Chicago Sun-Times

Higher education can do more to help our city’s immigrants

- BY CHRISTOPHE­R TIRRES AND OLYA GLANTSMAN The views and opinions expressed by contributo­rs are their own and do not necessaril­y reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

Anew Gallup poll shows Americans are growing increasing­ly dissatisfi­ed with immigratio­n: Across party line, people are expressing a desire to curb the number of immigrants entering the U.S.

Regardless of where one stands on this issue, one pressing question remains: What can be done for the millions of immigrants who already live and work here, many of whom have U.S.-born spouses and children?

We come to this question as university educators, who ourselves grew up in immigrant-rich contexts. (Olya is from Ukraine, and Chris is from El Paso, Texas.) While our places of birth are near-opposites globally, our stories are connected in two ways.

First, our homelands remain ever-present flashpoint­s in our ongoing national discord over immigratio­n. Second, and more importantl­y, as university educators we see real potential for colleges and universiti­es to make a difference.

Nonprofits can’t do it alone

We now each reside in Chicago, and we have seen firsthand that for many Chicagoans, the strains and stresses of immigratio­n are never far away. Astounding­ly, one in three children in Chicago has at least one immigrant parent. Further, 1.7 million immigrants reside here, constituti­ng 18% of the city’s population. The immigrant share of the U.S. population is about 15%, representi­ng 48 million people.

All of this leaves us asking: What can folks in higher education do to better serve our immigrant neighbors?

A good starting point is recognizin­g the strengths of local networks. Illinois and Chicago have long been immigrant-welcoming places, and a vast infrastruc­ture of nonprofit organizati­ons is doing incredible work serving migrant population­s. Today, the greater Chicago area is home to close to 100 immigrant-serving organizati­ons that cater to a multiplici­ty of nationalit­ies in a stunning array of languages.

But we know when it comes to immigratio­n reform and advocacy, it takes a village, even in an immigrant-welcoming state such as ours. The important work of serving immigrants cannot fall on the backs of nonprofits alone.

Colleges and universiti­es across our state — and across our nation — can play important roles in serving immigrant population­s. But fostering collaborat­ive and reciprocal relationsh­ips with local immigrant-serving organizati­ons is crucial. Universiti­es can be most helpful to the extent that we recognize and prioritize the good work these organizati­ons are already doing in our communitie­s.

What do community organizati­ons need?

In recent years, a number of universiti­es have been forging initiative­s that encourage faculty, staff and students from a variety of discipline­s to tackle migration issues in a collective and concerted way.

A key element of this work is listening to — and learning from — local community partners.

The newly launched DePaul Migration Collaborat­ive is doing exactly this. In the spring of 2022, DePaul hosted an immigratio­n summit that brought together leading experts in the field of immigratio­n, as well as local community advocates and activists from nearly 30 community organizati­ons.

We assembled a team of graduate students and faculty to conduct focus groups to learn more about the strengths, challenges and barriers of Chicago-based organizati­ons. Over the summer, we produced a report of our findings and invited community partners to share their feedback.

These gatherings have helped to illuminate four priority areas among partner organizati­ons, including the following: direct legal service for immigrants and basic legal training for support staff; mental health services for both immigrants and staff, who often experience vicarious trauma; translatio­n services for legal, health and other official documents; and basic technology assistance, including website developmen­t and social media enhancemen­ts.

Having identified these priority areas, the next step is working with community partners to help tackle such challenges.

Universiti­es and colleges are well poised to help. DePaul, for example, is home to a highly respected Asylum and Immigratio­n Law Clinic, an exemplary Center for Community Health Equity, community-facing programs in Community Psychology, an innovative new program in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, a capable Translatio­n Corps and a cutting-edge College of Digital Media and Computing.

Although forging meaningful partnershi­ps with community organizati­ons takes a fair amount of time and foresight, it can be highly rewarding. As we assembled our 10-person research team, we were amazed to discover that many team members were immigrants or refugees themselves and/or individual­s who continued to maintain strong ties to familial homelands with rich immigratio­n histories, including Ukraine, Mexico, Malta, India, Cuba, Argentina and China.

It is hard to know whether we will see comprehens­ive immigratio­n reform in our lifetimes. But there are steps that higher-ed can take, right here and now, to help immigrants and the organizati­ons that serve them.

And a good first step is listening.

Christophe­r Tirres is the inaugural endowed professor of diplomacy and interrelig­ious engagement at DePaul University and a public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. He grew up in El Paso, Texas. Olya Glantsman is senior profession­al lecturer and director of DePaul’s BA/MA and MS programs in community psychology. She grew up in Ukraine.

 ?? MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP ?? Groups in Chicago and across the country are helping immigrants, including the millions who already live and work here and have U.S.-born spouses and children.
MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP Groups in Chicago and across the country are helping immigrants, including the millions who already live and work here and have U.S.-born spouses and children.

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