Sandwich City Council debates about whether to become nonsanctuary city

Sandwich First Ward Alderman Rich Robinson, left, and Second Ward Alderman Rebecca Johnson, right, discuss the issue of whether Sandwich should become a non-sanctuary city.

The Sandwich City Council is mulling whether to follow the lead of other government bodies and declare itself to be a nonsanctuary community for migrants.

The City Council discussed the issue at its April 1 meeting after a group of residents spoke to members about the need for such a designation. They also have been voicing their concerns at other recent meetings.

“Illegals can be divided in two groups – asylum seekers and those illegals who do not qualify for asylum,” said Sandwich resident Elsie Morrisey in addressing City Council members. “It appears that those seeking asylum are being kept in Chicago and others who don’t qualify are being placed in the shelters which are becoming more and more overcrowded and are the most at risk to be shipped to the outlying communities such as Sandwich, unless Sandwich says no.”

Morrisey also voiced concerns that those seeking to live in the U.S. are not being vetted.

“We don’t know their history,” she said. “We come again tonight to ask Sandwich to declare itself a nonsanctuary city so we can say no to all the problems that housing illegals will inflict on Sandwich taxpayers and families.”

Sandwich resident Becky Nelson said that being a nonsanctuary community does not mean “that you are turning your back on any humanitarian efforts.”

Instead, she said that being nonsanctuary creates an autonomy in smaller communities that are not in the position to care for those seeking asylum.

Nearby counties such as Grundy and Lasalle counties have declared themselves to be nonsanctuary counties for migrants and several communities across the state – including Elburn, Aurora and Chicago – have banned buses from dropping off migrants without any notice.

Chicago Transit Authority “warming buses” are pictured idling outside the city’s “landing zone” facility where migrants are dropped off after being bused from Texas.

Illinois state law generally prohibits local law enforcement from participating in immigration enforcement, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. The legislation – known as the TRUST Act – was signed by then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017.

“The Trust Act made 102 counties in the state of Illinois what you would consider a sanctuary county,” Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog said during a recent Kane County Board meeting in addressing those looking to make Kane County a nonsanctuary county. “I cannot undo state law.”

Sandwich Second Ward Alderman Rebecca Johnson said she thinks Sandwich’s best bet to achieve sanctuary status might be at the county level.

Johnson urged those interested in the issue to attend the DeKalb County Board’s Law and Justice Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 22 in the Legislative Center – Gathertorium at 200 Main St., Sycamore.

“I think another problem is, in particular to Sandwich, is that we’re in three counties,” she said. “So we have three times the fight.”

Sandwich is located in Kendall, DeKalb and LaSalle counties.

City Attorney Cassandra Gottschalk was asked if the DeKalb County Board passed an ordinance declaring itself to be a nonsanctuary county if that would be legally binding for Sandwich.

DeKalb County Administration Building in Sycamore, IL on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

“I’d have to look at exactly how it would work, how they would word the ordinance,” she said. “Generally speaking, the County [Board] is responsible for the unincorporated areas and not for the incorporated areas within the county. So outside of our limits, that would be under their jurisdiction and inside the municipality, we would still have our own obligations and responsibilities.”

Sandwich 2nd Ward Alderman Adam Arnett said he has been looking at the additional powers that a community like Sandwich could gain if it were to become a home rule community. Such powers could be used in addressing the issue.

Elburn’s law that they passed since they’re not home rule essentially is illegal,” Arnett said. “Home rule creates local solutions for local problems. It’s basically taking power away from Springfield and giving us a little more power over what we need to do here in our town.”

According to the Illinois Municipal League, a municipality with home rule status can exercise any power and perform any function unless it is specifically prohibited from doing so by state law. Any municipality which has a population of more than 25,000 are home rule units.

Communities with fewer than that, such as Sandwich, can become home rule by passing a local referendum.