Migrant resettlement deserves more support

The Biden administration and Congress should do more to assist and expand local efforts to meet the demands created by busing migrants from Texas to Chicago.

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin shakes hands with The Salvation Army Captain Corey Hughes as William Colmenares, one of the migrants who was bussed from Texas, stands behind them on Sept. 9.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin shakes hands with The Salvation Army Captain Corey Hughes as William Colmenares, one of the migrants who was bussed from Texas, stands behind them on Sept. 9.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Since the first 79 migrants arrived on a bus the night of Aug. 31 at Union Station, Chicago and Illinois immediately responded by welcoming them with food, fresh clothes and a place to take a hot shower.

A Pilsen social impact nonprofit, however, helped with that and more, by providing them with something anyone more than 1,000 miles from home would appreciate — a sense of familiarity, comfort and hope.

That was made possible through The Resurrection Project’s community navigators program, a group of primarily immigrant women who have been trained to aid and guide migrants through immigration and justice issues. Now, they’re assisting with the bused migrants.

It’s the sort of effort that is worth supporting, to show Chicago really is the “sanctuary city” it claims to be.

Editorial

Editorial

“Immigrating can be a very traumatic experience. You come to a new country, don’t speak the language, don’t know the rules and don’t know the culture,” said Eréndira Rendón, vice president of immigrant justice at Resurrection Project. “So, to have other immigrants who have already gone through this and say, ‘I’m on the other side, and it’s possible,’ is very important to both see and hear.”

The community navigators, along with other nonprofits and local governments, have stepped up to provide bilingual services, help migrant parents enroll their children in school and teach them how to navigate and use public transportation.

Those efforts from the city, state and nonprofits prove to Republicans who mocked sanctuary cities that it is possible to welcome immigrants and show there are people willing to give their time and effort to make it happen.

But nonprofits are still struggling.

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The responsibility of managing the hefty task of what is essentially migrant resettlement should not fall solely on nonprofits and local governments. Unfortunately, that is what is happening, and it’s looks like the federal government will continue to depend on them.

The Biden administration and Congress should do more to assist and expand local immigration efforts to meet the new demand. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tried a stunt with Operation Lone Star, which backfired because cities welcomed the migrants — but now, those resettlement efforts need support.

As of Dec. 5, Texas has reportedly bused over 13,900 migrants to sanctuary cities, including nearly 1,300 to Chicago and 260 to Philadelphia, which is the latest city added to Abbott’s migrant busing plan on Nov. 15.

Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, told the Texas Tribune the busing program puts a strain on nonprofits that want to aid migrants.

“It’s extraordinary how much they’re doing by the seat of their pants. They’re not getting enough credit for how much they have done,” Chishti said. “This underscores the lack of a unitary federal response.”

Nonprofits such as the Salvation Army in Chicago offer migrants temporary housing, while other organizations help migrants with travel to get to where they really intended to go. For those who decide to stay here, organizations offer long-term services, such as housing, medical care and directing them to groups that help with asylum applications.

We have made great strides in becoming a more welcoming city, state and county thanks to the dozens of organizations that are ready and willing to step up.

The Resurrection Project, for example, is collaborating with several organizations and launched a website to serve as a resource for volunteers and donations called welcometoil.org.

Our local governments and nonprofits don’t have the infrastructure needed to manage the new and massive responsibility of migrant resettlement.

But, even with limited time and resources, nonprofits have demonstrated what they can do to provide a safe space for migrants.

Just imagine what they could do if they had more financial backing.

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