Migrants Chicago: Industry leaders, Dems call on Biden to fast-track work permits to fill vacancies

'If you don't give a flying fig for this moral argument, do it for yourself and your family,' Durbin said

Mark Rivera Image
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Chicago leaders call on Biden to fast-track migrant work permits
Industry leaders and Democratic lawmakers, including Durbin and Pritzker, are asking Biden to fast-track migrant work permits to fill vacancies.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Lawmakers on Wednesday were calling on President Joe Biden to fast-track migrant work permits in an effort to fill major job vacancies across Illinois industries.

They want to allow new migrants and undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for years to legally contribute to the workforce and support their families.

For some migrants, getting a job can't happen soon enough.

Jose Rivas said he arrived in Chicago from Venezuela six months ago.

Rivas described how difficult the journey was.

He said the journey through Mexico was dangerous. It took place on foot and involved sleeping in cars when they could.

He made it, but now he can't find legal work.

"Without the papers, I can't get a job to support my family. I want to work; I want to find a job," Rivas said.

SEE MORE: Migrants Chicago: As housing crisis continues, some expected to move into Lake Shore Hotel

Rivas' story reflects that of hundreds of new arrivals in Chicago, and now industry leaders, as well as Democratic lawmakers, including the mayor, governor and members of Congress, are calling on Biden to use his power as chief executive to fast-track work permits for migrants and immigrants new and old.

"Together we call upon the Department of Homeland Security to create a process for streamlined work authorization in which states can sponsor non-citizens to work in industries that are facing labor shortages," Mayor Brandon Johnson said.

Johnson and Democratic lawmakers held a roundtable discussion Wednesday, with the American Business Immigration Coalition, calling on the president to designate new migrants like Rivas a "significant public benefit" to fast-track work permits.

"We have the jobs. We have the people; we just need authorization from Washington," Gov. JB Pritzker said.

Since the first buses came last year, the state has spent $250 million to support new arrivals.

The city has spent $100 million, but only $38 million has been reimbursed from the federal government.

The effort will help new arrivals support themselves in a worker shortage.

"Manufacturers, like retailers and hospitality and hotels and hospitals, are all struggling to find qualified workers," said Mark Denzler, Illinois Manufacturer's Association president and CEO.

Sen. Dick Durbin said allowing new migrants and undocumented immigrants to work is the moral option.

"But, if you don't give a flying fig for this moral argument, do it for yourself and your family, so that businesses can stay open, restaurants can stay open, hotels can stay open, so that hospitals can provide the basic care that you need," Durbin said. "These people are ready to help, and we should give them that chance."