Immigration groups across the country are ramping up legal assistance efforts in anticipation of legislation that would provide a pathway for legalization for undocumented immigrants.
A coalition of immigration groups on Tuesday launched the “Ready to Stay” campaign, which includes a website where immigrants can search by Zip Code for legal help. Although immigration reform has not been approved, advocates are hopeful President Joe Biden will advance his plan that was announced earlier this year to create a pathway to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living across the United States.
“The time is now to pass a new, bold, generous path to citizenship for millions,” said Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. “For the Ready to Stay coalition, now is also the time to begin to put down the building blocks that will ensure the long-awaited relief and permanent status — we want to make sure that becomes real in people’s lives.”
In Illinois, there are an estimated 449,148 undocumented immigrants across the state, according to an analysis from the D.C.-based think tank Center for Migration Studies. The top five countries of origin for these immigrants in Illinois are Mexico, India, Poland, China and the Philippines.
The coalition is also hoping the website will help deter fraud when there is immigration reform by providing people with a list of credible organizations in their city, Salas said, noting that people might take advantage of the situation that could result in an immigrant submitting an application with errors.
Salas said advocates will be watching to see if any immigration reforms are included as “Congress is racing to put together a sweeping proposal financing infrastructure, family assistance and other programs for initial votes later this month,” the Associated Press reported.
For now, immigrants could start gearing up for possible changes by preparing documents that prove their identity and chronicle their time in the United States, Salas said. Through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Salas said advocates learned school records helped provide proof of how long a person has lived in the U.S.
The Rev. Jaime Soto, from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said tax records will also provide a significant form of proof of living in the country if immigration reform happens.
Democrats are hopeful immigration reform could be passed as part of the federal budget because it would be shielded from a Republican Senate filibuster, according to the Associated Press.
Soto said advocates are hoping to build on the network that was started in the 1980s during the last major immigration reform.
“Whatever we are able to achieve through Congress, there should be no doubt about our commitment to walk with the immigrant and refugee community,” Soto said. “Our hope is that with this initiative of Ready to Stay, that we can not only develop more service providers but also good neighbors.”
Last week, about 500 people and Democratic elected leaders held a rally in the Loop pushing for immigration reform. Gov. J.B. Pritzker told the crowd he would soon sign the Illinois Way Forward Act into law, which will ban local jails from housing people facing deportation.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.