Little Village is a model for how to help migrants build new lives

The community’s willingness to welcome and help the new migrants arriving in Chicago has made our support network’s collaborative efforts more successful.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Michael D. Rodriguez (22nd) walk out of a temporary respite center at Piotrowski Park at 4247 W. 31st St. in Little Village, May 16.

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Michael D. Rodriguez (22nd) walk out of a temporary respite center at Piotrowski Park at 4247 W. 31st St. in Little Village, May 16.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago is a sanctuary city that has welcomed more than 8,000 new arrivals since 2022. Our city was caught off-guard by the influx of migrants, but city officials have done their best to manage the unpredictable flow by creating welcoming centers, documenting and tracking, lobbying for federal funds, and collaborating with existing social service providers.

We are in more than just a state of emergency. It is a humanitarian crisis and we need to rethink how we collaborate and assist the newly-arrived families and put them on a path to success.

What I am seeing on the ground in Little Village now is a hyperlocal approach that is working better than our initial response, and I think a lot of that is due to a shift in perspective. We have activated the COVID-19 response network that we built when our communities were being ravaged. This network was created out of necessity and while it has been dormant, we’re now returning to it, reusing a strategy that worked.

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Approximately 150 migrants are now being housed at Piotrowski Park in Little Village. Of those migrants, there are 65 children, and 45 are school-aged. While the park is better than sleeping on the floors of police stations, it’s still a long way from stable housing and support services.

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However, I am witnessing how local organizations, social service agencies, elected officials, the Chicago Public Schools, the Park District, and other city and state agencies are working together to problem-solve and think of longer-term solutions for the hundreds of families that are joining our community.

Hyperlocal organizing strategies have been successful specifically because of a strong network of support: a group of people who, regardless of where they work or who they work for, are familiar with and trust each other because of relationships fostered for many years. We update each other daily through group texting, and have weekly check-in calls to share what is happening on the frontlines.

Welcoming with open arms

It is not lost on me that the community’s willingness to welcome and help the migrants has made our collaborative efforts more successful in Little Village. When I visit Piotrowski Park, I see neighbors offering to assist the migrants and welcoming them with open arms because many of them are familiar with the realities we face when we first arrive in a new country, not speaking the language, and the overwhelming challenges of starting a new life.

Volunteers and mutual aid groups, local organizations, and Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd Ward) are supporting those at police stations and at the park district. They bring meals, conduct assessments, and coordinate additional services. As it gets warmer, they are also providing families with opportunities to join recreational activities and sports like baseball, soccer, and yoga. On Sunday, the kids joined other Little Village families at a petting zoo, and for pony-riding, and other activities. These opportunities provide children with a sense of normalcy through a stressful experience.

As an immigrant woman, this is a deeply personal issue to me and I have been able to support immigrants throughout my career — at social service agency Enlace, with the Illinois Latino Agenda and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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This is a time to lean on each other, tap into resources, and ask for additional support from all available avenues. We can’t simply focus on the immediate needs of these families, because they are here to stay. We need to think about long-term solutions and policies, and set our new neighbors on a path to success. As we work on housing migrants and finding spaces for them, we must prioritize and think critically about the communities they are joining. These families have traveled thousands of miles with the hopes of finding safety and creating a new life.

The Little Village model of hyperlocal collaboration can serve as an example for other communities, and hopefully our journey helps guide the decisions of our new Mayor Brandon Johnson and his administration as they think about new and creative solutions to address the crisis.

Katya Nuques has served as executive director of Enlace, as a member of the Illinois Latino Agenda and as a former board member of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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