Hundreds of people from the Chicago area are heading to Washington D.C. next week to demand work permits for longtime undocumented immigrants following weeks of advocacy efforts in the city.
This push comes as the Biden administration has started to grant temporary protected status to almost 500,000 Venezuelan migrants who are already in the country — quickly making them eligible to work.
This week, the White House, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois launched a pilot program to help recent migrants apply for those work permits.
Meanwhile, advocates are pushing for work permits for more than 180,000 undocumented immigrants in Chicago who have been in the city much longer.
“What we’re seeing is that the president has brought authority to grant work permits to a program called parole. He’s been doing it for two years now for certain folks from certain countries and all for new immigrants on top of [temporary protected status] for Venezuelans,” said Ere Rendón, vice president of Immigrant Justice with The Resurrection Project. “It’s very clear that the Biden administration is intentionally ignoring the undocumented community who have been here for an average of 20 years in the US working without authorization, working under the shadows.”
Susan Gzesh, a professor at the University of Chicago, and an attorney with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick and Dym, said the history of the lack of work authorization for Mexican immigrants goes back decades.
“In 1965, Congress set up the system that we have now that some people come because they have certain relatives who are permanent residents or citizens, other people come because they have work needed in the economy. But that work category has never included most of the sectors in which you find a lot of immigrant workers,” Gzesh said. “Overnight, they transformed a flow of people that had been largely legal to a flow of people because people were still coming for the same reasons of family reunification, the economy in Mexico, things that have only intensified in the last number of years, but they changed the nature of that status from legal to illegal.”
Yolanda Deanda, founder and director of TIA & GRAMMA, a nonprofit focused on strengthening family units located in the East Side community, has been working with immigrants since the amnesty program in 1996 and says many who have applied for citizenship through family members are still waiting.
“It is also now that if you did not have that brother that applied for you, but you now have a child that’s 21 years old, you now have to ask for a waiver because you’re gonna go to the embassy in your country,” Deanda said. “There is a rule that says if you've been in this country for longer than 180 days, you could be punished from three years to 10 years.”
Advocates will be marching in Washington next week from Nov. 13-14 and they’re hoping President Biden responds.
“I think the Biden administration is going to start looking at the polls, start understanding what’s happening,” Rendón said. “We’re telling him the solution to be able to make sure that he is responding to the Latino community in the U.S.”