Apr 8, 2024 - News

Chicago Mayor Johnson pushes President Biden for more migrant work permits

Photo of a building with people mulling about in front of it

New arrivals outside the city's large shelter in Pilsen on Halsted. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

As President Joe Biden visits Chicago on Monday, he's likely to get an earful from local leaders about the city's need for more federal help, specifically on work permits for new immigrants.

Why it matters: Less than 10% of new arrivals have obtained work permits, making it harder for them to exit shelters and making it legally perilous for employers to give them jobs — even those desperate for workers.

Driving the news: Last week, Mayor Brandon Johnson joined with local migrant advocates to again call on Biden to expand work permit eligibility to allow for more permits, including for those who have been here for many years.

The big picture: The difficulty new arrivals face to secure legal work permits is just one challenge ahead of a summer when officials predict a surge of buses from Texas to disrupt Chicago ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

State of play: State officials have helped migrants file 5,329 applications for work permits as of March 28.

  • But, so far, only 2,258 have been granted.
  • Officials tell Axios they continue to screen new shelter arrivals for work permit eligibility — based on their nationality and arrival date — but reckon less than 10% will qualify.

By the numbers: Here's a breakdown of other current migrant crisis metrics based on city and state data:

Total new arrivals since 2022: 38,624 as of April 5

Total resettled: 15,763

Total living in shelters: 9,680, which is down from 11,795 in March

Total awaiting shelter at a police station: 1

  • Airport: 0
  • Landing zone: 83

Total open shelters: 20, down from 23 in March

Payments to Favorite Healthcare Staffing: In 2023, the city paid $195.3 million to the Kansas-based company for shelter staffing, at rates of up to $200 per hour for some employees. More recent data is unavailable.

  • Yes, but: Favorite has refused to tell Axios how much money it keeps versus how much it shares with workers.

What we're watching: City and state officials are reporting an increase in some diseases in migrant shelters.

  • The number of measles cases in Illinois has risen to 58, with most concentrated at the shelter in Pilsen.
  • Chicago Department of Public Health officials stress that migrants contracted rather than brought measles here and say vaccinations are now required for shelter entrance.

Plus: Last week the CDPH confirmed a small unspecified number of tuberculosis cases in shelters.

  • They tell Axios some of these are likely latent, asymptomatic, nontransmissible infections.
  • For those with active cases, a nurse case manager is assigned to perform contact tracing, officials say.
mid century school building
St. Bart's school building will become the city's newest migrant shelter for families. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

What's next: The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that the Archdiocese offered the city more than a dozen buildings at no cost for migrant shelters.

  • When Axios recently asked Johnson about it, he disputed the "no cost" part and said the city is considering just one.
  • Friday the city announced it would be using closed buildings at St. Bart's in Portage Park as a family shelter that it hoped to open by mid-April.
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