In late May, RAC-IL helped secure a landmark immigrant justice victory in Illinois as the state legislature passed the Illinois Way Forward Act (SB 667) on the final day of the 2021 legislative session. This bill, which Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign this summer, strictly limits local law enforcement collaboration with civil immigration authorities and makes Illinois the third state in the country to end immigrant detention.
RAC-IL is proud to have played a key role in this win, standing with lead partner the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. This is RAC-IL’s second victory of 2021, following a successful campaign to pass the Pretrial Fairness Act earlier this year. As Speaker of the House, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, and chief House co-sponsor of SB 667 stated, “Today, with the passage of Illinois Way Forward, we build on our previous victories and solidify Illinois’ place as one of the most welcoming states in the nation by providing even greater protections to our residents against the threat of the federal deportation machine.”
The Illinois Way Forward Act strengthens compliance with existing state laws to ensure that everyone in the state can interact with law enforcement when needed, regardless of their immigration status. Despite passage of the Illinois TRUST Act of 2017 (which was designed to limit police collaboration with federal immigration authorities) and the VOICES Act of 2018 (which allows immigrant survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and similar crimes to engage with police without fear of deportation), state and local law enforcement still collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify, arrest, and detain immigrants across the state. Families are still afraid to take their children to school, attend court hearings, access medical care and public services, and seek police protection. The Illinois Way Forward Act holds police accountable when they violate existing laws and draws a bright line between law enforcement and civil immigration enforcement. Specifically, the bill ends joint operations between police and ICE, restricts ICE access to people in police custody, stops police from sharing information with ICE, prohibits police inquiries regarding immigration status, and ends county jail contracts to detain people for ICE.
Passage of the Illinois Way Forward Act marks the culmination of several years of work by RAC-IL and our coalition partners. Building on our prior support of the Keep IL Families Together Act (2019), Retaining IL Students Equity Act (2019) and VOICES Act (2018), RAC-IL endorsed the Illinois Way Forward Act in early 2020 but was soon forced to pivot as the state legislature halted regular business in favor of pandemic relief.
After legislators reintroduced the Illinois Way Forward Act this spring, RAC-IL quickly jumped into action, organizing and participating in virtual meetings with nearly 20 state legislators to advocate for passage of this bill. In addition, RAC-IL co-sponsored the Third Annual Jewish Action Day for Immigrant Justice in mid-May, alongside HIAS Immigration and Citizenship, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. More than 50 RAC-IL leaders from 19 congregations participated in this event. Through these and other actions sponsored by our coalition partners, RAC-IL leaders generated hundreds of phone calls, emails, texts, and social media messages to help secure needed votes for passage of this sweeping legislation.
RAC-IL’s support was critical to the bill’s success. As Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said:
RAC-IL played a vital role in advocating for ICIRR's Everybody In platform. RAC-IL convened and educated leaders, reached out to and met with legislators, and mobilized support for bills like Illinois Way Forward as well as full funding for immigrant services. We are deeply grateful for RAC-IL's leadership and partnership in advocating to make Illinois the most immigrant-welcoming state in the country.
RAC-IL’s participation in this campaign was guided by Jewish text and tradition, which compel us to ensure a just, compassionate, and equitable immigration system. No less than 36 times, the Torah instructs us on how to treat the ger (foreigner) among us – an injunction that appears more than any other commandment or prohibition in the Torah. As Leviticus teaches, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). We are also cognizant of our own lived experiences, as many Jews have faced persecution and forced migration throughout history.
Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the Illinois Way Forward Act this summer, and the law will go into effect on January 1, 2022. RAC-IL will continue to work to build a Land of Lincoln that is welcoming to all its residents, regardless of immigration status.