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A Welcoming State

By Claudia Marchan, executive director for Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors

For several months, we had been watching the busing of asylum-seeking families from the border states of Texas, Arizona, and Florida to New York and Washington, D.C. Like many immigrant advocates from across the country, we could not believe what we were seeing.

We knew it was only a matter of time before immigrants would be bused to the welcoming city of Chicago. But with the availability of immigration legal services in Illinois at capacity, our biggest worry was how we would manage to find the resources needed to welcome immigrant families with dignity.

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A World Relief staff member receives supplies for churches helping bused asylum seekers.

On August 31st, the first bus arrived in Chicago, and our local organizations were there to receive them. Our volunteers witnessed families get off the bus in need of food, clothing, medical attention, and many other basic needs.  We coordinated with our partners to help these families find shelters where they could eat, shower, and get some rest.

Now that the weather is changing and temperatures are dropping drastically, children need shoes and warm coats, as many come off the bus barefoot and without the proper clothing for colder climates.

We work with the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, and with local churches that have stepped up to support arriving families with needed items, clothing, and monetary donations.

Some are trying to figure out how their churches and parsonages can be used to house immigrant families. Other churches provide space for our staff and volunteers to give Know-Your-Rights trainings for recent arrivals.

We have also joined with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as well as Access to Justice to respond to this current immigration crisis and to advocate for better—and more permanent—solutions for asylum seekers and refugees.

Meanwhile, our NIJFON staff members and volunteers continue to give their time, helping at the shelters for hours on end—after already putting in a long day of work. NIJFON Legal Administrative Assistant Ashley Santos wrote this of her experience:

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Ashley Santos (far left) is the legal administrative assistant for Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors.

“I volunteered at the welcome center where I helped translate and sort out clothing for migrants to take. I also got to volunteer at one of the shelters where I did intakes on new arrivals and helped distribute bedding and toiletries. The migrants I saw arrived with nothing but what they had on.

“Illinois is a welcoming state,” Ashley concludes, “and I’m glad that there is support allowing us to come together to try and help as best we can.”

Cover photo: NIJFON Community Navigator Haydé Flores 

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