WASHINGTON – One of the key needs of newly arrived migrants flooding Chicago and living in shelters — in the U.S. legally — is getting work permits so they can join the workforce, make money and find a place to live.
A Biden administration pilot program, kicking off Thursday in Chicago, is designed to help new arrivals in shelters overwhelming the city apply for their work authorizations.
The pilot program is a joint effort of the White House, Illinois, City Hall and the Resurrection Project, a social service agency that provides legal services for migrants.
It comes as local, state and federal officials in Illinois — and potential employers — have been pushing President Joe Biden to speed up the granting of work permits to take some of the crushing financial burden off the city and the state, and fill a large number of job vacancies.
The time involved in getting a work permit depends on what status was granted to a migrant in the U.S.
But no work authorization — no matter how long it takes to get, whether 30 days or six months — can be granted if a person does not apply.
The pilot program addresses the crucial reality that more has to be done in Chicago to get migrants to submit applications for work permits, with getting fingerprinted and photographed part of that process.
Angelo Fernández Hernández, a White House spokesperson, told the Sun-Times that the launch Thursday of what they call a “clinic” is designed to be “a one-stop-shop work authorization clinic to help get eligible noncitizens work authorizations and jobs — and decompress the shelter system.
“The clinic will begin with a pilot, serving approximately 150 migrants per day, and we will work with the state, city and the Resurrection Project as they scale in the coming days and weeks,” Fernández Hernández said.
In Chicago, the Department of Homeland Security will deploy about a dozen staffers to help new arrivals navigate the immigration system and apply for employment authorization.
Rachel Otwell, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Human Services, and Jason Lee, a top adviser to Mayor Brandon Johnson, said staffers from the city and state will help screen migrants in shelters to determine who takes part in the pilot program.
Otwell said the clinic will be staffed by legal aid service providers, pro bono attorneys volunteers, as well as federal, state and city personnel who are bilingual. The Resurrection Project, which Otwell said has a contract with the state, will help manage the project.
Part of the assistance will involve providing transportation for migrants to get to the clinic for their appointments with federal intake personnel. The address of this office is not being made public because of security concerns.
A similar pilot program has started in New York, and another is in the works for the Boston area. The New York pilot clinic opened in September, and at this point, the pilot experiment is expected to continue for the coming weeks and months.
Application fees can sometimes amount to hundreds of dollars. The Sun-Times has learned that if an applicant applies for a fee waiver, it is highly likely to be granted.
Johnson was in Washington last week seeking more financial and other assistance for migrants. The Biden administration has been taking friendly fire from Democratic officials in cities swamped by migrants — especially New York, and increasingly Chicago — sent to Democratic cities mainly from GOP-led Texas.
Illinois Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic Chicago area House members have all been pressing the Biden White House to do more as costs are reaching hundreds of millions of dollars to provide shelter and health care to the migrants, most from Venezuela and many claiming asylum for various reasons.
Tom Perez, a Biden senior adviser and the intergovernmental affairs chief, along with Biden chief of staff Jeff Zients, have been in close contact with Illinois officials for months.
The application pilot project is “an important part of the overall strategy to create a faster pathway for asylum-seekers to work and achieve independence,” Otwell said.
Johnson press secretary Ronnie Reese said, “The city of Chicago is focused on helping asylum-seekers get on the path to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible, and work authorization is a crucial step in that process.”
Meanwhile, the White House continues to be under pressure from Democrats in the states hardest hit by migrants to increase the amount of emergency funding it is seeking in a supplemental measure. The White House is asking for $1.4 billion. Johnson last week said $5 billion was needed.
On Monday, Chicago Democratic Reps. Delia C. Ramirez and Jesús “Chuy” García joined counterparts from New York and California in pressing for that $5 billion figure.