956, and "I think about what this county and what this city meant to me." He said his family received Christmas gifts from a Catholic church that year, and when they sat down to Christmas dinner his father said "we had won the lottery."
"People should understand what this country means to immigrants and refugees across this world," Solis added. "And if we turn our back on these refugees, we are becoming unfeeling, without a heart, and not recognizing that we need these immigrants to continue to build our country."
Similarly, Ald. Will Burns (4th) compared Syrian refugees to African-Americans fleeing the South and slavery for the North, where they oftentimes weren't initially welcomed in the years following the Civil War.
And Emanuel, citing his own grandfather's arrival in Chicago as a young teenager fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe 100 years ago, also drew a pointed comparison to the S.S. St. Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees from Europe, turned away by the United States in the years before its entry into World War II.
"We have very diverse wards," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th). "We accept all people.
"I don’t think that the governor should limit anyone from coming to our state, especially if the president of the United States brings them over here," Burnett added. "If the president allowed them to come into the country, how can we as one state say they can’t come into our state? And, on the other hand, how can we stop them anyway? I mean, come on, give me a break. We have a city of immigrants. This city was built off of immigrants, and we have always been a safe haven for everyone throughout the world. And I think we should treat them like we treat everyone else."
The actual resolution cites the plight of Syrian refugees and the city’s history as an immigration center, concluding: “Be it resolved, that we the mayor and the members of the City Council of the City of Chicago hereby reaffirm the City of Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city and its commitment to remain a place of sanctuary and refuge for refugees from around the world.”
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