A coalition of west suburban and Austin organizers is demanding the village of Oak Park supports new arrivals in Austin.
At an Oct. 23 rally outside the village’s town hall, the group demanded Oak Park honors its welcoming village designation to provide coordinated support to migrants and asylum-seekers sheltered at Austin police stations. In 2017, the village approved a welcoming ordinance to prevent the village from collecting immigration status information and limiting the village’s cooperation with agencies on immigration enforcement cases.
“If we are communities that continue to advocate that hate has no home here and that we are welcoming to all, it’s time to lift that spirit and start wrapping it into more practical sustainable solutions to the people who are most vulnerable and most directly impacted,” organizer Betty Alzamora of Forest Park told this publication.
Oak Park and west suburban communities need to support new arrivals in Austin because the growing influx of asylum-seekers further strains Austin’s resources, creating more scarcity in an already disinvested environment, said Austin activist and labor organizer Crystal Gardner on a social media post about the Oct. 23 rally.
Many of the organizers have volunteered to help asylum-seekers in Austin since the spring and are calling for organized cooperation between the village and the city of Chicago. Elected officials in Oak Park and neighboring suburban communities must now step up and lift the burden placed on Austin, organizers said.
“We know that we have to join collectively in order to be able to maximize our impact,” Alzamora said.
The grassroots coalition also questioned why the village of Oak Park, which declares to be committed to equity, inclusion and diversity, has not provided aid for the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the police station a few miles away on Madison Street.
Among their demands are village funding and wraparound services for asylum-seekers, as well as the creation of a west suburban task force.
The village of Oak Park “is aware of the growing population of asylum seekers at nearby Chicago Police Department stations, specifically the 15th and 25th District Headquarters,” a village spokesperson told this publication via email.
Oak Park Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer Danielle Walker said she visited the 15th district on Oct. 19 and met with volunteers who “emphasized the need for immediate housing, legal assistance, drinking water, laundry support, and food delivery.”
“Village staff have been engaged for quite some time and the visit only further underscored the urgency for thinking through positive solutions, which we are all committed to,” the village said.
The coalition also is asking Oak Park that welcome migrants to resettle in the area and in other west suburban municipalities.
The Village of Oak Park said that weeks before the rally, it applied for the Supporting Municipalities for Asylum Seeker Services (SMASS) grant in the amount of $7.5 million to serve as a passthrough to organizations such as Housing Forward, Catholic Charities, Beyond Hunger, PCC Wellness, Greater Chicago Legal Clinic, West Cook YMCA, and Thrive Counseling Center. On Oct. 6, the village was informed it was awarded $150,000 to assist in preparation for “future opportunities to support asylum seekers” and it continues to talk with the grant program managers to determine how the funds can be used.
The coalition includes the United Working Families group 290 IPO, community groups Activate Austin and Activate Oak Park, the local grassroots group Indivisible Oak Park Area, and the local youth group Revolutionary Youth Action League.
The push comes amid the increasing influx of asylum-seekers citywide, including in Austin police stations. A few months ago, the 15th Police District had smaller groups of 15 to 20 migrants, but the number has more than tripled in the last few months, causing several of them to camp outside the police station. At the 25th Police District, volunteers have seen the number of asylum-seekers double from one week to the other.
Austin residents decried the city’s plans to turn the local Amundsen Park into a shelter, depriving local community members from existing resources in the community, at a public meeting and subsequent rally.
Faith leader Marshall Hatch said communities with more resources can help respond to this humanitarian crisis at a faith-based meeting early this month. At that meeting, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) questioned why the city of Chicago is able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars into migrant aid when neighborhoods like Austin or Englewood have been historically disinvested.
“When we asked for money to rebuild schools, when we asked for money to open up shelters when we asked for support for our community, how many times were we told that money doesn’t exist?” Lopez said.
Lopez is pushing a proposal that would allow Chicago voters to decide if the city should keep its welcoming city designation in the upcoming election. Chicago’s welcoming city ordinance protects undocumented residents from being prosecuted solely due to their immigration status and provides them access to city services.