Columns | Daily Chronicle

Eye On Illinois: Dems’ effort to get migrants working may run up against convention

Do you have plans for Aug. 19, 2024?

Unless you’re already planning to celebrate National Aviation Day, the mid-August Monday some 50 weeks hence is significant primarily to those deeply invested in political machinations, as it represents the opening of the Democratic National Convention at Chicago’s United Center.

Last staged here in 1996, the DNC brings with it countless considerations, and speculation about virtually all of them is both premature and best left to national wonks.

But the clock is already ticking on a local concern. Writing for Capitol News Illinois, Hannah Meisel last month reported city leaders say more than 13,000 asylum seekers have arrived here on buses and planes.

Republican leaders in border states have taken to transporting people from Central and South American nations. If you can set aside the grandstanding and cable news debates, the present-tense reporting seems lifted word-for-word from a history textbook, whether it be political refugees of the early 1850s, the Irish canal builders of the 1880s, the Czechs and Austrians of the early 20th century and more:

“The vast majority are not legally authorized to work in the U.S., leaving them with little choice but to either wait on already stretched-thin services or find under-the-table work, often for extremely low wages and sometimes in dangerous conditions,” Meisel wrote.

There was no federal Department of Homeland Security during those waves, but many conditions were the same: America – if not Chicago specifically – offered a better life than the beloved homeland. The amount of native pride still evident in our municipal melting pot is testament to the ability to celebrate the old and new, sharing traditions, customs, cuisines and culture.

But in a far more practical sense, these people need to work. And with the DNC and its national attention looming, elected officials like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. JB Pritzker and new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson have additional motivation paired with worker shortages across several industries.

That’s why they’re joining with business leaders to urge DHS to let state governments sponsor migrants and other undocumented immigrants to be properly authorized for work. Federal paperwork typically takes months. It can be expensive and confusing. Those systems are in place for good reasons, but if they are inefficient or unable to meet modern demands, it makes sense for local leaders to advocate for change.

“Manufacturers, like retailers and hospitality and hotels and hospitals, are all struggling to find qualified workers, whether engineers or frontline workers, employees of all skill levels who can earn a good wage and benefits,” Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler said.

Many powerful Democrats have a chance to make the city and state a success story. The clock is ticking.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at