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Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World

posted on: Aug 23, 2021

Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
The Chicago skyline with the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in the center. Photo: TTNews

By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer


The city of Chicago is known for many things; its deep-dish pizza, interesting politics, worldwide cultures, Lake Michigan, and the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. But were you aware that Chicago is also a center of immigration for refugees of the Arab World to come to and live here? Chicago’s government has instituted many policies over the years to make the city a safe haven and an important destination for those seeking to escape war-torn countries and conflicts to live freely in the United States with more opportunities for security, growth, and prosperity.

Modern Immigration Patterns to Chicago from the Arab World:

Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
A map of Chicago. Photo: Pinterest

In recent years, multiple conflicts in the Arab World have caused Arabs to leave their homelands to become refugees to escape violence, economic issues, and other problems. Most Americans know that the ongoing Syrian Civil War has increased the number of people seeking refugee status in the United States, but were you aware that individuals from other countries and territories have also sought asylum and refugee status to come and live in Chicago? Chicago has seen an influx of refugees coming from “Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya” in the last decade and beyond. So, what are the common threads between all these countries and territories that make people need to seek refugee status? Perhaps, it is war, unstable government systems, and a lack of economic opportunity. The city of Chicago has now become an important destination for Arab refugees to emigrate to because of its status as a global city, and one that is accepting of all.

Why is Chicago a Welcoming City for Refugees?

Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
A protester holds up a sign saying, “Refugees are welcome!”. Photo: Global Citizen

So, what kind of advocacy work is being done to assist refugees from the Arab World so they can come here and live in Chicago? The city of Chicago has many resources to help refugees including advocacy programs to assist with the resettlement process and knowledge of the legalities to be able to gain US citizenship, and there are agencies that provide many social services as well.

In January 2021, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a nonpartisan think tank published a report on how “Chicago has become a hub for refugees,” and one can see why. Their report stated that “Chicago is home to four resettlement agencies and multiple ethnic-based nonprofit organizations [to provide critical services including] after-school programming, case management, senior services, citizenship classes, and even mentoring for young people.”

One prominent organization is the Syrian Community Network (SCN) which works to “resettle Syrian refugees,” and they work with youth to help them find jobs, provide mentoring, and assistance with schooling. Other organizations include MIRA (the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance) that works primarily with Iraqi refugees and the Arab American Action Network that works to provide “equity and justice to the entire Arab American community.”

Chicago’s Politics Are Welcoming to Refugees:

Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
Syrian refugees escaping its ongoing civil war. Photo: Info Migrants

Chicago has passed many laws that make it a city that is safe to go and provides refuge from federal intervention especially in response to the former Trump administration. Refugees, in general, are now much safer in seeking status under President Joe Biden’s administration especially since he has also increased the cap number, but hopefully, in the future, that will continue to grow so more people can have the opportunity to come here and start a new life.

Chicago has had a long history of creating laws that benefit refugees. In March 1985, the Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, a Democrat “signed an executive order stating that the city could not ask job and licensing applicants about their US citizenship status, and it also halted cooperation by [Chicago’s] agencies with federal immigration authorities.” Then four years later in April 1989, Mayor Richard M. Daley, another Democrat, signed an executive order stating for the first time that “Chicago would become a sanctuary city by giving anyone regardless of citizenship status, access to employment, benefits, and licenses.”

Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
A sign on a lamppost with Chicago’s flag detailing the city as a “sanctuary city.” Photo: The Progressive Magazine

In 2006, the sanctuary city bill “officially became a law with a unanimous vote by the Chicago City Council, 44-0.” In 2017, and under pressure from the Trump administration, the city and its former Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, “reaffirmed its status as a sanctuary city.” Over the years, and especially in response to the former Trump administration’s stance on immigration, the city has been victorious in winning numerous court cases where federal judges have ruled in Chicago’s favor to prevent his anti-immigration laws from ever taking effect.

Finally, in April 2020, and, in the early throes of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, yet another Democrat, signed an executive order “ensuring that refugee and immigrant communities have equal access to benefits and services provided by the city, including COVID-19 disaster relief.” Lightfoot continues to support the Arab American community by issuing proclamations to celebrate National Arab American Heritage Month because in April 2021 she declared the month as such. Before Biden’s election, Lightfoot was a fierce advocate in protecting immigrants and refugees from Trump’s wrath which was, largely, and thankfully, ineffective. She continues to fight for all her constituents even now after Biden’s election.


Chicago: A Welcoming City for Refugees from the Arab World
Chicago’s skyline. Photo: LinkedIn

Chicago welcomes refugees with open arms because it is known that diversity makes the place stronger, and these people contribute to the beautiful cultural richness of this city. Refugees and immigrants become a part of the community and are well-respected in the city and Chicago love them back. They build families, businesses, careers, livelihoods, and become successful here. Finally, Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have “one of the largest communities of Arab Americans” in this city and beyond. The Chicagoland area has a large number of immigrants and refugees from “Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt,” but just about everyone is represented here which is a wonderful thing. So, Chicago is not just known for its wonderful deep-dish pizza, but it is also a place where refugees and immigrants can start anew and build their legacies in the ‘Windy City.’

For more information on how you can help Arab refugees and immigrants in Chicago, please visit the websites of the organizations listed in the article:

Syrian Community Network (SCN)

Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance (MIRA Chicago)

Arab American Action Network (AAAN)

Check out Arab America’s blog here!