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Some cities reach out to illegal immigrants

Addison, Ill. offers computer training and ESL classes.

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Larry Hartwig knows what it's like to have constituents ruffled – or downright angry – over their Spanish-speaking neighbors. In Addison, Ill, a middle-class town just outside Chicago where Mr. Hartwig is mayor, roughly one-third of the population is Latino.

"There's a perception that if you have a lot of minorities, it's a bad community," he says. "We have our share of tension."

But instead of taking the route of nearby communities that have enacted laws hostile to immigrants, Addison has, among other projects, set up a resource center in a Latino neighborhood that offers everything from ESL and computer literacy classes to a food pantry.

After the federal government's failure to take action this summer, immigration law has in many ways devolved to a patchwork of wildly differing policies at the town, county, and state level.

While roughly two-thirds of immigrant-related ordinances enacted over the past 18 months have been hard on immigrants, in a handful of communities – particularly those with a longer history of immigrants – leaders are taking a different tack, and finding approaches to help immigrants integrate.

Last week, elected officials and policy experts from around the country convened in Chicago to share ideas on how to promote positive immigration measures.

"In the absence of federal policy, these localities and states almost have no choice" but to address the issue, says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute's office at New York University School of Law. "But they're going both ways…. There's clearly a political space for positive measures even in this difficult terrain."

In Illinois – long a traditional destination for immigrants – towns' responses cover a broad spectrum. Waukegan, a northern suburb that has seen a large influx of Latinos, decided this summer to train local police as deportation agents and enforcers of immigration law;

Kankakee, on the other hand, created a "sister city" relationship with the small town in Mexico from which many of its new residents came and created a training program to help local police understand immigrants better.

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