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Sanctuary cities strive to support the thousands of migrants who arrive by bus

The arrival of thousands of immigrants in New York, Washington, Chicago and beyond has officials in those cities scrambling to set up a system of support services, with mixed 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 offer urgent medical attention and connection to resettlement services. And in Illinois, the governor issued a disaster proclamation to “unlock resources” to help asylum seekers.

But as the buses continue to arrive, activists and volunteers said, the need for more support is becoming clearer, with asylum seekers falling through holes in an already saturated social safety net.

Ariadna Phillips, founder of South Bronx Mutual Aid, said that when immigrant buses started arriving in New York months ago, there were one or two a day. The number can now be as high as eight, she said.

Phillips said migrants have been calling volunteer groups around the city “constantly” with problems, leaving volunteers in rapid response mode.

“The scope and magnitude of the crises is colossal,” he said.

Buses full of undocumented immigrants have arrived at liberal strongholds unannounced this summer as Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have tried to push an anti-immigrant agenda.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said last week that his state has bused 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 is calling Operation Lone Star. Arizona has bused nearly 2,000 people to Washington.

In an escalation of the tactic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week chartered two planes carrying about 50 immigrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The migrants who were part of the trip filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other state officials, claiming they were victims of politically motivated fraud.

‘arrive here with nothing’

Those who arrive need food, clothing and medical care, training from volunteer groups and non-profit agencies.

“Everyone comes here with nothing,” said Ilze Thielmann, TLC NYC team manager.

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

The city and volunteers also work together to provide food, water, and some basic supplies like clothing.

Beyond that, the infrastructure is fragile.

New York Mayor Eric Adams said last week that 8,500 of the 11,000 migrants who have arrived in 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 housing.” a law that guarantees that the city gives shelter to anyone who requests it.

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

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

In Chicago, some Immigrants have been stranded in suburban hotels with limited transportation and still struggle to receive mental health services in the constant reshuffling of housing, advocates said.

At least 60 migrants who were taken to hotels in Burr Ridge and other suburbs to make room for shelters were removed and shipped to Chicago hotels this week after Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, a Republican, criticized Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, for sending them there unannounced, adding that he is “a non-believer in sanctuary cities.”

New aid offices created

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

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

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

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

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

The Chicago Benefit of Hindsight

In some ways, Chicago has had the benefit of hindsight as it prepares for arrivals while watching how the situation has played out in New York and Washington, officials and advocates there said.

“We were preparing by staying in touch with our Catholic Charities partners in both cities, and we learned a lot of good things from them,” said Marie Jochum, senior director of Catholic Charities of Chicago, who has been working with many of the immigrants who went by bus to the city. “That first day at the reception center there was a plan and people knew their roles.”

Chicago has received only about 800 immigrants since August 31.

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

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

Other organizations are providing similar services.

The Little Village Community Council, which has been working independently of the city, has provided migrants with necessities such as underwear and other clothing, and has even installed cell phones.

“Many came with just the clothes they were wearing, sometimes the ones they wore for months,” said Baltazar Enríquez, who runs the local nonprofit agency.

The organization has also already landed some of the immigrants’ cash-paying jobs while they await legal hearings.

“We’ve been helping them integrate into the community,” Enríquez said. “Right now, there is a need for labor and everyone is looking for employees, and we have them here.”

Lack of mental health services

Still, Enríquez said, there is a big gap in that care: mental health services.

“Mentally, they went through a lot” on the way to the United States, he said. “They were beaten. Some of them were even raped. Some of them were imprisoned. I mean, they’re really vulnerable to some trauma.”

Enriquez believes the city can do more to address the trauma. “We’ve been screaming at the top of our lungs about their trauma, but they act like we’re crazy.”

Both the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities say they have providers who screen for mental health and that those doing the intake are bilingual social workers. Mental health screenings are also part of initial medical checkups at city health centers, Jochum said.

Adams, the mayor of New York, urged asylum seekers on Monday to seek the city’s health services if they have mental health problems after an asylum seeker, later described as a mother, killed herself in a shelter. the city.

Thielmann said she has been “sick to her stomach” since hearing the news, wondering if she had greeted the woman, told her “Welcome to New York” and “led her to believe she would be fine here.”

“It’s a real punch in the gut to do this job and know how little we can help sometimes,” Thielmann said through tears. “But the city has to step up, the state has to step up, the federal government has to step up and really serve these people and not just throw them into shelters and make them flounder.”

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