Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an executive order Tuesday that reinforces city law ensuring all residents have access to city services and relief funds regardless of citizenship status. The order comes after Congress passed a $2 trillion federal aid package that excludes undocumented immigrants.
“This order is more than just an official decree. It’s a statement of our values as a city and as Americans,” Lightfoot said. “We are saying, ‘We are all in this together.’”
The executive order states that all Chicagoans are able to access the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program, online learning resources for students at home from school and the Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund.
Lightfoot also said the city is stepping up its efforts to translate its communications regarding the COVID-19 crisis in as many languages as possible in order to reach residents who are not proficient in English.
Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said many immigrants are “frontline workers … in grocery stores and factories, doing deliveries, working in health care-related fields.” He added that many undocumented immigrants working at restaurants and hotels have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Tsao said Lightfoot’s executive order was an “important signal and reassurance for our city’s immigrants and immigrant and refugee communities,” but that the city has had such a policy in place for many years, referring to the Welcoming City ordinance, which states that all residents can access city services regardless of citizenship status.
Tsao lauded the city’s existing programs to help vulnerable communities during this crisis, but said “the need for support [from the city] will be ongoing.”
During the press conference, Lightfoot also mentioned the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, a disaster relief fund partnership between the city, the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago. Those funds are to be distributed to local nonprofits that help a variety of vulnerable communities.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, said that such a general relief fund “is not enough” and that the mayor’s executive order does little more than reiterate the city’s existing policy.
“We have to go beyond that in this moment,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “That means close the giant gap that exists in our safety net, using local funds to make sure that all of our people are healthy and safe and taken care of in this crisis.”
Ramirez-Rosa said the Chicago City Council’s Latino Caucus sent a letter last week asking the mayor to establish an Immigrant Resiliency Fund “to fill the void left by the federal government,” but that the city said there are no new funds dedicated to this effort during this time.
Ramirez-Rosa pointed to the city’s $2 million COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program as a sign of the need in immigrant communities, saying that about a third of the 80,000 applicants for those $1,000 housing grants were Latino residents, and that the city received applications in every language in which the form was available.
He added that the lack of dedicated funds for undocumented immigrants in Chicago is “a travesty, but it’s also bad public policy because we are only as healthy and safe as the most vulnerable among us.”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.