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Newly arrived migrants in Chicago are now able to apply for work permits under a pilot program that launched this week.
The first 150 eligible migrants began the application process for work permits on Thursday.
Only migrants who crossed the border before July 31 are eligible so far, which amounts to about half of the new migrants in Chicago. Migrants must also be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check.
The program, which runs out of clinics whose locations have not been made public, is operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Resurrection Project, a local community group.
The pilot work permit program comes after Chicago pleaded for help from the federal government with the migrant crisis. The Department of Homeland Security visited the city last month to assess the situation.
Deputy Mayor Beatriz Ponce de Leon said the program will hold just over 30 sessions that aim to serve 300 migrants each until mid-February. This will allow the program to issue permits to about 11,000 people, she said.
Some of the city’s older migrants said they have been waiting many years for work permits with no luck.
Chicago has been scrambling to respond to an illegal migrant crisis before the cold winter months arrive. The country’s third-largest city has experienced an influx of more than 18,500 migrants recently, many from Venezuela.
The city has already spent at least $250 million on the issue so far, including plans to build massive winterized camps for newly arrived migrants.
In September, Chicago signed a $29.4 million contract with a private security firm to build the winter camps. The firm will be responsible for building, staffing, and operating the huge tents, which must be able to house between 250 and 1,400 migrants.
Last month, the city was sheltering hundreds of illegal migrants at O’Hare International Airport as it waited for new shelters to be built. Up to 500 migrants have lived at O’Hare at the same time in the crowded area where privacy consists of a curtain closed with staples, although the migrants have spread out beyond the curtain, some sleeping along windows as travelers walk by. A private firm was hired to watch the migrants and their activities.
The haphazard shelter situation raised concerns about public health, as well as safety.
Other major cities are battling a migrant problem as well.
In New York City, more than 130,000 migrants have arrived since last year, many of whom are still being housed on the city’s dime, causing New York City’s homeless shelters to reach their limits and forcing the city to open new facilities.