Sandwich City Council decides not to pass resolution declaring itself nonsanctuary city

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.

Despite repeated efforts by a group of Sandwich residents, the Sandwich City Council has no plans to declare the city to be a nonsanctuary community for migrants.

“Unless you declare yourself a sanctuary town, you’re a nonsanctuary town.”

—  Sandwich 2nd Ward Alderman Rebecca Johnson

The group has been voicing the need for such a designation at recent city meetings and did so again on April 15. 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.

“I know that you guys want to know you’re safe or our community is safe,” 2nd Ward Alderman Rebecca Johnson said in addressing the residents during the April 15 Committee of the Whole Council meeting. “Our number one goal is to represent you. I feel personally I have to say something to let you know that I hear you.”

Johnson said she believes Sandwich is already a nonsanctuary city, repeating something that 1st Ward Alderman Rich Robinson said at a previous meeting.

“Unless you declare yourself a sanctuary town, you’re a nonsanctuary town,” she said. “I know you guys want us to sign something saying we’re nonsanctuary. We already are right now, as much as we possibly can be.”

Sandwich City Hall

Johnson voiced her own concerns about the migrant issue.

“I definitely have concerns about people just showing up here,” she said. “What are we going to do? What can we do legally? Unless they’re committing some sort of act of violence or going against the law, I don’t know that there’s anything we can really do.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Rick Whitecotton also did not see the need for the City Council to pass a resolution that Sandwich was a nonsanctuary community. He noted that Sandwich has not designated itself to be a sanctuary city.

“So by definition, we are a nonsanctuary city,” Whitecotton said. “Legally, I think us passing a nonsanctuary [resolution] would have zero legal effect on what we could do. That’s just my opinion and I’m not a lawyer. That’s the way I feel.”

The Sandwich City Council is looking into whether to designate certain roads within the city as truck routes to reduce damage to streets not made to withstand truck traffic as well as to keep trucks out of residential neighborhoods.

City Attorney Cassandra Gottschalk said in her legal opinion, passing a nonsanctuary resolution “doesn’t do anything.”

“I don’t know why it would be necessary,” she said. “It’s paper and it’s words.”

Third Ward Alderman Bill Fritsch agreed.

“And that would be my stance,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Sandwich resident Becky Nelson, who has been among a group of residents urging Sandwich approve a resolution declaring itself to be a nonsanctuary community for migrants, said the resolution is more than just paper.

“It also is expressing to your citizens that you are an advocate for legal immigration and that you will work with legal immigrants,” Nelson said. “On the resolution, it says that you want President Joe Biden to take immediate action to secure the border and enforce immigration laws…If it’s just paper, than why is that we’re seeing more and more communities look at this from a different light?”

Nelson said if the city doesn’t approve such a resolution, it should come up with a plan to deal with the migration issue.

“Would you at least give us the courtesy to create a plan and have it in place in case this does happen?” she asked.

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.”

A Metra train passes through a railroad crossing.

Sandwich 2nd Ward Alderman Adam Arnett also voiced concerns about what would happen if the city became a sanctuary city, saying it would cause a burden on public transportation, social services and the school system.

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.

“We need to fight for the city of Sandwich, which is what we’re trying to do,” he said.

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.

Third Ward Alderman Karsta Erickson said she needs to hear more about home rule – both the pros and the cons – before making up her mind.

“I need more information,” she said.