CHICAGO — As Chicago faces the task of welcoming nearly 20,000 migrants into the city, a small number are being helped by a troop of volunteers who are trying to ease the burden of government paperwork.
34th Ward Alderman Bill Conway and the Instituto del Progreso Latino hosted a workshop to help new arrivals from Venezuela apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which enables migrants from 16 countries designated unsafe by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to legally work and live in the United States for up to 18 months.
“Chicago is a welcoming city. You know, if you look back one, two, three generations, we all come from immigrants. People that came here that want to work. And when I’ve spoken to the folks who’ve come out here today, that’s all they are trying to do,” Conway said.
The 13-page application for Temporary Protected Status must be completed in English, so volunteers at the workshop helped break down the barriers of bureaucracy and language
Of more than 18,000 migrants bused to Chicago since last year, only about 5,000 meet the qualifications for Temporary Protected Status.
“It is such an important start to what we know is going to provide a remedy that’s long been wanting, right?” Karina Ayala-Bermejo, from the Instituto del Progreso Latino, said. “When our individuals showed up, it’s the first thing they ask, ‘I want to work. I want to be able to work in a dignified way to contribute to society,’ And that’s what we’re doing.”
Those living at the Greek town Shelter on Halsted were first in line.
“It’s an exhausting list of questions, as one would imagine, going into deep personal plight, sometimes reopening that trauma that was experienced, but also making sure that individuals who are applying are of sound mind, of healthy status, and have not been involved with any criminal activity,” Ayala-Bermejo said.
Conway, a former assistant state’s attorney, said he saw the need for the process to be done with community groups.
“We did reach out to the mayor’s office and they are understandably overwhelmed with the front end of this, providing people shelter, providing people with food, and so I thought this would be a way that we can help,” Conway said.
The workshop, which is the first of its kind, will help Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before the end of July stay for up to 18 months, find work and make a new life.
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