Mar 6, 2024 - News

Most migrants living in Chicago shelters aren't eligible to work

Little boy kneeling before an adult's legs, next to a filled laundry baskey.

Marshall Emerick Ramirez Galvan, 7, arrives at his family's new home in Englewood after leaving a migrant shelter in February. Photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

At least 80% of migrants in Chicago shelters are ineligible for work permits, according to the city's Department of Family Support Services.

The big picture: The vast majority of the more than 11,700 new arrivals living in city shelters lack a legal path to self-sufficiency a little over a week before thousands reach the city's delayed shelter stay limits, per the latest public data.

What we're hearing: "Maybe 10% of those in shelters are eligible for work authorization, and, in the best case scenario, maybe half are eligible for rental assistance," Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who chairs the City Council's Immigration and Refugee Rights committee, tells Axios.

  • "I'm concerned that, by the end of April, this will lead to about 5,000 to 6,000 people out on the street and without the ability to work."

By the numbers: As of last month, more than 3,900 new arrivals submitted applications for work permits or Temporary Protected Status (that can confer work eligibility) through a state-run application program. About 1,000 had gotten permits as of late January, per the latest available data.

  • Meanwhile, thousands who arrived after July 31 — the cutoff date for protected status eligibility for Venezuelans — are not eligible for work permits, and those who arrived after mid-November are not eligible for rental assistance either.

Behind the scenes: Some new arrivals are supporting themselves without work permits, including stints as day laborers near home improvement stores, WBEZ reports.

  • But tensions are rising between established Central American day laborers, who've worked these construction gigs for years, and new arrivals who offer to work much cheaper.

What they're saying: DFSS commissioner Brandie Knazze said at a recent committee meeting that the city is focused on outmigration over the next few months.

  • "Philanthropy, faith institutions, mutual aid and nonprofits are stepping up … and I think that we're going to see a need for more of that support," Beatriz Ponce de León, Chicago's deputy mayor for immigration, said at the same meeting.

The intrigue: Buses have slowed in recent weeks, but Vasquez anticipates an "exponential" increase "between now and August, as we get closer to the Democratic [National] Convention."

  • He wants the city to rethink its 60-day shelter limits, and for President Biden to expand work permits to both new arrivals and "the existing undocumented population that has been here for decades."
  • This, he says, would create "legal taxpayers" driving "economic benefit, as opposed to what has become a financial challenge of trying to provide services to people who could be sustaining themselves."

What we're watching: Biden has urged Congress to consider a bipartisan deal that expedites work permits, while further restricting border entry, but former President Trump has successfully called for Republicans to reject it.

  • Biden has also considered announcing a border-related executive order in his State of the Union address tomorrow, Axios' Mike Allen and Alex Thompson report.
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