PILSEN — Advocates and city officials applauded the expansion of work authorization to Venezuelan migrants this week but demanded the federal government grant work permits to all immigrants Thursday.
Their demands came a day after the federal government announced Venezuelan migrants who arrived to the U.S. prior to July 31 can apply for temporary protected status, which comes with eligibility for work authorization.
About 472,000 Venezuelans may now be eligible for work permits, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But activists and city officials said President Joe Biden should not forget about the millions of other undocumented immigrants in the U.S who want to work legally.
“I have to urge the president, I have to urge you to see the 11 million-plus faces that may not be happy today because they were forgotten,” said Karina Ayala-Bermejo, president and CEO of Instituto Del Progreso Latino, at a press conference Thursday at El Zocalo, 1815 S. Paulina St. in Pilsen.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), whose ward includes Pilsen, said the expansion of work authorization is “a step in the right direction” but does not address the nation’s “broken” immigration system and unfulfilled reform promises.
There are undocumented people who have “waited and fought for decades to have the same rights. To have a dignified job, to have security for their families,” Sigcho-Lopez said in Spanish. “I want to be clear, this cause requires reform and we must fight together so that we are not divided because the immigration cause affects all of us, in the Latino community and many other immigrant communities.”
More than 13,500 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have arrived in Chicago since last August, according to city data. Police stations and the city’s 20 makeshift shelters have continued to swell since then.
On Aug. 28, Mayor Brandon Johnson and Gov. JB Pritzker co-wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking the federal government to leverage the significant public benefit designation to grant migrants work permits to address a shortage of workers.
“We are going to organize so that in the Democratic convention, immigration reform is a priority and not another and another broken promise. This is the time,” Sigcho-Lopez said garnering applause from the crowd.
Democratic Party officials touring the United Center earlier this month brushed off questions about how the city’s struggle to care for asylum seekers will affect next year’s Democratic National Convention.
“It is going to be an inevitable conversation for us in Chicago, and will organize to make it a priority for the DNC. It would be a good question for the DNC,” Sigcho-Lopez said in a text message to Block Club.
During the press conference Thursday organized by The Resurrection Project, neighbors like Consuelo Martinez shared their personal experiences as undocumented workers.
As a mother who migrated to Chicago more than 27 years ago, Martinez said she has worked “in the shadows” to provide for her two sons.
“I am here today because I am happy for my Venezuelan brothers who will have a work permit. I am so happy for them and thankful to President Biden, but I also ask him to look at us Mexicans and at other people from other countries who have worked here,” Martinez said in Spanish. “Turn and look at us. We have worked for over 30 years and have not been able to work legally.”
Other neighbors like José Frausto, executive director at Chicago Workers Collaborative, brought attention to the dangers undocumented workers face without legal authorization.
Undocumented immigrants often work as temporary workers for staffing agencies, which makes them subject to discriminatory practices in the workplace, Frausto said.
“They have no protections because they don’t have a work permit,” he said.
Pastor Emma Lozano, vice president of the National League of United Latin American Citizens for the Midwest, said Biden’s move to authorize work permits for Venezuelans shows “now there are no excuses” for the government to grant other immigrants permits.
“When it is time for justice, the time is always right now,” Lozano said.
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