Earlier this month, the Illinois Latino Agenda (ILA) convened its first meeting of the “Welcome to Illinois” coalition. The purpose of this new coalition is to provide a space for those responding to the ongoing migrant situation to share information, provide updates, and determine if there are synergies to teamwork.
As of mid-October, Illinois has received over 3,600 asylum-seekers from Texas and Florida. State, city, and local organizations have worked around the clock to meet the immediate needs of these families, providing everything from food and shelter to medical screenings and legal advice. Early on, community organizations expressed a need for coordination of these efforts and a long-term plan to ensure that the migrants feel safe and welcomed. The Illinois Latino Agenda agreed to respond by establishing the Welcome to Illinois coalition.
“We’re just getting out of the eye of the hurricane. We still have to figure out how the dust settles and how we resolve this and how we move forward,” said Sylvia Puente, President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum and ILA Co-Chair, to NBC News.
The first meeting was attended via Zoom by over 80 people, including representatives from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the City of Chicago Mayor’s office, the Cook County Health System (CCH), Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s office, and various community organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and The Resurrection Project (TRP). Sylvia Puente and Jose Muñoz, Executive Director of La Casa Norte and ILA Co-Chair, began the meeting by expressing gratitude and appreciation for all the work being done to help these families.
Next, Grace Hou, Secretary of IDHS, provided a snapshot of what the State has seen and its response. She said that of the thousands of migrants that have arrived, most are from Venezuela and are unsponsored. Fifty-six percent are single men, and 40 percent are part of family units (17 percent are children). About half are being housed in hotels throughout Cook County, and half are in temporary shelters throughout Chicago. Fortunately, most of the migrants have presented as generally healthy, according to Iliana Mora, Chief Administrative Officer of CCH. The State’s main concerns and next steps are enrolling children in schools and finding long-term housing solutions. Secretary Hou stressed that any long-term housing plan must work within the State’s overall housing strategy.
Nubia Willman, chief engagement officer for the mayor’s office, expressed similar concerns around housing. Willman said that the City quickly became overburdened by the flow of migrants and, working with State officials, has resettled some in surrounding suburbs. City workers are also being deployed to help with intake and triage. Now that the influx of buses has slowed down, “it’s time to think of long-term solutions,” she said.
However, long-term solutions at the state and local levels will be challenging to obtain without federal support. This was a common theme among all the participants: a need for federal advocacy of resources and quicker pathways to work authorization. Now that the flow of migrants has slowed, organizations are shifting out of rapid response mode and into more intermediate/long-term care: individual case management and legal consultation, employment training, ESL, mental health care, etc.
“So many of us have different strengths – we cannot just rely on organizations that have been working since the beginning of the migrant crisis. More assistance is needed to add value,” said Ere Rendon, VP of Immigrant Justice at The Resurrection Project.
The primary legal roadblock is that migrants are generally not eligible for work permits under humanitarian parole. They can apply for asylum status, which can take as long as two years, by which time their parole status is over. This is a fundamental flaw in the system. Until there are changes at the federal level, organizations will have no choice but to continue to find resources to help these families, including calling for donations from the public.
Patty Garcia, District Director for Congressman Garcia, assured the group that Rep. Garcia and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are working to advocate for the following policy changes: $500 million dollars in additional FEMA funding, extending parole to up to two years, changing eligibility requirements so that the migrants may qualify for Temporary Protective Status (TRP), and advocating for eligibility of federal housing programs that non-citizens would not otherwise qualify for under the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In the meantime, the individuals and organizations on the call remain committed to welcoming these migrants to Illinois and ensuring they have a chance to thrive. “Migrants are strong, resilient, and proud. They want to find a job and become independent,” shared Isaías Solís, Senior Director of Programs at Erie Neighborhood House, during the group’s second meeting. Erie Neighborhood House is another community-based organization that has been working diligently with IDHS to connect migrants to services.
During that same meeting, the group raised concerns about mental health. According to our partners, many of the migrants are coming with trauma, not to mention the added trauma of being in an unfamiliar place and the uncertainty that comes with that. At the same time, Dulce Ortiz, Executive Director of Mano a Mano, has made sure that her staff are not “burning out” in providing for these families and hearing these stories, highlighting the prevalence of secondary trauma among service providers. “Our caseworkers, case managers, social workers – they’re human beings too,” she said.
The Welcome to Illinois coalition will meet biweekly on an as-needed basis. For more information on the ILA, please email Jose Marco-Paredes at email@example.com. If you or your organization wishes to join the coalition, please complete the following sign-on document: https://tinyurl.com/WelcometoILSignOn.
For more information on what other organizations are doing to respond and to donate, please visit https://welcometoil.org/. Please consider adding your organization’s logo and the services your organization offers. To do so, reach out directly to our partner Ere Rendón at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina Sedeño joined the Latino Policy Forum in October of 2022 as the Immigration Policy Analyst. Under the supervision of the Director of Civic Engagement, Nina builds and maintains relationships with community partners, government agencies, elected officials, and other stakeholders to impact immigration policy, and provides analysis of policies and their impact on Latino families in Illinois.
Cover Photo Courtesy: Welcome to Illinois
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