(CNSNews.com) - A thousand children said to be fleeing the violence in Central America will be welcomed to Chicago, where local children are routinely in the cross-fire of gang-related grudges.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at the request of the Obama administration in which he formerly served, says he is working with local organizations to make room for up to one thousand additional unaccompanied children "traveling" from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border in the coming year.
“The influx of unaccompanied child migrants is a growing humanitarian crisis that we can no longer ignore,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “While we have our own challenges at home, we cannot turn our backs on children who are fleeing dangerous conditions. We will do our part to ensure that these children are given access to services and treated fairly and humanely.”
The city is also asking Chicago law firms to provide free legal assistance to the foreign children.
Emanuel on Wednesday said that his own grandfather left eastern Europe at age 13, all alone, to get away from the violence directed at Jews.
Likewise, "These kids are leaving violence," the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Emanuel as saying. "There are 1,000 kids. We are not only a city of big shoulders. We’re a city of big hearts, and we welcome them and get ‘em on their way. And we will also make sure that the city of Chicago has universal pre-K, universal kindergarten, expanding after-school programs, expanding summer jobs, because the test and measure of this city is how we treat our children.”
Based on reporting by Chicago Tribune staff, there were 440 homicides in Chicago in 2013, down from the 500 counted by the FBI in 2012. So far this year, 223 people have been killed by the Tribune's count, including an 11-year-old girl shot by a stray bullet at a sleepover with friends.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), an amnesty advocate who is pressing President Obama to stop deportations for most illegal aliens in the U.S., says he's proud that Chicago is leading by example in "welcoming migrant children and working with them as their cases are resolved."
The mayor's office said that earlier this month, the federal government approached the Emanuel about the possibility of housing Central American children in a federally-funded facility containing one thousand beds. The federal General Services Administration would oversee and pay for the renovation of the facilities while the Department of Health and Human Services would fund support services for the children, including education, health care, food, security, and legal assistance.
A number of organizations, including the Heartland Alliance and the National Immigrant Justice Center, currently provide housing and legal services to hundreds of children housed at multiple sites in the Chicago area.
At the same time, the mayor is reaching out to organizations and institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, that are willing to offer services to the unaccompanied minors.
“Cardinal George has called on the federal government to allow the Archdiocese of Chicago, including Catholic Charities and Maryville, to assist in this humanitarian crisis," said Monsignor Michael Boland, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
"We, along with the Archdiocese and Maryville, are ready to work with the City in providing counseling, food and clothing, case management, legal assistance and housing to these children with the dignity, care and compassion that every person deserves.”
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