Illinois lawmakers pledge to welcome, support hundreds of Afghan refugees

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Nearly 100 countries have pledged to take in people fleeing Afghanistan. As a result, about 500 refugees are expected to re-settle in Illinois.  

Refugee One spokesman Jims Porter told WGN in a written statement: “They’ve already begun arriving and will continue to arrive in greater numbers in the weeks and months ahead.” The refugee advocacy group based in Chicago aids immigration and naturalization services.

On Wednesday, US Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) held an online news conference to address the ongoing refugee situation.   

“I will do everything I can in Illinois to make sure we are a welcoming state to those who qualify to be treated with that status,” he said.

Durbin says special immigrant visas will likely be granted to those who worked with American forces or aided the mission in Afghanistan.   

“In this circumstance, we’re dealing with individuals who have come to us after having proven some commitment to this country – even if they had never seen it,” Durbin said. 

The senator added that dozens of refugees would likely enter through Chicago O’Hare Airport after a thorough vetting. 

“It’s policy of this country not to let anyone into this country who is dangerous, nor allow anyone to stay using questionable legal status who is a danger to anyone,” Durbin said.  

Refugee advocates say the re-locations in Chicago will be the North Side neighborhoods of Rogers Park and West Ridge – close to the Refugee One organization offices. Officials say the challenges then become feeding and housing a population with no roots in the community. 

“We usually partner with local landlords who are willing to rent to refugees, which can be hard to find because most refugees don’t have a rental, credit, or employment history and don’t have jobs upon arrival,” Durbin said.  

Durbin added that providing initial assistance – especially to those who worked with Americans during the 20-year-war – should be a congressional priority.   

“We will have to provide new resources for these refugees to get on the ground, settled down and move forward.” 

Ald. Andre Vazquez (40th Ward) is one of 20 Chicago City Council members who sent a letter to President Joe Biden reiterating that the city is ready and willing to help to relocate Afghans.

“Those who have helped us, we should have their back,  and so that is what we’re going to do in the city,” Vazquez said.  

Vasquez said he drafted a resolution that would formalize the city’s position, adding that he will go before the council at September’s meeting. He believes accepting refugees is central to the American ideal and the city’s values.

“It’s what we were founded on. It’s why we have the Statue of Liberty – to accept people who need help,” he said. “And we need to live the values that we claim to be about.”

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