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Undocumented Chicagoans Are Eligible For City’s Coronavirus Relief Benefits As Mayor Signs New Order

Undocumented people pay taxes — but the federal government isn't helping them with relief programs during the pandemic, so Chicago is stepping up.

People walk through downtown Chicago amid fears of coronavirus on March 12, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot ensured undocumented Chicagoans are eligible for the city’s coronavirus relief funds and benefits with a new executive order signed Tuesday.

Undocumented people, though they have to pay taxes, are not eligible for federal benefits. But with Lightfoot’s executive order, they’ll be able to apply for any and all of the city’s programs, including ones meant to help people pay rent and help entrepreneurs keep their small businesses afloat.

“This order is more than just an official decree. It’s a statement of our values as a city and as Americans,” Lightfoot said at a press conference. “It means that in this crisis, we will leave no one behind, and no one will get left behind.”

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), whose ward includes Little Village and its large Latino community, said the pandemic has “shocked my community to its core.” Undocumented immigrants pay billions in taxes, he said, and form the “heart and soul” of the American economy, but they’re not getting the help they need.

The federal government does not allow undocumented people to apply for programs like unemployment — even though many people are out of work during the pandemic and trying to figure out how they’ll pay bills and put food on the table.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate. We all know that,” Cardenas said. Undocumented workers “are getting hit the hardest. They have nowhere to turn for support. [The order] ensures everyone in Chicago, regardless of the status,” has a place to turn for support.

The city will not ask people who apply for its relief programs for their citizenship status, and it will not share information with the federal government, Lightfoot said.

The city is also trying to “step up” its translations of documents and messages about coronavirus, Lightfoot said. They want to offer information in as many languages as possible, but they’re prioritizing offering them in Spanish, Polish, Urdu and various Chinese dialects.

And the city must expand its outreach efforts to immigrant and refugee communities so they understand the dangers of the virus and how they can protect themselves — namely, by staying home and practicing social distancing.

“This is really about social equity,” Lightfoot said. “Anywhere where we know that people have not had the same kind of opportunity to get connected up with the health system, to practice preventative care, that’s an area where we know we’ve got challenges and we’re gonna meet those challenges.”

Independent organizations have also tried to fill the gap and help undocumented Chicagoans. The Gage Park Latinx Council is offering undocumented people help with rent, car payments and other bills through April 9.

For a full list of available city funds and resources, click here.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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