Residents discuss DHSEM vehicle, library parking lot at council meeting


(Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson)

The city council heard comments regarding a DHSEM van at the Custer Fair and discussed the library parking lot property.

Andrea Bian, Summer Managing Editor

During Monday’s council meeting, Evanston residents expressed concern regarding a Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management van seen at the annual Custer Fair on June 15.

The van bore a logo and title similar to the national Department of Homeland Security, which operates U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompting protests from residents.

In a tweet, EPD said the vehicle was a result of both the Evanston Police and Fire Departments collaborating with Cook County DHSEM to provide security at the fair.

“This van is in no way affiliated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” EPD tweeted during the fair.

Residents took Monday’s city council meeting as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the vehicle’s presence. Eighth Ward resident Alejandra Ibañez, who also serves as a commissioner on Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission, appeared with members of the committee who worked on the most recent version of the Welcoming City Ordinance, which Mayor Steve Hagerty signed in October 2017.

Because the DHSEM van resembled a DHS vehicle, residents said it instilled fear.

“While we understand that truck was put there with resident safety in mind,” Ibañez said, “the reality is that DHS stokes fear and anxiety in our immigrant neighbors and friends — the very Evanston residents for whom we created the Welcoming City Ordinance. DHS and ICE have been extended great powers to racially profile, criminalize, detain and deport community members at unprecedented levels under the Trump administration.”

Ruth Hudson, assistant director of the Custer Fair, said the city told the fair to barricade the street entrances due to an uptick of attacks around the world involving vehicles driving into crowds of people.

Hudson said the only options for these barricades were either large vehicles or physical blockades that would have cost $1 million. The fair chose the vehicles, she said, without knowing they would be DHSEM vehicles.

“I just want to make it clear: Custer Fair chose municipal vehicles,” Hudson said. “The statements of DHS are not welcome in the city.”

The aldermen did not respond to or further discuss community concerns about the DHSEM vehicle’s presence.

They discussed a resolution to amend the contract for the sale of city-owned property in the 1700 block of Chicago Ave. This property is currently a parking lot behind Evanston Public Library. According to city documents, the amendment could be made due to potential future development efforts for the property.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said there has been interest from several developers in the Chicago Ave. property, and suggested the city make a request for any letters of interest in the property to be sent in throughout a 30-day period.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said that she did not think 30 days was enough time to explore the interest in the community regarding the purchase and development of the property.

“I think that sounds like a request for a proposal, which is something that we would have to debate and discuss again,” Wynne said.

The council agreed the motion for a letter of intent could not be made at the meeting due to its absence on the agenda. Fiske said she agreed to a draft of the letter of interest being brought to the next city council meeting July 8.

The council voted unanimously to receive and file the original resolution, which authorizes the city manager to amend the contract for the sale of the property.

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Twitter: @andreabian_