Tag: Sister Noemia Silva

Breaking: Melrose Park Mayor Says He Can’t Commit to Welcoming Village Ordinance

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Residents stand up in a show of support for a Welcoming Village ordinance in Melrose Park during a Feb. 27 regular board meeting. || Michael Romain/VFP

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Monday, February 27, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 11:11 p.m.

The atmosphere inside of a packed room at 1 N. Broadway during a regular Melrose Park board meeting felt like the pre-ceremonial rumblings of a wedding audience. At least 100 people filled council chambers tonight, most hoping to hear that the board would at least start the process of approving a Welcoming Village ordinance.

Thirty minutes later, after a 15-minute ode to immigrants and a litany of prior good deeds done on behalf of his village’s Hispanic community, Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico left most in the crowd feeling like jilted lovers.

Members of PASO – West Suburban Action Project, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and other vulnerable populations throughout the West Cook County suburbs — including Melrose Park, Stone Park, Maywood and Bellwood — have been vocal in their support of a proposal that would “draw a firm line between police and ICE, disentangling the criminal and immigration system,” according to a flyer the group has circulated.

The possibility that Melrose Park would pass some measure similar to what PASO is proposing seemed strong earlier this year. During a meeting in January, which Serpico did not attend due to a reported illness, members of the board seemed to get behind the measure.

Trustee Arturo Mota said at the time that Melrose Park “has been very supportive of being a welcoming community,” adding that the village has also gotten behind local initiatives and state laws that would ease the burden of living for immigrants.

A motion to “establish Melrose Park as a sanctuary village and authorize the offices of the mayor and village attorney to prepare all documents for the aforesaid” was tabled due to Serpico’s absence. Mota said the mayor wanted to “address everyone who is for or against” the ordinance before the vote was held.

But a Feb. 13 regular meeting where further discussion on the proposal was to take place was canceled, with a Serpico spokesman explaining that the mayor had been out of town and recuperating from “very serious back surgery.”

On Monday night, Serpico and the trustees heard at least 15 minutes of public comments from numerous community leaders expressing their support for the measure and arguing that it would alleviate some of the fear that’s been palpable in many immigrant communities since President Donald Trump’s election.

“Immigrants have always been part of the fabric of the United States of America. I’ve seen too many families torn apart due to deportation,” said Sister Noemia Silva, of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo-Scalabrinians.

“Pope Francis asks each of us to help those who, for various reasons, have been forced out of their homeland and immigrate to a new land,” she said. “We cannot wait. It’s urgent for Melrose Park to become a welcoming village for immigrants.”

Silva and others referenced raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month that resulted in the of 680 people across the country, according to ICE. Seventy-five percent of them, the agency claimed, were “criminal aliens.” One of those arrests took place in Melrose Park.

Recently, President Trump has called for local law enforcement officials to cooperate with the federal government during his administration’s efforts to ramp up on immigration enforcement.

“People are afraid to take their children to school, to go to restaurants and to generally live their everyday lives,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the executive director of PASO who is also an immigration rights attorney.

“The federal government is threatening to deport more than two or three million people this year and they are not going to be able to do that without deputizing local officials,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

“Two weeks ago, new policies were issued by the president making all immigrants targets for deportation,” she said. “This does not apply only to undocumented immigrants. They are threatening to prosecute people who came to the United States with their children, to charge them with smuggling.”

Martha Ortiz, a Melrose Park business owner, said that Trump’s immigration policies are hurting local businesses.

“Many of my employees are terrified that something can happen to their friends or their family and businesses like mine are beginning to see less sales, as people are fearful of being out and about,” she said. “They live with the fear that something can happen to them or their family. They’re also trying to save money in the case of an emergency or a tragic deportation.”

Samuel Valtierrez, a 25-year resident of Melrose Park who is running for a seat on the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board in the April 4 election, compared the trials of Latino immigrants today to those of immigrants in the past.

“If today was 1910 and [this were happening to the Italian community], I would be here saying the same thing,” Valtierrez said. “If it was 1870, I would be here to defend the Irish community, because they went through the same thing. But it’s 2017. And [it’s happening] to the Latino community.”

Serpico touted his record of taking stances on numerous immigration-related issues, noting that he’s spoken “all over the world” on behalf of immigration. The mayor said that he’s met on numerous occasions with Silva and also met recently with PASO officials about the proposed Welcoming Village ordinance.

The mayor added that the village has already taken steps to mitigate the widespread fear of deportation among area immigrants and their families by instituting numerous measures, such as stopping a click-it-or-ticket program because of the fear it elicited among some immigrant motorists. He also said that Melrose Park police officers don’t inquire about immigration status or cooperate with ICE.

“Who wants to see families be broken up? That’s not Christian,” Serpico said. “That’s not the right thing to do.”

But the mayor stopped short of committing to the creation of an ordinance that would be legally binding. The mayor briefly mentioned President Trump’s threats to yank some federal funding from local governments who refuse to cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement measures.

He also said that, besides, there’s not much a local government can do to stop federal authorities from coming into Melrose Park to conduct immigration-related actions. One village official said that the police learned about the one ICE arrest that occurred in town after reading it in the newspaper.

Ruiz-Velasco, however, pushed back, insisting that, although an ordinance would not stop deportations, it would at least provide “a layer of protection” against the federal government’s efforts and would help ease some residents’ fears.

Serpico said that he was concerned about Trump’s instability and unpredictable nature, adding that he didn’t want to pass an ordinance only to have the president implement an even more draconian policy that, given the village’s status, would perhaps open it up to potential financial repercussions.

The mayor, who didn’t explicitly say the ordinance was dead, said that he would be in communication with community stakeholders about the proposal. That explanation wasn’t enough for one Melrose Park resident, who insisted on Serpico providing a firmer declaration of his intent. No trustees on the board talked during the meeting.

“I’d like to be able to go home tonight and [tell my son some good news],” she said, adding that she was not a member of PASO.

“I can’t make that commitment,” Serpico said. “We’ll [keep] the lines of communication open.”

Valtierrez compared Serpico’s noncommittal speech to a boyfriend claiming that he loves his girlfriend without making a commitment to marriage, adding that an ordinance would be similar to a marriage or birth certificate.

“For me as a father, for my kids to feel secure, [and to know that] I am their father, my signature is on the birth certificate,” Valtierrez said. “That’s what makes me their father legally. That’s all we want. We want a legal document to feel protected.”

“I feel like someone whose been living with a woman for 20 years and has two kids, a house, two cars and I come home every day, and after 20 years she says, ‘Let’s get married,'” Serpico responded, in keeping with the marriage metaphor. “Does that paper change anything after 20 years?”

“If gives you some security, that’s for sure,” someone yelled from the audience.

“But how many people live with people,” Serpico responded, “and as soon as they get married, they get divorced?” VFP

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Melrose Park Board Supports ‘Sanctuary Village’ Ordinance

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Melrose Park trustees (below) and members of PASO (above) during a Jan. 23 meeting, where an ordinance designed to make the village a welcoming community was discussed. | Shanel Romain/VFP

dsc_0117Tuesday, January 24, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

During a Jan. 23 regular meeting, members of the Melrose Park Board of Trustees expressed their support for a ‘Welcoming Village’ or ‘Sanctuary Village’ ordinance, a measure that also has the vocal support of numerous community advocates.

Members of PASO – West Suburban Action Project, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and other vulnerable populations throughout the West Cook County suburbs — including Melrose Park, Stone Park, Maywood and Bellwood — were in the audience, along with District 209 school board member Claudia Medina and representatives from other organizations, during the meeting to express their support of the ordinance.

According to a flyer that PASO posted to its Facebook page, the proposed ‘Welcoming Village’ ordinance would “bar city officials from contacting, collaborating with, or assisting Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) solely because of a person’s immigration status.”

The ordinance would also “draw a firm line between police and ICE, disentangling the criminal and immigration system.”

For instance, federal immigration authorities would not be allowed access to village databases, “facilities, and other resources for the purpose of implementing registries based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, national or ethnic origin, or to conduct civil immigration enforcement.”

Sister Noemia Silva, of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo-Scalabrinians, expressed support for the ordinance during public comment.

“For many of us, our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were foreigners at one time in this great nation,” Silva said, before offering a person account of how she’s been affected by migration.

“I’ve had the opportunity to serve migrants from diverse backgrounds who have, at times, suffered hardships due to forced immigration,” she said. “I’ve seen too many families destroyed and torn apart due to deportation. My heart breaks to see men and women separated from their children.”

Silva said that she prays and hopes that Melrose Park “can become a just model in which other cities can learn from and imitate.”

“At a time when immigrant communities are under attack, this ordinance will give hope and support immigrants and their families to live, thrive and contribute to the community without fear of deportation,” she said. “Melrose Park can be a ray of light.”

Trustee Arturo Mota said that Melrose Park “has been very supportive of being a welcoming community,” adding that the village has also gotten behind local initiatives and state laws that would ease the burden of living for immigrants.

“When it came out that the state was going out for a vote to give undocumented immigrants an opportunity to get drivers licenses, we lobbied and made sure our state representative was out there voting for it, because we knew how important that was,” he said.

A motion to “establish Melrose Park as a sanctuary village and authorize the offices of the mayor and village attorney to prepare all documents for the aforesaid” was tabled due to Mayor Ronald Serpico’s absence.

Mota said the mayor, who was not at the meeting because of illness, wanted to “address everyone who is for or against” the ordinance before the vote was held.

The board, Mota said, is expected to take a vote on the ordinance at its next regular meeting on Feb. 13. VFP

Shanel Romain contributed to this report. 

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TOWNSHIP NEWS: A Determined Group Of Nuns Go After A Defiant Stone Park Strip Club While The Mayor Abhors The Negative Press

Sponsor AdvertisementScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.12.54 PM(Sisters Noemia Silva, left, and Alma Rosa Huerta. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

Friday, June 20, 2014 || By Michael Romain and Roberto Hernandez

Wednesday, STONE PARK–On a sticky summer afternoon, a group of reporters, cameramen and photographers gathered awkwardly on a thin strip of sidewalk positioned between Lake Street and the parking lot of Club Allure, a Stone Park gentleman’s club. The crowd strained to hear the low-pitched voice of Sister Noemia Silva over the loud rush of four-lane traffic and the occasional honked horn in support of the nuns.

CBS 2 anchor Roseanne Tellez kindly urged the Sister to speak a little closer to the mics (Univision, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN–they each had one), lest the blare of the horns and the whoosh of speeding cars drown out her grievances.

“This strip club has created an environment of fear and insecurity,” Silva said. “Club Allure devalues and degrades our communities. A place like this should not be next to our convent and especially should not be in a residential area where children play every day. What mother wants to bring their family up next to a strip club?”

Sister Silva is the face of the nun’s years-long fight with the glitzy club, which is located adjacent to a residential area and the place where she and her sisters live, move and have their being–the convent of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. The convent houses about 20 nuns and nuns-in-training, many of whom come from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The sisters’ latest frontal assault on the Allure is a lawsuit that was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by the Thomas More Society on their behalf.

On Wednesday, Sister Silva, aided by Sister Alma Rosa Huerta; Thomas Brejcha, the chief counsel and president with the Thomas More Society; Yesenia Sanchez, the executive director of P.A.S.O. – West Suburban Action Project; and several Stone Park residents, led the charge in a pitched battle that’s received both local and national attention.

“I am a mother of three children and a long-time resident of Stone Park,” said Emilia Marquez in a statement that was later translated from Spanish to English by Sister Silva. “Ever since this Club has opened, my family lives like prisoners in my home.”

Marquez, a 20-year resident of the Village, said that she often wakes to loud music, screaming and drunken fights. She fears going out on weekend nights. Five weeks ago, she said, she was awakened by a woman being brutally attacked. The worry for her safety, however, seems only to have strengthened her resolve. She said that she refuses to move out.

Pat Zito lives beside the Club in neighboring Melrose Park. Zito, who’s lived in the Village for 47 years, said that she often wakes up to loud music and cars being vandalized.

“I have never felt as unsafe and disturbed as I now do,” Zito said.

Screenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.15.55 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.16.23 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.16.44 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.17.49 PM(A large sign advertising Club Allure, formerly Club Get It; children march to the site of the press conference; nuns-in-training intermingle with their supporters; Sister Silva walking to the site of the press conference with children, nuns, nuns-in-training, reporters and supporters. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

Thomas Brejcha, the attorney with the Thomas More Society who is representing the nuns, was adamant about the simplicity of their case.

“The essence of this lawsuit is simple and straightforward,” he said. “[According to Illinois State Law], there shall be a buffer zone of 1,000 feet between” any place of adult entertainment and any school or place of worship.

“There are three chapels on [the convent’s] premises, all well within 1,000 feet,” Brejcha said.

He noted that, despite attorneys for Stone Park considering the buffer requirement unconstitutional, the law has been upheld by a court of appeals. Brejcha said that, although the Village can’t close strip clubs simply because they’re strip clubs, if his clients can sufficiently prove that Allure has produced at-risk secondary effects, such as the ones cited by Zito and Marquez, then the case for closure can plausibly be made.

But individuals representing both Allure and Stone Park say that those secondary effects aren’t nearly as clear-cut and simple as the nuns are making them out to be. In a recent New York Times article, Robert Itzkow, an attorney for the Club, said that the nuns’ claims were “an absolute fabrication.” And in the same article, Sean O’Brien, the Club’s managing partner, noted that there is “extensive soundproofing in the club that drowned out the music.”

Beniamino Mazzulla, Stone Park’s mayor, said that Brejcha’s secondary affects are exaggerated and that the media has helped blow the issue out of context. For all of the sensational appeal of the nuns versus strippers story-line, he said that Club Allure is much more than a strip club.

According to its website, the 18,000 square foot complex features fine dining by award-winning chef Michael Lachowicz and entertainment by national performers. Mazzulla said it only functions as a strip club part of the week.

In 2009, the Village of Stone Park initially denied a request for rezoning that was filed by Itzkow. This was due, in part, to the fact that the Club would be located so close to the convent.

After the denial, Itzkow sued the Village, “prompting it to spend more than $200,000 in legal fees fighting him off. Eventually, the village settled the lawsuit and in 2010 agreed to allow Mr. Itzkow to build his strip club,” according to the New York Times article.

In 2011, the Village mailed a public hearing notification meant for the sisters to the wrong address and by the time the notification was rerouted to its intended destination, the process of building the Club was already well underway.

Before the week is out, the nuns’ Wednesday protest and press conference will have gotten coverage from WGN TV, CBS 2, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, and the New York Daily News, among a slew of other outlets. While the media attraction has shed light on the nuns’ cause, it hasn’t necessarily been a boon for Stone Park’s image.

Such, however, is the cost of what the nuns and other local community activists hope is the beginning of a period of cleansing and renewal in a town that they believe is plagued by places like Club Allure.

A visit to a site that bills itself as the “Ultimate Strip Club List” yields no fewer than four such establishments–Scores, Club Allure, Playpen Lounge and Carl’s Lounge–in Stone Park, a town that is less than a square mile and that holds about 5,000 residents. Add in Melrose Park, which (ironically enough) was named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and the search yields no fewer than seven such establishments.

The number of strip clubs in Stone Park has made the conflict between the nuns and Club Allure that much more freighted with ideological significance. Some in the town believe that the nuns’ fight signifies a larger morality tale.

Screenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.17.04 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.18.33 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.18.54 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.19.26 PM(Right to left: two children hold signs written in Spanish in support of the nuns, which read “Allure devalues our community”; two elderly nuns sit during the press conference; Yesenia Sanchez, executive director of P.A.S.O.-West Suburban Action Project; Mayor Mazzulla. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

Diana Moreno, 15, a budding community activist who claims that she was followed one night by a man while walking within proximity of the Club, says that, in addition to threats to her personal safety, she is against the Club’s presence on moral grounds.

“This is completely against my moral belief as a teenager [and] a woman,” she said.

Mayor Mazzulla, who on the day that the nuns were protesting was about a block away tending to a gas leak, only wished that the media spotlight that was so intensely focused on Allure and the nuns could perhaps broaden its radius to include Stone Park’s other realities. He worries whether or not the nuns’ fight, which they’ve now carried nationally, is worth the negative media attention and the possible closure of what may be a significant source of tax revenue for the town.

The New York Times article mentioned above seems to justify some of the Mayor’s concern. It describes Stone Park as a “slightly run-down, working-class enclave just west of Chicago.”

“This media hype is normal,” Mazzulla said. “I knew it would happen. Everybody talks about the negative or something that will sale papers or get ratings. But we got a new municipal building–the first in 60 years. We’re in the process of opening two brand new community centers. We’re building Chicagoland’s first plaza park.”

If only the world could know, Mazzulla lamented, that Stone Park builds more than strip clubs. VFP

Screenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.19.47 PMScreenshot 2014-06-20 at 4.20.03 PM(A new sign outside of the community center that will be open soon in Stone Park; a sign promoting the new plaza park in Stone Park. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

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far-reaching … the outlets from the New York Daily News, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the aforementioned local television newscasts have covered the face-off …

The Ultimate Strip Club List