Summer holiday weekends are usually meant for lazy outdoor faux-activity like backyard badminton or resting one’s dirty feet in a kiddie pool while neighbor children throw snap-its at you through the fence. One must rise to the occasion from time to time, and Independence day weekend is a good moment to reflect upon what more we can each do to guarantee that BBQs and cornhole can be enjoyed in peace by anyone who chooses to live in our fair city. A close reading of the Declaration of Independence (the reason for the season) will bring you quickly to the quotation that is drilled into our collective consciousness so fiercely that one could imagine finding a framed needlepoint of it at the dollar store: self-evident truths, all men equal, life, liberty, happiness, you betcha.
But about the rest—it’s a position paper, a document declaring not just what the writers wanted but also what the high-spirited refugees who migrated to these shores did not want. “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” said the writing committee of the Second Continental Congress. They followed this in the document with a list of problems the “present King” had created: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” You know, just as an example.
Chicago is an official Sanctuary City, and in 2016 passed the Welcoming City Ordinance to help prevent undocumented residents from being prosecuted based solely on their immigration status. We have policies to make sure people are taken care of but many of our newest residents may not know about them or feel comfortable reaching out for help. What can longtime Chicagoans do to help our neighbors who may be facing prosecution? The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has published a great list of things to think about on their website including two simple but often overlooked steps: learn about the history of immigration in the United States (the AFSC helpfully links to a list of suggested viewing) and connect with the immigrant community. If you don’t feel like you have anyone in your life that is affected by this issue, look toward your community of worship, your block club, or your local community center. You can band together to make immigrants and their families feel welcome regardless of their status by making sure they are included in your community gatherings.
Those looking to do a little more can also turn to organizations like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The coalition is part of a new initiative called Chicago Immigrant Transportation Assistance (CITA) that supports asylum seekers leaving detention centers with their ground transportation needs. And Centro Romero in Rogers Park is just one of several Chicago organizations that needs volunteers for family programs, teen support, and legal programs focused on our immigrant communities. Being a good neighbor is a meaningful pursuit, and as the writers of the Declaration of Independence concluded, “for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” v