Rafael Bernal, The Hill, October 29, 2023
Tensions are reaching a fever pitch between newly arrived migrants and longtime immigrant and minority communities over perceptions of unfair distribution of government benefits.
The frustration, which is centered in big cities, is twofold: Many undocumented and mixed-status families feel overlooked as new arrivals become eligible for work permits, and in many communities of color, spending on shelter for asylum-seekers is viewed in contrast to scarcity in other social programs.
The tension is especially felt in Democratic strongholds such as New York and Chicago, where community leaders and elected officials have spent decades organizing their constituents with limited success.
“Mixed-status families, people who have lived here for 10, 20, 25, 30 years, who have been working, paying taxes, sending money back to Mexico, abiding by the laws, laying low — probably being better citizens than most Americans — are frustrated,” said Illinois Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D).
“Because political leaders, community leaders, religious leaders have told them, ‘If you advocate for yourself, if you march in the pro-immigration reform events in Chicago, across the country’ — and Chicago was sort of the spark of a lot of this — that something would happen,” added García.
But immigration reform as most communities understand it — access to paperwork to get straight with the government — was last enacted in 1986.
What has changed is the pattern of migration to the United States, everything from demographics to the immigration status of new arrivals. And those two factors are linked: The historic trend of Mexican single adults crossing the border has over time given way to families from other countries with stronger asylum claims.
But by and large, the public does not make a distinction between asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants, creating the impression of a two-tiered system.
That’s made assimilation of new arrivals more difficult, in particular for asylum-seekers from Latin America.
“I think some of it is xenophobia. I think some of it is disinformation. And it’s driven by uncertainty,” said García.
He added that the perception of a migrant threat has dovetailed with concerns about urban violence in Chicago, adding a layer of distrust among communities.
That distrust came to a head Tuesday in Chicago’s Brighton Park, a predominantly Latino neighborhood with a large Chinese immigrant population where the city is building a migrant camp on a privately owned lot.
Local protesters attempted to physically block machinery from entering the construction site, days after Alderwoman Julia Ramírez fled another protest that turned violent.
“You’re seeing it in the Black community in Chicago and now you’re seeing the intensity of the anger and hurt in the Mexican community, who say, ‘What about us? We’ve been working here for 20 years,’ and some of them are actually being displaced by new migrants who are coming in with a work permit,” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
Advocates for longtime undocumented immigrants are calling on the Biden administration to address that disparity by granting immigration parole to large swathes of the population, clearing the way for them to work legally.
On Wednesday, García and fellow Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Verónica Escobar (Texas) and Delia Ramírez (Ill.) had been set to call on President Biden to grant parole to undocumented or expatriate spouses of U.S. citizens, but their press conference was interrupted by the vote to elect Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as the new Speaker.
Undocumented immigrants can’t apply to change their immigration status or be considered for work permits. Immigration parole essentially clears an individual’s immigration record, allowing them to file applications to get papers.