Oct 25, 2023 - News

Why Ukrainian and Latino migrations to Chicago worked out so differently

Illustration of the Chicago skyline, with the colors of the Ukraine flag forming the Horizon.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Chicago has absorbed more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees over the last 18 months with little controversy, but the arrival of 19,000 Latino migrants over roughly the same period has triggered a crisis in the city.

Why it matters: Experts say looking at the circumstances under which each group arrived could offer clues for improving the situation.

Axios asked immigration experts and aid groups about what made these arrivals different:

1. Ukrainian refugees have an easier path to resettlement in the U.S.

  • Most Ukrainian arrivals came after being sponsored by U.S. citizens through the federal Uniting for Ukraine program, which offers temporary residency, a Social Security card and immediate work authorization.
  • Many Latino migrants recently sent to Chicago from U.S.-Mexico border towns — mostly from Venezuela — arrive without legal status, some with the intention to apply for asylum. These avenues do not involve sponsors nor grant immediate work permits.
  • Those who apply for asylum don't qualify for work permits until 150 days after they file their application. A new program allows some Venezuelans to apply for faster work permits.

2. Chicago already had a large Ukrainian American community and social service organization, the Selfreliance Association, when Ukrainian refugees arrived.

  • Chicago's smaller and newer Venezuelan community lacks such roots and existing structures.
  • Some religious, mutual aid and legal aid groups are trying to step in, but their resources are strained.

3. Latino arrivals can face discrimination, some experts told Axios.

  • "There's also a racial component," González, a senior fellow at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago, told WBEZ last month.
  • "There is a populace in the country of white supremacists who have no problem bringing in more Ukrainians, but do have problems bringing in more Central Americans, Venezuelans, Asians and Haitians — because they fear the demographic transformation of the country."

Context: Ukrainian refugees fled here after Russia's invasion, a crisis in which the U.S. is playing a major role supporting Ukraine.

What they're saying: "The Uniting for Ukraine program is being looked [by the feds] at as a model for future immigration to the U.S." Pavlo Bandriwsky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America's Illinois chapter, tells Axios.

  • "Because it provides certain support and responsibility so people aren't just thrown into tents and told, 'Fend for yourself.'"

The intrigue: Catholic Charities officials in San Antonio, Texas, tell Axios they buy migrants tickets to Chicago only if they say they have a sponsor in the city.

  • But charity officials did not respond to Axios' questions about how they confirm that those sponsors are real. Chicago officials tell Axios some migrants have provided police station addresses as their sponsor location.

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