OpEd: Chicago is Doing Right in Midst of Humanitarian Crisis


August 1, 2014 | Chicago, IL

Celena Roldan-MorenoNearly 100,000 unaccompanied children have fled to the U.S. this year from their home countries in Central America, seeking refuge from the violence and instability that have threatened their lives and plagued their communities. They arrive here via Mexico, but a vast majority of these children come from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, countries whose murder rates rank among the five highest in the world. Especially Honduras, where there are 90 murders per 100,000 residents—roughly 25 times the murder rate in the U.S.—and universally recognized as the murder capital of the world.

This humanitarian crisis has resulted in overcrowded U.S. detention centers and daily reminders of the nation’s polarized political climate and the fragile state of its broken immigration system.

In the midst of this, it has been all too easy to look past the core of the narrative that has unfolded in recent months: These are refugee children—many of them under the age of twelve—who, as the Washington Post reports, have been separated from their parents, travelled thousands of miles and risked physical abuse and sexual exploitation in order to find asylum and safety at our border. They have experienced unimaginable fear and are escaping gang violence and sexual abuse. They come because they believe in the good America embodies, the good which has prompted us to declare, “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses,” to immigrants and refugees for generations.

That is a sobering reality we cannot afford to overlook.

Earlier this week Mayor Rahm Emanuel made national headlines when he issued a statement declaring that the City of Chicago would respond to this crisis by setting up emergency accommodations to shelter a portion of the child refugees while expanding legal aid services through a network of pro bono attorneys to meet the demands of a rising population of immigrants awaiting a court hearing.

Some have expressed concern about the Mayor’s plans, citing a need to address the litany of problems our neighborhoods already face with regards to homelessness, poverty, education, violence, criminal justice and the like. There has also been disappointing push back at the federal level as Congress is currently at odds over the proposed Border Bill (HR5230), which would provide the much needed legal protections and resources to keep these children from being returned to extremely unsafe conditions in their native countries.

I am Latina and a mother to two children. I am also the Executive Director at Erie Neighborhood House, an organization with settlement house roots dating back to 1870 and a mission that has always concerned itself with the needs of immigrant children and families, both local and extended. These three identities compel me to raise my voice in support of Mayor Emanuel’s plan to open our proverbial doors and provide shelter and aid to these refugee children.

It’s not just compassion that drives my support, however. Erie House has witnessed the dynamic that unfolds when we welcome the immigrant community and empower them with education, social services and opportunities to provide a better life for their families. If we are able to do this faithfully, we find that these individuals can rise up to become doctors, teachers, social workers, and business owners who contribute to stronger communities.

The Mayor’s plan will bring together social service and advocacy organizations such as the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Archdiocese of Chicago, Heartland Alliance and Erie House to be part of a much larger network to advocate for and support the needs of immigrant and refugee children who are to be sheltered here in Chicago while seeking asylum.

Mayor Emanuel is doing the right thing in the midst of this humanitarian crisis, opening the door for us as Chicagoans to reveal our true character and work together for a more just, compassionate and inclusive society.

Celena Roldán-Moreno
Executive Director, Erie Neighborhood House


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Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that reaches 18,000 people annually, empowering them to build better lives while strengthening their communities. ENH offers Chicago’s Latinx and diverse low-income residents a range of community-based education programs. With forward-thinking leadership, ENH is committed to continuing its legacy of cost effective, award-winning programming. For more information, please visit

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