Work Permits For All Immigrants

City Leaders Ramp Up Pressure On Feds To Issue Work Permits For All Immigrants

CITY HALL — A resolution calling for expanded work permit eligibility for immigrants is gaining support from alderpeople.

The proposal passed the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights Thursday morning and is expected to go before the full City Council during its next meeting Wednesday.

The resolution, sponsored by Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th), calls on President Joe Biden to expand parole to allow undocumented residents and newly arrived migrants to apply for work permits so they can work legally.

This is the latest push by city officials to increase pressure on the federal government to expand and fast track the lengthy, bureaucratic process for immigrants to get work permits.

The Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights meeting Dec. 6, 2023.

More than 24,000 migrants have arrived to Chicago since August 2022, but processing delays and complex eligibility questions have presented barriers for those seeking work permits. Determining non-citizens’ work permit eligibility is at the discretion of the federal government.

In September, the Biden administration expanded eligibility for work permits to thousands of migrants who arrived in the United States from Venezuela prior to July 31 through a program called temporary protected status.

The move was a boon to Chicago, as the city has struggled caring for the newcomers and has been eager to get people on a path to self-sufficiency.

Immigration advocates were quick to applaud the expansion of temporary protected status for recent Venezuelan arrivals, but they demanded similar action for the thousands of undocumented people in Chicago who aren’t able to apply for a work permit and work legally.

One option local leaders have floated is to expand parole, another form of temporary protection for immigrants. But it’s in the hands of the federal government.

The Immigration and Nationality Act gives the secretary of Homeland Security control over the parole of non-citizens who want to be admitted into the United States temporarily “for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

On Aug. 28, Mayor Brandon Johnson and Gov. JB Pritzker co-wrote a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of Homeland Security, asking the federal government to leverage the significant public benefit designation to grant work permits to migrants and existing undocumented residents to address a shortage of workers.

“This would unquestionably contribute ‘significant public benefit’ to our nation’s labor shortages while providing non-citizens, like the thousands of asylum seekers we serve, a faster and more streamlined pathway to self-sufficiency,” they wrote.

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services website, “there is no statutory or regulatory definition of ‘significant public benefit.’ Parole based on significant public benefit includes, but is not limited to, law enforcement and national security reasons or foreign or domestic policy considerations.”

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) and Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) at the first City Council meeting where Mayor Brandon Johnson presided over, on May 24, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Before passing the resolution Thursday, some alderpeople said it would show Chicagoans no one is getting left behind as the city works to provide shelter and services to recently arrived migrants.

“It is to show the country, to show the city, to show the right-wing politicians and organizers that their tactics of instilling fear and sowing division between Black and Brown, or between undocumented communities and migrant communities, will not work,” Fuentes said.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), whose ward is a bastion of Mexican-American culture in Chicago, said allowing undocumented residents to legally work would address inequalities and disparities in the city.

“A lot of misinformation is being spread around about sanctuary cities, and I think this is a step in the right direction to demand for President Biden to use executive power to deliver on the promise that was made 15 years ago to our communities,” he said.

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