Illinois Immigrants Win Meeting With IDHS Leadership, Deliver Moving Testimony to House Committee

April 1, 2015

Illinois Immigrants Win Meeting With IDHS Leadership, Deliver Moving Testimony to House Committee

(Chicago, April 1, 2015) – With chants of “No more cuts,” dozens of immigrants and their allies marched to the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) office here, where they won a meeting with department leadership to discuss the Governor’s threat to zero out funding for critical investments in the immigrant community. “The proposed cuts not only will squelch the aspirations of immigrants and squander their talents—the cuts would also hurt Illinois’s economy,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), which planned the march in conjunction with its member organizations. “That message seems finally to be getting through, and the department’s promise to meet with us is a hopeful sign. Still, a meeting is just the start, and we’re determined to fight for the funding our communities rely on.”

Just as the marchers were arriving at IDHS offices, a few blocks away at an Illinois House Human Services Appropriations Committee hearing, Erika Meza detailed the devastating effects the potential cuts would have. Erika is the kind of go-getter we would all be proud to call our neighbor and friend. A Peruvian immigrant and a devoted mother, she built her own business and helps others to pursue their dreams. “When I came here, life was difficult for me. But with the help of Mujeres Latinas en Accion [a Chicago-based immigrant-serving organization], I am here today living the American Dream,” she told the Committee.

Yet the very infrastructure that has enabled her success is in danger of crumbling or disappearing altogether as a result of Governor Rauner’s threat to zero out the Immigrant Services Line Item (ISLI), which today funds immigrant-serving organizations like Mujeres. At the hearing, Erika and other clients served by ICIRR members organizations detailed the very real effects these cuts would have. Born and raised in Peru, she was pursuing a career in law when, in 2007, she came to the United State on a fiancée visa. Her first years in the U.S. weren’t easy: “I suffered cultural shock; it’s a stress being away from my country, the place that had been home,” she said. Erika first turned to Mujeres to become an entrepreneur, joining the organization’s Empresarias del Futuro group, which offers entrepreneurship training to women starting or expanding their own businesses. After Erika graduated from the program, and with her business selling handmade Peruvian crafts thriving, she wanted to give back, so she volunteered for the New Americans Initiative campaign, assisting other immigrants with their citizenship applications.

Despite her own business success, it was not until recently that Erika submitted her own application. As she told the Committee, she now worries that her application and those of the others she’s helped are in peril.

Hayate Bachar is also an immigrant who, like Erika, sought help from an immigrant-serving organization.  Hayate, originally from Morocco, became the legal guardian of her two grandchildren after her son’s divorce, but her husband’s disability meant that they didn’t have the resources to provide for the whole family. Lacking proficient English, Hayate was unsure where to turn until she learned through her mosque of the Muslim Women Resource Center. The Center provided her with the language-accessible assistance she needed to apply for food stamps and Medicaid, as well as to get help with her utility bills and to schedule important cancer screenings. Finally, with her financial and health circumstances secured, she started on the path toward citizenship. And now she pays it forward as an outreach volunteer, working to help others on their own roads to self-sufficiency.

As the Committee heard, without proper funding, the organizations Erika and Hayate relied on for necessary help in filling out paperwork and learning the material for the citizenship test, and for help in accessing vital services including education and healthcare, will have to cut back, making it difficult for Illinois’s immigrants to realize their full potential.

According to Benito, “Those who become citizens, freed from the shadow economy, earn approximately $20,000 more each year than those who remain non-citizens. The state’s immigrant services expenditures are not a burden, rather they represent an investment with the potential for five-fold returns in tax revenues and even more in general economic activity.”

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society. For more information, visit www.icirr.org.

-END-