An earlier version of this article left unclear Gloria Yen’s estimation of where the migrants would arrive. A clarification has been added.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – Central Illinois immigration advocates are preparing to help hundreds of migrants bused from the southern border of the U.S.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent over 500 migrants to Chicago in the past two weeks. As a result, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an emergency disaster proclamation Wednesday, freeing up more of the state’s resources.
“What the governor of Texas is doing is a stunt,” Pritzker said in a news conference Wednesday. “And he’s playing games with people’s lives.”
Illinois officials said they never received advanced notice from the Texas governor about when more buses of migrants will make their way to Chicago.
“We often have between three and 24 hours to find shelter for potentially 100 or more people,” Pritzker said. “I’m not going to mince words here, the governor of Texas is forcing on New York and [Washington] D.C. and Chicago and potentially other places, a needlessly last minute and complex process, that is a heartless display of politics over people.”
Gloria Yen, Director of the New American Welcome Center at the University YMCA, told WCIA in an email that their organization expects that for the next 15 weeks, roughly 1,000 migrants will arrive in Chicago each week.
As part of the proclamation, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies will work with Chicago officials to provide additional support including food, transportation and emergency shelter.
Pritzker also activated about 75 Illinois National Guard members for extra support.
“This declaration will free up the resources to really treat the situation, and the people here with the dignity that they need,” said Charlotte Alvarez, Esq., the executive director of the Immigration Project.
The non-profit has been helping migrants coming on buses from Texas.
“We helped immediately figure out, ‘Where are they going to stay,’ housing, ‘Is there room in the shelters that we know of,’ or are there other places for them to stay,” Alvarez said.
Along with those services, the group is also giving migrants legal advice.
“We’re making sure that anyone who comes to us [that] we can give some legal advice to explain if they’re in removal proceedings, or if they have an asylum claim, kind of what are the next steps to make sure they’re preserving their legal rights, amidst the chaos of trying to deal with their immediate physical and safety concern needs,” Alvarez said.
The organization has seen refugees travel through central Illinois. Some choose to stay while others leave.
“They’re passing through our downstate communities, and bus drivers are just telling people, if you want to get off here you can,” Alvarez said.
As they enter their new environment, Alvarez said there is a mix of emotions.
“I think there’s just some incredible hope for the future and uncertainty about what that looks like and a desire for safety for their families,” Alvarez said.
Yen said some migrants arriving in Chicago are in great need of mental health and medical care.
“Some folks walked through the jungle,” Yen said. “Others threw their children and then themselves onto moving train cars and sustained injuries.”
Yen also warned migrants of trafficking concerns, as she knows of reports of black SUVs picking up migrants and offering them jobs.
With the governor’s proclamation, Alvarez believes this will equip the state to better handle the situation, but she stressed this is not a new issue.
“It’s not a new change of policy that has created this new problem, it’s that we here are seeing people who have been unjustly denied at the border … recently and then years ago,” Alvarez said. “This is not a modern problem in the making. It’s something that’s kind of predictable.”
Yen said local area partners will meet next week to discuss pre-mobilization efforts to provide additional support to organizations in Chicago if needed.