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Chicago’s Undocumented Immigrants Are Eligible for City Coronavirus Relief Programs

Mayor Lightfoot officially clarifies the policy with an executive order

Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In America
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Photo by Chris Sweda-Pool via Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for benefits through the federal government’s $2 trillion stimulus package, which also includes a relief stipend under the CARES act. That could have a detrimental effect on Chicago’s restaurants; Sam Toia, president & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, has repeatedly referred to immigrants as “the backbone of the industry.”

Now, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday issued an executive order granting undocumented immigrants and refugees, who are sometimes forgotten, a variety of city benefits, including money from the city’s Small Business Resiliency Loan Program.

About 1.3 million hospitality workers lack documentation, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Under Lightfoot’s order, undocumented immigrants in Chicago officially have access to programs like COVID-19 grants from the city’s housing department. Last month, the city pledged to issue 2,000 grants of $1,000 each. Lightfoot’s order was the right move morally, says Toia, who’s also working with Gov. Pritzker on the state level and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee) on the federal level. On the city level, Lightfoot’s order on Tuesday “shows the immigrant community that the city of Chicago has their backs.”

Lightfoot’s order doesn’t change city policy, but it affirms that resources are available, which is invaluable to restaurants owners trying to navigate the many spokes of the crisis. Clarification on who can apply can help to ensure that aid gets to the folks who need it the most. Many City Council members have bemoaned that the federal government didn’t do enough to help undocumented immigrants with legislation. But the city can also do more, said 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who represents Logan Square. That includes creating an immigrant resiliency fund, which he has asked the mayor to do, according to the Sun-Times.

There’s anxiety from business owners that the government will run out of money, but Toia says it’s not too late to apply for help. The treasury department on Tuesday asked the government to add at least $200 billion in aid to the $300 billion previously announced. Toia points out that those successful in securing money from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program can spend those funds on all their employees; using the money on undocumented workers is also an option. Toia suggests those interested in financial aid should periodically check back with the association’s website for information, including webinars.

Though Lightfoot’s order is seen as a boost to morale, Rick Rodriguez remains unsure. Rodriguez is a DACA recipient from Mexico, and he and brother David ran WHISK in Ukrainian Village until it closed earlier this year. WHISK’s financial picture was already bleak before the outbreak, but the brothers still want to revive the restaurant.

“But if we don’t get some help with any of this, WHISK won’t reopen,” he said.


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