Why Gary Needs To Be A Welcoming City

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Ruth Needleman

By Ruth Needleman,

Professor Emerita, IU

The City of Gary was built by immigrants and African American refugees from its earliest days. Tens of thousands traveled across the ocean or migrated North from Mississippi and surrounding Southern States for a better life and for jobs in steel. They worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, 24 hours every other Sunday in life-threatening conditions for very low pay. Women had to take in boarders, and seek jobs as domestics or low-wage service workers to make ends meet.

Not only Gary, but the entire State of Indiana and the Calumet Region benefitted historically from the work of these diverse immigrants, refugees and migrants. They brought their labor, culture, languages and skills, and built communities, libraries, schools and churches, creating a vibrant culture and great wealth, though rarely for themselves.

Now the City is floundering. Our residents lack decent work opportunities, and 75% of the jobs in Gary are held by people who do not even live here. Taking into account discouraged workers, the unemployment rate hovers at 40%.

Sitting at the crossroads of the country, the City of Gary has been branded as a disaster area, because it is African American in its majority and poor due largely to deindustrialization and neoliberal globalization. But Gary is NOT a disaster area. Gary has an incredible lakeshore, a great biodiversity, national parkland, wetlands, dunes, trails and local parks. Our residents have shown enormous resilience, courage and persistence in remaining and fighting for a Gary that realizes all of our potential.

Gary rejected the politics of hate and division, when it defeated two attempts to place a private immigrant prison next to our airport. Yet the country as a whole has become increasingly torn by bigotry, misogyny, and resentment. The level of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-crime (read black) rhetoric during and since the 2016 Presidential campaign has intensified. It has created hostile environments throughout the country, and threatens to undermine Gary’s efforts to rebuild.

African Americans, immigrants and refugees are being criminalized for who they are, and the federal government has chosen mass incarceration, deportations, bans and walls instead of valuing the human capital in our cities and at our doorstep. Gary needs to reject this culture of hatred and division and renew its commitment to an open, welcoming society. The Welcoming City Ordinance was drafted by Attorney Alfredo Estrada of Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP, who is experienced in both municipal and immigration law. Thus, the Ordinance takes into account the needs of the immigrant community, the available resources a city can provide to the immigrant community, as well as, the Indiana statute banning Sanctuary Cities.

Like dozens of sanctuary city ordinances, this Ordinance rests firmly on the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that bars the federal government from commandeering local governments and resources to do federal enforcement work. It in no way refuses cooperation under the law. The current president’s promised sanctions against sanctuary cities will fall like its executive bans, because this retaliation is not only wrong, it is unconstitutional.

Citizens across NW Indiana will be introducing this ordinance at city council meetings. Gary’s Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has already pledged her support along with dozens of mayors nationally for humane policies that value and protect all residents through real immigration reform measures.

In addition, we need the cooperation of all our residents to keep our communities safe. When people are afraid to report crimes, when they feel threatened rather than protected by local police, the City loses its ability to insure safety for communities.

The City of Gary stands ready to serve all residents and make city services accessible to all. By law, its agencies and law enforcement cannot withhold services based on ancestry, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, physical or mental disability, immigration status or religion.

Become engaged in making the Calumet Region a place we all choose to live in.

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