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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

Elgin council members address concerns over support for asylum seekers, despite council’s strong approval of state grant

Elgin's assistant city manager, Karina Nava, talks with Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, the executive director of Centro De Información after an Elgin City Council meeting.
Maria Gardner Lara
Elgin's assistant city manager, Karina Nava, talks with Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, the executive director of Centro De Información after an Elgin City Council meeting.

The City of Elgin voted to accept a state grant to support asylum seekers living in the city, but it didn’t happen without some members of the city council acknowledging some of the controversy surrounding the arrival of migrants to the area.

Applause broke out when the Elgin City Council voted nearly unanimously to approve the measure.

The warm response contrasts with the reception from other communities in local efforts to support new arrivals.

Recently, Joliet Township declined nearly nine million dollars in state funding after vocal opposition to the grant during a meeting of its board.

Lore Baker, President and CEO of the Association for Individual Development spoke in favor of the grant and alluded to the contention in Joliet.

At the Elgin City Council meeting, she recommended the city reach out to the Illinois Department of Human Services “to see if any of those funds that have been refused by short-sighted communities could also be brought here to be able to be added to some of the shelter population that's already being served at PADS of Elgin.”

PADS of Elgin serves those experiencing homelessness in the area.

The City of Elgin will funnel the 1.27 million dollar state grant to three nonprofits in the area: Centro De Información, Food for Greater Elgin and Well Child Center. The majority of the funding will go toward rental and utilities assistance.

No one against the grant addressed the council during public comments, and yet some council members spoke to the concerns they hear from constituents.

Some critics say the funding ought to address problems like poverty, instead of going towards new arrivals.

Council member Tish Powell said issues like poverty are legitimate, but even so, she added, it’s not the "oppression Olympics.

“The poor people that currently live here in our community and need help,” said Powell, “don’t have to feel like they are in battle with poor people that are asylum seekers and need assistance as well.”

She said it’s not about figuring out who’s worse off and justifying support for one group over another.

“We're all humans, we all deserve respect, we all deserve food and shelter and basic needs,” Powell said, “and that's what this funding is, helping to provide for folks that are coming here with basically nothing.”

And she said the United States has the capacity to support everyone.

“If we can send billions of dollars over to other countries that are war torn,” she said, “it really shouldn't be that hard for us to help folks that are here.”

Council Member Rosa Maria Martinez said she hears frustration from some in the undocumented community.

“It's very, it's very hard for undocumented people who have been waiting for so long,” Martinez said.

“I know in instances that they're doing it the right way, as people say, and it takes 15 to 20 years, and I can see where they're pretty upset.”

She said these are folks that have lived in and contributed to the city for decades but have no pathway to work authorization and its benefits like Social Security.

She said the different treatment of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants highlights what many consider a broken immigration system.

“We've been going through four presidents,” Martinez said, “and everybody promised to fix it. And it hasn't been fixed.”

Also, she said, there’s misinformation floating around.

"The first mistake they make is when they start saying things about illegal aliens. You and I, we know there's no such thing as illegal aliens," she said. "Is there undocumented people? Yes. Is there asylum seekers? Yes. And people need to educate themselves with the difference between one or the other."

An undocumented person can be someone who overstayed their visa or who entered the U.S. outside of a border checkpoint.

Whereas migrants that arrive by bus from Texas, they were processed at a checkpoint. They’ve been granted permission to pursue their case for asylum while in the U.S.

And though they’re granted a stay, it doesn’t provide work authorization automatically.

Across the nation, governors, including Illinois’, have called for the Biden Administration to expedite work visa applications for asylum seekers.

In the meantime, Karina Nava, Elgin’s assistant city manager, says it’s in everyone’s interest that migrants receive assistance until they have a means to support themselves.

“If we don't help them, we're just going to exacerbate the issue of, for example, homelessness,” Nava said. “People need food, people need services. The agencies are already trying to help them, so this funding is just going to help kind of make that go a lot farther.”

Nava led the city’s grant process.

The grant is part of $41 million in state funding awarded to communities to support migrants. It’s estimated that about 1,000 asylum seekers reside in the Elgin area.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.