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Number of expected Afghan refugees resettling in Chicago increases

Chicago-based organizations that assist refugees along with some elected leaders are pushing for the incoming refugees to have access to public benefits.

Alina Hanif, a social worker at Muslim Women Resource Center in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, works as Afghan Americans wait for their case worker to advise them on the steps they will need to take to bring their families in Afghanistan to the U.S., Friday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2021. The Muslim Women Resource Center is helping Afghan Americans bring their families in Afghanistan to the U.S. after the Taliban took control of the country.
Alina Hanif, a social worker at Muslim Women Resource Center in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, works as Afghan Americans wait for their case worker to advise them on the steps needed to bring their families in Afghanistan to the U.S.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

More than 500 refugees from Afghanistan are expected to resettle in Chicago in the coming months, according to the Refugee Action Network.

The update on the number of refugees fleeing the political changes in Afghanistan came one day before the United States was expected to end its military presence. Earlier this month, the Taliban seized political power in Afghanistan.

Organizations in Chicago had already been preparing for an influx of Afghan refugees. The 500 expected Afghan refugees is higher than how many had been resettled in Illinois in the past. From July 2018 to June 2019, there were 37 people from Afghanistan resettled in Illinois, according to the most recent annual report on the state’s resettlement program.

Jims Porter, a spokesman for Chicago-based RefugeeOne, said the public benefits available to the incoming refugees will depend on their immigration status. He stressed that those fleeing Afghanistan should have access to public benefits that provide them with food and health care services as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said her office fielded hundreds of calls from residents trying to get their relatives evacuated from Afghanistan. She spoke Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, during a virtual news conference a day before the U.S. is expected to withdraw from Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said her office fielded hundreds of calls from residents trying to get their relatives evacuated from Afghanistan.
Screenshot

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said her office fielded hundreds of calls from residents trying to get their relatives evacuated from Afghanistan. As of Monday, Schakowsky said her office was able to confirm that two families with ties to Chicago were able to make it out of Afghanistan.

Schakowsky said she will call on President Joe Biden to increase the number of refugees allowed into the country during the 2022 fiscal year to at least 200,000.

“And ensure that all Afghans are resettled in the United States and that they can access the services and support necessary to start a new life here,” Schakowsky said. “All Afghans of all immigration status must be able to access affordable housing, food, health care and legal and governmental services.”

In May, Biden set the admissions cap to 62,000 refugees, and he had planned to increase it to 125,000 for the next federal fiscal year that will begin in October, according to a news release from the White House.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it sometimes takes years for refugees to be allowed into the United States. The application process for Special Immigrant Visa holders includes 14 steps.

“Over and over again, they have proven that given a chance to live in America and to appreciate the values and opportunities that our country offers, they become solid citizens and partners for all of us,” Durbin said about refugees.

On Monday, more than a dozen aldermen in Chicago also submitted a letter to Biden expressing support for Afghans resettling in Chicago.

“In recognition of their sacrifice working alongside our troops, diplomats and partner organizations, we invite Afghan refugees to join us in Chicago, to share our home, and to build something greater together,” the letter stated.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.