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City To Spend $1.3M To Defend Immigrants, But Aldermen Clash Over Plan

By Heather Cherone | December 14, 2016 5:07pm | Updated on December 16, 2016 11:37am
 Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (left) and Nicholas Sposato speak at a City Hall news conference earlier this year.
Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (left) and Nicholas Sposato speak at a City Hall news conference earlier this year.
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CITY HALL — The City Council agreed Wednesday to spend $1.3 million to defend immigrants threatened with deportation under President-elect Donald Trump.

But the rancorous national debate over immigration spilled over into the council chambers when Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) angrily turned to face Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) and denouncing him for calling undocumented immigrants "illegal."

"I took offense to one of my colleagues calling undocumented immigrants illegals," Moreno said, recounting the tale of one of his relatives who fought in the Armed Forces despite not being a citizen. "If he was good enough to fight in a war, he was good enough to be a citizen."

Sposato told the Tribune that he could not support a "legal defense fund for the illegals."

After Moreno's remarks, Sposato said he had planned to vote against the measure quietly, but had to respond to his colleague's remarks.

"When someone gets in your face like that, you have to respond," Sposato said.

The money would have been better spent housing the 1,000 veterans Sposato said were homeless every night.

Aldermen Matt O'Shea (19th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) joined Sposato in voting against the establishment of the legal defense fund in partnership with the National Immigrant Protection Center, The Resurrection Project and the United African Organization.

About 150,000 Chicago area residents do not have status as legal permanent residents, and tens of thousands more are worried about their immigration status, according to the center. The additional money will help about 3,000 additional residents, officials said.

Other aldermen said the city was doing the right thing in protecting immigrants — regardless of their immigration status — from Trump.

"If we don't stand up for the undocumented," asked Ald. James Cappelman (46th). "Who will stand up for me as a gay man?"

The money to start the legal defense fund will come from the $20 million set aside by the City Council to give Chicagoans earning less than $75,000 a rebate on their property taxes after the largest hike in the city's history.

Because only 11 percent of eligible Chicago homeowners have applied for the rebate — totaling approximately $1.9 million — the city is able to dip into that pot of money, said Budget Director Alexandra Holt.

The deadline to apply for the rebate is Dec. 30.

Napolitano said he could not support the effort, even as the son of an immigrant.

Instead, more residents should have been made eligible for the rebate — or the money should have been used to compensate residents of the Far Northwest Side who are suffering because of noise created by jets flying to and from O'Hare Airport, Napolitano said.

Voters in the 19th, 38th and 41st wards had the highest percentage of votes for Trump, records show.

Leading the way was the 41st Ward, where Trump had his best showing at 42.6 percent. In the 19th and 38th wards, 35 percent of voters picked the president-elect, records show.

Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd) and David Moore (17th) said Monday that any money left over from the rebate should be used to fight violence in Chicago and compensate the victims of police misconduct.

Emanuel has said Chicago will remain a sanctuary city despite President-elect Trump's promise to withhold federal funds from municipalities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

"Silence is a permission slip," Emanuel said. "Our statement here is that it is not acceptable."

Trump made immigration a central issue of the presidential campaign. He has vowed to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

In addition, Trump vowed to impose financial penalties on sanctuary cities that shelter undocumented immigrants. There are 37 sanctuary cities in the United States.

City officials are expected to establish a municipal identification card for undocumented immigrants next year.

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