Chicago community

Chicago has ‘no emergency infrastructure in place’ to handle migrant influx, advocates say

CHICAGO — As migrants continue to be bused into the city, advocacy groups that work with the undocumented community say the city still needs to close many structural holes to support and support not just newcomers , but also the existing undocumented community.

Since August, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has sent more than 2,500 migrants to Chicago. While city and state leaders have launched a rapid response to locate migrants, immigration activists and organizations still believe efforts to bolster social services are emergency triage, not long-term solutions, and that these temporary measures do not take into account the thousands of undocumented people already struggling to live in Chicago.

The city has set up temporary accommodation in shelters and hotels and a central reception center where migrants transported by bus can connect with relatives and access medical and legal aid and family services in the part of an immediate response. The city said in a statement Friday that each individual receives not only shelter, food and medical care, but also “thorough case management and connections to services.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to welcome and help locate migrants with open arms. “The city is actively working on solutions with our county and state partners to identify temporary housing and provide services that will lead to eventual relocation to Chicago or elsewhere,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement. .

But questions remain about how this resettlement will unfold, as the city has historically not provided state-funded programs that provide long-term housing or resources to undocumented people outside of recent and likely relief. temporary pandemic-related.

“I still see this as a very temporary, not really structured, long-term type of support, so I’m concerned about this kind of issue,” said Xanat Sobrevilla, coalition and campaign coordinator with Organized Communities Against Deportations, a local advocacy group for undocumented migrants. . “Immediate hotel support and organizations currently working to supplement resources will not result in structural changes to housing affordability or the things we need for long-term support like work permits.”

The city has nearly 829,000 noncitizens potentially at risk of deportation, according to 2016 data from the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice nonprofit.

There is still a lack of housing and a long and complicated work permit process has created an existing class of vulnerable undocumented migrants who have to double and triple their apartments and work illegally, she said. There must be “some recognition that this has been something that has been overlooked and continues to be overlooked,” she said.

A migrant who arrived in Chicago from Honduras in 2018 said she “wasn’t told anything – absolutely nothing” upon arrival, including how to find work and legal help with her asylum case. She asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals while her immigration case is in process.

“When you arrive they tell you that you don’t have permission to work in the United States. But how are you supposed to support your family?” she says. “People come here confused. They don’t know what to do. People come here and they don’t know what’s going on.

Being undocumented, she said, has meant that she has been exploited and she is often paid much less for jobs that others might be paid more for.

“They say Chicago is one of the cities that welcomes migrants. Well, now is the time to demonstrate that,” the migrant said.

The need for more support

Merced Alday arrived in Chicago as an undocumented migrant in 1994 and just applied for legal status because she was afraid the process would affect her family in Mexico.

Alday, who spoke in Spanish with her daughter Alexandra Moreno, said she lived in a small house with her brother and three other families for many years after arriving.

This is a common reality for many migrants awaiting court cases, she said. She recalls not having had much support or guidance when she arrived and feels that the situation is not much different from what it was almost 30 years ago.

“We all still have the same issues that will continue to happen,” she said, referring to people forced to double and triple due to a lack of stable housing.

Alday asked why incoming migrants are being offered so much help and why the city is not also reaching out to those who have struggled to navigate the system for years.

It is unclear whether the centers are open to migrants who are not linked to Texas buses.

It is essential that city leaders engage those who have been in the city without legal status to have a true understanding of the landscape and current infrastructure to ensure that long-term plans for new migrants are comprehensive, said Luis Sinchi, the education organizer at Communities United. , a racial justice organization that works with the undocumented community.

Sinchi said the migrant families he frequently worked with had to rely on family or personal networks to find jobs or housing, and without that support he saw people end up having to live on the streets. If there was a stable housing infrastructure and long-term resources in place for asylum seekers, it would also help the wider undocumented community.

“It comes down to engaging the community and listening to people’s struggles,” he said. “Policies from 40 or 50 years ago may not reflect or apply to the needs or issues that are happening now.”

While housing stability and work authorization have been issues the undocumented community has been fighting for decades, recent attention could provide the momentum needed to move the issues into action, Brandon said. Lee, communications coordinator with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“In terms of being more powerful together, it’s like a time when we can advocate for something that meets the needs of many people, not just people who have just arrived,” he said.

The state of Illinois and the city have historically invested in services for undocumented people, Lee said, and it happened because communities asked for it.

Still in triage

In August, Chicago became the last US city to welcome bus migrants, following similar arrivals in Washington, DC and New York.

These towns were quickly overwhelmed by the surprise influx from Texas. On Friday, New York Mayor Eric Adams declared the city’s emergency over the “humanitarian crisis” of thousands of asylum seekers coming to the city and criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott for having exacerbated the problem.

Even though Chicago had some time to prepare, there was still “disarray” as the buses arrived, said Sylvia Puente, president and CEO of the nonprofit Latino Policy Forum. who works on public policy for Latinos in Chicago and Illinois.

“We are just coming out of the eye of the hurricane. We still have to figure out how the dust settles and how we solve that and how we move forward,” she said.

Puente said the city has always been welcoming to asylum seekers through a network of private organizations set up to offer help, but there was not enough infrastructure. in place to handle an immediate flurry of thousands.

In the days following the arrivals, Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, pleaded for more state and federal resources.

Last month, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation to “unlock resources” to help asylum seekers and deployed 75 National Guard members to help with logistics. reception of migrants.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency also established a unified area command center in Chicago to rapidly deploy resources to support operations under the governor’s direction, a spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement.

“There is no emergency infrastructure in place, it is created by building and flying the plane at the same time,” she said.

“It’s nascent and evolving and I think the leadership structure and the way we move forward will be a bit more solid in the weeks to come.”