Probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Illinois is Chicago, the Windy City. Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. and, at an estimated 2.7 million residents, over twenty percent of the Illinois population is living there. There are so many Chicago staples; the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, Millennium Park, deep-dish pizza! What about Chicago’s immigrant population?
According to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, immigrants constitute more than one-third of the population in 23 municipalities throughout the Chicago metro region.
But Chicago isn’t the only great thing about Illinois, and it’s not the only Illinois city that immigrants settle in! In total, there are 1.8 million foreign-born residents residing there, and another 1.7 million residents are native-born with at least one immigrant parent. The majority of immigrants have come from Mexico (36 percent of immigrants), India (10 percent), Poland (7 percent), the Philippines (5 percent), and China (4 percent).
Important New Bill for Immigrants in Illinois
The Illinois Way Forward Act (SB 667) was passed by the Illinois State House in late May of 2021 and was signed into law by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in early August. This bill had been led by Representative Lisa Hernandez (Cicero), Senator Omar Aquino (Chicago), and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. With this bill, ICE contracts with local prisons are terminated, and local police are prohibited from collaborating with ICE on civil immigration enforcement, which protects immigrants from facing deportation should they interact with local law enforcement.
The Illinois Way Forward Act also sets up accountability measures to ensure that law enforcement agencies are following state laws that limit police collaboration with immigration agencies, and that protect access to legal protections for immigrant survivors of violence.
Illinois Non-Profits that Support Immigrants and Refugees
The Immigration Project is the principal provider of non-profit immigration legal services in Central and Southern Illinois. Their mission is to help the under-served immigration population by providing access to justice through immigration-related legal and educational services. They also share the impactful immigration stories of their immigrant employees and people they have helped in the past. Below is a 2018 Snapshot of the work The Immigration Project achieved in helping the community.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) is another non-profit dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social and political life in the diverse Illinois society. They have several programs and initiatives that help immigrants and refugess gain access to health care, proper nutrition, education, and more.
Art and Media
In Flux: Chicago Artists and Immigration is a multidisciplinary exhibition with over 20 contributing artists that highlight the influence and impact of immigrant artists on Chicago.
“The exhibition responds to the current political climate to highlight how Chicago was built with immigrant labor, particularly in the arts, and is continuously shaped today by exemplary immigrant artists . . . In Flux illustrates a living and evolving legacy between past and present work by Chicago immigrants in art and design.”
This year, for National Immigrants Day on October 28th, Illinois State University will be doing a 24-hour art installation called I Am Here. We Are Here. We Belong. They will be hosting a program where leaders from the university and the community will speak and reflect on the contribution of immigrants in American society. The Immigration Project will be participating in the event as well!
The installation will be a collection of flags designed with input from the community. Dr. Maura Toro-Morn, a design collaborator, stated;
“The gathering of these flags will become a visual illustration of the force of immigration to shape the landscape of our communities, our university, our state, our nation, and our world.”
The India Bulletin is the most read Indian Newspaper in Chicago. Its target audience are people of South Asian heritage living in the midwest. They offer non-partisan news stories, and entertainment coverage for free at over 450 locations including all major South Asian grocery stores, markets, temples, restaurants, and more! They also mail to subscribers all throughout Illinois.
Immigrant Impact on the Economy
One in six workers in Illinois is an immigrant, and they have contributed tens of billions of dollars in taxes. In 2018, Immigrant-led households paid $12.7 billion in federal taxes and $7.7 billion in state and local taxes. Undocumented immigrants paid millions, in federal taxes they paid $945.5 million, and in local/state taxes they paid $708.9 million. Immigrants also contributed nearly 50 billion dollars in spending power.
In 2018, immigrant business owners accounted for 23 percent of all self-employed Illinois residents, and they generated 2.8 billion dollars in business income. Below are more interesting statistics on immigrant participation in Illinois society and economy.
The distribution of education level among immigrants in Illinois is very similar to that of the native-born residents. The main difference is in the ‘some college’ and ‘less than high school diploma’ sections. The percentage of residents with degrees however is fairly similar.
Illinois State University is dedicated to providing an education to all, regardless of citizenship status. Undocumented students, with or without DACA, will be considered by admissions no differently than a native born citizen.
Are Immigrants Welcome Here?
Although the source may be biased, the evidence is not, an article on Illinois.gov states that Illinois is the most welcoming state in the nation for immigrants.
The Illinois Way Forward Act is a huge step in protecting the dignity and safety of immigrants and their human rights. Governor JB Pritzker shares his mission for welcoming immigrants in Illinois,
“Throughout my governorship I’ve directed my administration to adopt policies that make Illinois a welcoming state for immigrants, and I’m proud to sign these accountability measures into law to advance our cause. Every family, every child, every human being deserves to feel safe and secure in the place they call home. I am committed to making sure that value defines what it means to live in Illinois.”
Illinois has a community and political leaders that are using their platforms to advocate for immigrants and to create an environment where immigrants are celebrated.
Read more here about the bills signed by Governor JB Pritzker that make Illinois a welcoming immigrant state.
Jessica recently graduated with her Master of Arts in Spanish Literature at Texas Tech University, where her studies inspired her to follow a career in non-profit work advocating for the Latin American and immigrant community in the Americas. Working with Latina Republic gives her an opportunity to pursue her dream by sharing stories and spreading awareness about the beautiful and rich cultures of Latin America, and the difficult lives Latin Americans face in and outside of the U.S. For Jessica, this is the beginning of a long career in advocacy for social, political, and environmental justice for all.