Aug 31, 2023 - News

Illinois leaders urge Biden to authorize migrant work permits

Photo of a man speaking at a podium during a press conference.

From left: U.S. Rep Jesús "Chuy" García, Mayor Brandon Johnson, American Business Immigration Coalition executive director Rebbecca Shi and Gov. JB Pritzker Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Brandon Johnson and some of Illinois' most powerful leaders came together Wednesday to urge President Biden to authorize expedited work permits for migrants.

Why it matters: Advocates say the authorization could help fill thousands of job vacancies statewide, in addition to providing relief to local police stations and shelters housing migrants.

What they're saying: "This has gone from a short-term humanitarian mission to a long-term crisis," Gov. JB Pritizker said during a Wednesday press conference at the Illinois Restaurant Association headquarters downtown. "We have the jobs and we have the people. We just need the authorization."

  • "The city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes," Johnson said.

Driving the news: Johnson and Pritzker — along with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García and leaders of Illinois' biggest trade organizations — are asking the feds to allow states to sponsor undocumented workers for jobs in industries facing labor shortages.

Backstory: The campaign echoes similar calls from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Republican governors and Illinois hospitality officials months ago. But there's been little progress, leaving local leaders unsure why.

  • "It's not clear to me," Durbin tells Axios. "I wrote to [Biden] in May [about it] so it's been like four months, but I hope to find out."

Between the lines: García says he realizes granting the authorization would represent "a new level of boldness, but it would be in the national interest. If we are going to build up our economy and achieve the vision [of Biden's biggest legislative victories] we need additional workers."

The big picture: Pritzker tells Axios he believes this push has a better shot "because there is momentum building. We are not the only ones calling for this."

What's next: Johnson says he recently had a "good conversation" on the issue with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and plans to have another on Thursday.

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