The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance March 29 that forbids police and other city employees from participating in the witch-hunt against undocumented immigrants that has been whipped up by the Republican far right.

Under the Sensenbrenner bill, HR 4437, passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 16, and some other bills under consideration, to be in this country without authorization would become a felony, and this would automatically allow state and local police to investigate or arrest a person.

These bills contain further language encouraging this and providing training for police in immigration enforcement.

In many towns and counties it is a regular practice for police to question people they have stopped, even for minor infractions, about their immigration status, and to deliver them to federal immigration authorities if they turn out to be undocumented.

Another bill, the CLEAR Act, would block certain federal funds from states and municipalities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. And the REAL-ID act, passed and signed by President Bush last year, forces state departments of motor vehicles to authenticate documents presented by persons soliciting driver’s licenses for authenticity.

There is a lot of fear that such laws could lead not only to suffering on the part of undocumented immigrants, but also to racial profiling and harassment of U.S. citizens and foreign visa holders if a policeman merely sees them as appearing “foreign.” Undocumented immigrants who have reason to fear that talking to police will lead to their arrest and deportation are also much less likely to cooperate with law enforcement in reporting crimes or giving evidence.

So the Chicago city ordinance, passed with little opposition two weeks after at least 300,000 people marched for immigrants’ rights in the streets of the city, can be seen as an act of defiance against the anti-immigrant movement’s efforts to recruit police into their efforts.

Chicago is not the only city in the United States that has taken an official position in opposition to police enforcement of immigration laws. Such “sanctuary cities” include Portland, Ore., Denver, and Austin and Houston, Texas. A 1996 federal law gives city employees who want to denounce possibly undocumented people to the federal government the right to do so in spite of city policies. There have been a number of lawsuits by anti-immigrant groups to try to end the sanctuary city movement. These have had mixed success.

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