More than 500 Afghans likely to resettle in Chicago area
More than 500 Afghans are expected to resettle in the Chicago area in the weeks and months ahead, a coalition of Illinois refugee organizations said Monday.
Many who have fled their Taliban-controlled homeland will arrive as refugees or through special immigrant visas granted to U.S. wartime allies and their immediate families.
While refugees and special visa recipients are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, Medicaid coverage and other public benefits, people from Afghanistan arriving under "humanitarian parole" status do not currently have access to the same social safety net programs, advocates say.
"To make matters worse, the government may not fund our resettlement agencies to provide critical service to these people," RefugeeOne spokesman Jims Porter said of those on humanitarian parole.
Calling for a legislative fix, RefugeeOne, World Relief and about two dozen other organizations joined federal lawmakers at a news conference Monday to press President Joe Biden and Congress to offer temporary protected status to Afghans in the U.S. and to halt deportations to Afghanistan.
As the U.S. military completed withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war, resettlement agencies preparing to take in an influx of refugees also called on federal officials to rebuild the admissions program after years of cuts during President Donald Trump's administration.
"It's critical that we have an infrastructure and a system in place to support them as they rebuild their lives here," Porter said. "It's also important that we make sure that all Afghans have the eligibility for resources and services available to other refugees since that will help their overall resettlement and ensure that they're successful in starting their new life."
The Biden administration raised the cap on refugee arrivals from the Trump-era limit of 15,000 -- a historic low -- to 62,500 for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
But through July, refugee admissions totaled just 6,246, according to the State Department. Biden has pledged to raise the ceiling to 125,000 for the coming year.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, urged Biden to increase the refugee cap to a "minimum" of 200,000 for fiscal 2022.
"All Afghans of all immigration status must be able to access affordable housing, food, health care and legal and governmental services," Schakowsky said.
More than 122,000 people, including 5,400 Americans, have been evacuated from Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. The "vast majority" are Afghans, said a Pentagon spokesman, who didn't give an exact number at a press briefing Monday.
Chicago-based RefugeeOne will likely welcome up to 200 Afghan families in the coming months. The agency will find homes for most of those families in the West Ridge and Rogers Park neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side to give them easy access to the RefugeeOne office and neighboring social service agencies, Porter said.
World Relief Chicagoland is preparing to resettle approximately 100 Afghans in the suburbs within the next few months, though Executive Director Susan Sperry said the situation continues to evolve.
RefugeeOne and World Relief also provide employment services, English language tutoring and mental health resources.
"After the cuts that we've experienced in recent years under the Trump administration, many of our agencies are in need of extra community support," Porter said, "especially with the consideration that some of the Afghans arriving may not receive some of the federal supports and public benefits that other refugees receive."
Advocates have put out a call for volunteer tutors and mentors, as well as donations, to help Afghan families.
"The United States is uniquely situated to provide refuge to these individuals, especially our wartime allies we promised to protect," Porter said. "Refugee Action Network and our members stand ready to welcome these families to Illinois and walk alongside them as they build their lives here."
How to helpWorld Relief Chicagoland has identified areas of need to support newly arriving Afghan refugees:
Volunteer: People can sign up to volunteer online at chicagoland.worldrelief.org. Volunteers can help with English tutoring, transportation, apartment setup and more.
Mail gift cards: Amazon, Walmart, Uber or gas station gift cards can be sent to World Relief, 191 S. Gary Ave., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Drop off donations: World Relief offices in Carol Stream are collecting household supplies to help refugees rebuild their lives. People can donate new twin and queen/full comforters, new twin bed sheets, baking pans, drinking glasses, cooking utensils, alarm clocks, sewing kits, calendars, envelopes, stamps, small tool kits, rice cookers, instant coffee and black tea. Drop off donations in waterproof packaging and leave them inside the rear door with the World Relief sign at the back of the World Relief office building at 191 S. Gary Ave., Carol Stream.
Give to Amazon wish list: World Relief's Early Childhood Program has a list of needed items on Amazon.
Donate furniture: Contact Melanie Rohla at MRohla@wr.org or call (630) 580-5062 to inquire.