Chicago organizations and government work to aid asylum seekers


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Illinois organizations are collaborating to provide aid to nearly 1,200 asylum-seeking migrants who have been bused to Chicago since Aug. 31.

Chiara Kim, Reporter

As nearly 1,200 asylum-seeking migrants have arrived on buses in Chicago over the past month, Chicago-area governments and community organizations have worked to provide these individuals with essential services. 

Buses from Texas began arriving in Illinois on Aug. 31 as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to send asylum seekers to other cities as a criticism of the Biden administration’s attempts to reverse a Title 42 order that had denied asylum seekers entry to the country during COVID-19. 

Abbott has also sent asylum seekers to New York City and Washington D.C., attempting to pressure Biden to increase control at the border. The first buses to Illinois arrived with no prior notice to the state. 

Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker issued an emergency disaster proclamation Sept. 14 to provide asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing danger in Central and South America, with necessary services. As a “welcoming city,” Chicago has policies protecting immigrants’s rights and granting residents access to city services. 

“Our first priority is just to make sure that these people are welcomed with a warm meal and an appropriate housing situation,” Marisa Kollias, director of communications for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said. “We are fully committed to assisting each individual and family that arrives, providing human services during this transition with respect and dignity.”

Kollias said IDHS has worked with the city of Chicago, Cook County and federal partners to provide shelter, meals and medical care for more than 1000 asylum seekers since the influx began. 

She said many children who arrived in the past month have started school, and the IDHS has connected families with the state for in-depth case management.

“People are filled with gratitude, and I think that there’s a big sense of hope,” Kollias said.

While IDHS does not receive advanced notification for the arrival of asylum seekers, Kollias said the organization is discussing long-term solutions that would provide stable housing for asylum seekers. In the meantime, the department is constantly working to identify proper shelter options for individuals, she added. 

Other state organizations are also working to provide asylum seekers with more immediate aid. Cook County Health — which has led the county’s health care response for asylum seekers — has provided medical intake services to nearly 1,000 asylum-seeking refugees, according to Chief Administrative Officer Iliana Mora.

“They can access our hospital services, whether that’s radiology, specialty care or any ancillary support,” Mora said.

CCH is providing medical intake assessments and offering vaccinations and bloodwork in collaboration with Chicago, which is coordinating transportation from shelters. Mora said CCH is also connecting adults with access to urgent and specialty care and children with full exams and vaccinations so they can enroll in school.

Brandon Lee, communications director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said he’s happy with Illinois’ reaction to the surge in asylum seekers.

“I really do believe that in this moment, we have risen as best as we can,” Lee said. “We, as a state, are rising to the moment.”

Lee said ICIRR employees have volunteered with government agencies at shelters and hotel sites since asylum seekers began arriving about a month ago. ICIRR has also collaborated with its peer organizations to fundraise and support other hands-on efforts.

However, Lee said the work isn’t finished. Advocates hope to push for resources and long-term solutions at local, state and federal levels by looking at root causes of immigrant repression, Lee added.

“This has been such a rapid response,” Lee said. “So it has been a little bit of working with governmental partners and community partners to build the plan as we’re executing it.” 

According to the Evanston RoundTable, Pritzker’s office and the IDHS met with Evanston leaders earlier this month about housing asylum seekers. While no arrangements have been solidified, as most Evanston shelters and hotels are full, the Roundtable reported that City Manager Luke Stowe said the city is preparing for future requests for temporary housing. 

Evanston, like Chicago, has a welcoming city ordinance in effect.

“The work isn’t done,” Lee said. “We are going to continue advocating for support and resources for our communities.”

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Twitter: @chiarafkim

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