Some Pilsen, Galewood residents frustrated over plans for migrant shelters in their neighborhoods

Activists call for work permits for immigrants who have lived in US for years, as well

Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Residents frustrated over plans for migrant shelters on West, SW sides
Neighbors in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood met Monday night to discuss a plan for the first migrant shelter there.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rage over accommodating Chicago's rapidly-swelling migrant population is boiling over.

The city is preparing to open another shelter. It's second one in the Pilsen neighborhood, and the population of majority Latino residents are torn.

"I think we are all forgetting where we came from," a woman named Lydia said. "I think we should all show our human sides helping. We are not politics."

The shelter inside a vacant warehouse at Cermak and Halsted will initially house 400 migrant families with children. Eventually, it could accommodate up to 1,000.

It would be the first city-run shelter in the 25th Ward.

"We want to make sure that we prioritize kids with you know, families with kids, you know," Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez said. "I don't think any parent would be OK leaving children in tents outside in the winter. This is an alternative that our work has been working on. As you know, there was a previous volunteer-run shelter; there was about 260 people, but the need is great."

People who live nearby said they were given no warning, and almost no information until the 11th hour.

"Feels like we are being kept in the dark, almost intentionally," one resident said.

Property taxes in Pilsen have risen more steeply than in any other part of the city.

"I think a lot of people have anger about a lot of things. Raise property taxes, very unfair," one speaker said.

The community is rich with residents who have their own deep histories with immigration.

"We are a welcoming city. We're a sanctuary city. And, I think we should stay that, because what is the alternative? Be a not-welcoming city? How embarrassing would that be?" said Lincoln United Methodist Church Pastor Emma Lozano.

Their own stories make for a complex response to Chicago quickly accommodating more than 17,000 migrants and counting.

"We do have to admit that almost half a million people have been allowed to come into the country, while 11 million have been living here for decades and have not gotten their workers' permits," Lozano said.

Pilsen resident Georgina Lerma also weighed in.

"We didn't ask for public aid, food stamps or anything," Lerma said. "They come, they get everything for free."

On the city's West Side, residents feel equally shunned. Their park facility at Amundsen Park was abruptly closed, leaving parents without daycare, to make room for another migrant shelter.

"I grew up in this neighborhood. I feel like the park is part of me. I feel like our rights are being infringed upon. Instead of having the ability to say 'yes' or 'no,' I'm just being told," said resident Cameron Keys.

A devoted crew works at Amundsen Park three to four times a week in the Galewood neighborhood.

They said they are among the residents using the robust services there. Those services could go away with a plan to have the Park District building house migrants.

"We have the football day care, we have the workouts area, we have the seniors here, we even have the soccer plays: Where is all that going to go?" resident Mona Collins said.

Jasmine Montalvo said her son was supposed to start a pre-school program in the area Monday, but she said she was told it was canceled to prepare for migrants.

"It's not fair for the community, it's not fair for us parents, it's not fair for the staff to have to go through this," Montalvo said.

Taliaferro said the mayor's office informed him Friday about the plan, and he is opposed to the location being used to house migrants.

"I do understand the need for it, but, if there is a need for it, then it needs to be discussed with the community who actually lives here," said Alderman Chris Taliaferro, with the 29th Ward.

Also on Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker penned a letter to President Joe Biden, asking for help with the migrant crisis.

Sigcho-Lopez said he, along with other organizations, is also pushing for migrants to get work permits as soon as possible.

Activists are calling for work permits to be extended to immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for years.

Those calls are growing to include undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the U.S. for years.

"We hope the community comes together," he said. "We also talking about work permits for everybody. We don't want to talk about the race to the bottom. We have many needs in different industries across the state. There's huge shortages of workers. And we do think that these work permits for all is something that our community is also pushing."

Legally protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Laura Mendoza has been able to graduate from college and launch a successful career as an immigration organizer, but her parents have not been able to legally work since they first arrived in Chicago 27 years ago.

"My dad works in the restaurant industry for the past few years," Mendoza said.

She said her dad can't afford to retire, because, without work authorization, he is not eligible for retiree benefits.

"These are unfair conversations for somebody who has been here for almost 30 years, paying taxes into the system and not being able to get any of that," Mendoza said.

Along with the Resurrection Project, Mendoza, immigration groups and Chicagoans living in the U.S. without legal permission announced an Oct. 12 rally to call on President Biden to use his executive authority to grant work permits for all immigrants without the documents needed for legal status.

"Work permits allow us to make sure we are not exploited," said Erendira Rendon, vice president of immigrant justice with the Resurrection Project.

A few weeks ago, President Biden expanded work authorization for close to 500,000 Venezuelan migrants. Resurrection Project volunteers have been helping the new arrivals.

"The only time it becomes hurtful and painful is when you have to explain to somebody how to apply for a work permit knowing you, yourself, may not be able to apply, as well," Rendon said.

And unless Congress takes action on immigration reform, legal experts say blanket authorization by the president will face legal challenges. The law only allows for specific categories of people to qualify for work permits.

"Realistically, for many undocumented immigrants in Illinois and Chicago, there is no clear path to receiving work authorization unless you fall into one of those very specific categories," University of Chicago Law School Professor Nicole Hallett said.

Following the Oct. 12 rally, the Resurrection Project and other immigration groups will travel to Washington D.C. for a national rally on Nov. 12.