DOWNTOWN — Volunteers and city officials are trying to help migrants obtain work permits as more and more come to Chicago.
In September, the Department of Homeland Security extended a temporary protected status statute for Venezuelan nationals. This allows those who arrived in the United States prior to July 31 the opportunity to apply for legal work authorization and provides protection from deportation.
The English application is more than 30 pages and can be difficult to fill out — and there’s a $545 fee with it. To bridge the gap, about 30 volunteers in conjunction with Ald. Bill Conway (34th) hosted a free legal clinic Friday to help migrants fill out their applications.
“We have lawyers, law students and translators. … These folks want to work. They want to be part of our community, and our community wants to help them do that,” Conway said.
The workshop was open to migrants staying at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court — about 1,200 migrants as of Oct. 21, according to a database provided by the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Many migrants waiting in line to fill out the application held plastic Ziploc bags with passports, IDs and legal documents from Venezuela. Some showed up with few or no documents at all.
“Unfortunately, the reality is many of them lost passports, or they were stolen on their way here. … There are some folks who don’t really have many forms of ID or only have copies,” said Nubia Willman, formerly chief engagement officer and director of the Office of New Americans under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Willman helped organize the clinic along with Central (1st) Police District Council member Jamie Brown and Instituto del Progreso Latino. The groups held its first clinic last month and saw a need for more.
The clinic provides much-needed translation services, including assistance filling out the application’s waiver form, which must be done on paper, Willman said.
“Because we did the fee waiver, we had to do a paper-based application. … We’re obviously keeping an eye on that and hopeful that immigration understands that these are folks in dire straits with extreme hardships,” Willman said.
Typical wait times for temporary protected status forms to be approved can take upwards of six months. Sen. Dick Durbin said during his visit to the clinic that he hopes to get that down to 30 days.
Organizers Friday helped about 75 people complete their applications. Roberto Gonzalec, a volunteer and immigrant from Venezuela, said he jumped at the opportunity to translate at the clinic.
“I migrated when I was 18 years old, so I know exactly how they feel and what they’re going through right now. So I think it’s important to translate and get the message across correctly, because I see myself reflected in them,” Gonzalec said.
Gonzalec helped two migrants for over four hours on Friday, telling Block Club Chicago that because he understood their dialect, they felt more comfortable. He said he hopes to volunteer at similar clinics in the future.
“I didn’t know there was such a need for people like me or people that are bilingual and who can help this process go faster,” Gonzalec said. “I’m all in.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: