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The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award

Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois

Immigration enforcement and reform has sparked one of America’s most significant and divisive debates. Due to an effective coalition of organizers, Illinois is leading this contentious issue by pledging to protect immigrant families from deportation.

Last August, Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Illinois TRUST Act, a landmark piece of legislation aimed at keeping families to- gether. The Act prohibits local law enforcement agencies from detaining people and turning them over to immigration enforcement agents unless a named warrant has been issued for their arrest. The measure sent a strong message that Illinois will protect the rights of all law-abiding residents, regardless of their status.

However, before the bill landed on the Governor’s desk, the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois raised awareness of the issue and educated the public. Supporters of the legislation, in direct response to the Trump administration’s immigration policy, worked tirelessly to keep this topic on the public’s radar.

The Campaign – led by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and PASO - West Suburban Action Project – developed and implemented a compelling, strategic media outreach and organizing effort designed to enhance the strength of the bill and build political momentum for its passage.

The coalition accomplished their objectives in a variety of ways – from cultivating relationships with lawmakers to developing and dispatching supporters across Illinois to serve as surrogates.

“Community leaders played a really crucial role in moving forward with the TRUST Act,” said Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Counsel at ICIRR. “Once the General Assembly passed it, we had to make sure the governor signed the legislation. That took the form of post cards, letter writing and phone calls. This was grassroots advocacy at its finest.”

Even so, passing any state legislation involving immigration and law enforcement can be a delicate task, calling for an array of diplomatic skills. Nevertheless, the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois won buy-in from key stakeholders.

Another potential roadblock: Securing the commitment from the Governor, who had never taken a position regarding state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. But, the Campaign’s strategy paid off, keeping the lines of communication with Springfield open, and the Governor eventually responded with his support.

“I hope the message this sends to the rest of the country is that sensible reform is not an extreme idea,” said Andy Kang, Legal Director of Asian-Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. “Our progressive allies and other immigrant groups should un- derstand that, even in today’s climate, it is possible to achieve justice.”