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Sanctuary Cities Effort to Support the Thousands of Migrants Arriving by Bus

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The arrival of thousands of migrants in New York, Washington, Chicago and beyond has made officials in those cities scramble to set up a system of support services, with varying degrees of success.

In New York, the Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center aims to provide assistance, including school enrollment. The Office of Migrant Services in Washington, DC, will provide emergency medical care and connectivity to resettlement services. And in Illinois, the governor has issued a disaster proclamation to “free up resources” to help asylum seekers.

But as the buses continue to arrive, lawyers and volunteers said, the need for even more support is becoming apparent and asylum seekers are falling through the holes of an already stretched social safety net.

Ariadna Phillips, the founder of South Bronx Mutual Aid, said when buses carrying migrants arrived in New York months ago, there were one or two a day. The number could now rise to eight, she said.

Phillips said migrants call volunteer groups in the city “constantly” with problems, prompting volunteers to respond quickly.

“The magnitude and magnitude of crises is colossal,” she said.

Busloads of undocumented migrants have arrived in liberal strongholds without warning this summer as Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have tried to push through an anti-immigrant agenda.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said last week that his state has more than… 11,000 migrants from Texas to so-called sanctuary cities – 8,000 to Washington, 2,500 to New York City, and 500 to Chicago – since August, in what his office calls Operation Lone Star. Arizona has bused nearly 2,000 people to Washington.

In an escalation of the tactic, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week chartered two planes carrying about 50 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Migrants who were part of the trip have filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other state officials for claiming to be victims of political fraud.

‘Come here with nothing’

Those who arrive need food, clothing and medical care, volunteer groups and non-profit organizations make an effort.

“Everyone comes here with nothing,” said Ilze Thielmann, the director of Team TLC NYC.

Thielmann said migrants are met in New York by volunteers who ask if they are waiting for family in the city, plan to travel to other cities to meet family or need transportation to shelters.

The city and volunteers also work together to provide food, water and some basic necessities, such as clothing.

Furthermore, the infrastructure is vulnerable.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said last week that 8,500 of the 11,000 migrants who have come to the city are still living in the shelter system. The influx has prompted the mayor’s office to reassess the “city’s practices regarding the right to shelter,” a law that guarantees the city will provide shelter to anyone who asks.

Volunteers received calls on Tuesday that migrants assigned to a men’s shelter were being turned away, Phillips said.

Others have said they have been threatened with violence in the shelters and even attacked, she said. There have also been calls from women who said their children had not been fed or given food that was still frozen in the shelters, she said.

in Chicago, some migrants are stranded in suburban hotels with limited transportation and still struggle to get mental health care in the constant reshuffling of housing, lawyers said.

At least 60 migrants who were taken to hotels in Burr Ridge and other suburbs to make way for shelters were later removed and sent to Chicago hotels this week after Burr Ridge mayor Gary Grasso, a Republican, taunted the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat. because he sent them there without notice, adding that he is “not a believer in sanctuary cities.”

New auxiliary offices created

In recent days, New York, Chicago and Washington have all announced initiatives to strengthen support systems.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public emergency this month in response to the busing and is investing $10 million in a new Office of Migrant Services. The office will provide “reception, respite, meals, temporary accommodation, emergency medical needs, transportation to final destinations, connection to resettlement services, translation services” and other services, Bowser’s office said in a press release.

Adams announced last week the opening of the Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center, which he said “newly arrived asylum seekers will have access to the services or support they need, including legal services, school enrollment and health care – fundamental things to help families relocate. forward.”

And Illinois Governor JB Pritzker last week deployed 75 members of the National Guard to help with the logistics of receiving migrants under his leadership. disaster proclamation.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has established a Unified Area Command Center in Chicago to rapidly deploy resources to support operations.

Chicago’s advantage of hindsight

In some ways, Chicago has benefited from hindsight as it prepares for arrivals while watching the situation develop in New York and Washington, officials and lawyers there said.

“We were preparing by connecting with our Catholic Charities partners in both cities, and we learned so many good things from them,” said Marie Jochum, senior director at Catholic Charities Chicago, who works with many of the migrants who were transported to the city by bus. “That first day at the shelter there was a plan and the people knew their role.”

Chicago has only received about 800 migrants since August 31.

Migrants to Chicago have been sent to shelters set up by the Salvation Army, Jochum said. Caleb Senn, the commander of the Salvation Army in Chicago, said there are two shelters, one for families and one for single men.

Within one to two days of arrival, they are taken to a central reception center where they can connect with relatives and access medical, legal and family services, Jochum said.

Other organizations facilitate similar services.

The Little Village Community Council, which operates independently of the city, has provided migrants with essentials such as undergarments and other clothing, and has even installed a number of cell phones.

“Many came with just the clothes they wore, sometimes what they wore for months,” said Baltazar Enriquez, head of the local nonprofit.

The organization has also already landed some of the migrants in cash-paid jobs pending legal hearings.

“We’ve helped them integrate into the community,” Enriquez said. “Right now there is a need for staff and everyone is looking for employees, and we have them here.”

Mental health care is lacking

Still, Enriquez said, there’s a big gap in that care: mental health.

“Mentally they just went through so much” on their way to the US, he said. “They were beaten. Some of them were even raped. Some of them were jailed. I mean, they are very vulnerable to trauma.”

Enriquez believes the city can do more to address the trauma. “We’re screaming our lungs out about their trauma, but they’re pretending we’re crazy.”

Both the Salvation Army and Catholic charities say they have providers who assess mental health and those who conduct the intake are bilingual social workers. Mental health screenings are also part of the first medical checkups at city health centers, Jochum said.

Adams, the mayor of New York, urged asylum seekers on Monday to consult the city’s health services as they struggled with mental health issues after an asylum seeker, later described as a mother, died by suicide at a city shelter.

Thielmann said she had been “sick in my stomach” ever since she heard the news, wondering if she’d greeted the woman, told her “Welcome to New York” and “made her believe she’d be fine here.”

“It’s just a huge blow to do this job and to know how little we can really help sometimes,” Thielmann said with tears in his eyes. “But the city needs to stand up more, the state needs to stand up, the federal government needs to stand up and actually serve these people and not just dump them in shelters and crash them.”

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