Four months into her pregnancy, at the detention center, she fell ill. Immigration officials quickly sought to release her to an outside facility, she says, hoping to avoid another potentially high-profile mishap involving a pregnant undocumented immigrant in custody.
But where would she go? Immigration officials turned to the Marie Joseph House of Hospitality—less a house, really, and more of a floor in the Catholic Theological Union dormitory in Hyde Park. Twenty people, mostly women and young children, are given a room, a bus pass, food, and some pocket money. Essentially, though, they’re given a community setting as they try to find work to help pay for a lawyer to represent them in expensive immigration proceedings.
In the past few months, a growing number of undocumented immigrants released from area detention centers, either by parole or bond, have found refuge at the Marie Joseph House and the House of Hospitality in Cicero, two homes operated by the Chicago-based Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, or ICDI. Lacking a work permit and with court dates sometimes years in future, those immigrants would normally be released out to the streets, sometimes living in overnight homeless shelters, not knowing anyone in the country. These homes offer an alternative, and one that immigration officials requested in the Eritrean woman’s case.
“Asylum seekers struggle to get stable and get on their feet,” says Becky Sinclair, one of two case managers at the homes. “Our goal is for everyone to be independent and have a decent job, and be able to have their own apartment and be a functioning member of society.” Asylum-seekers can apply for work-authorization papers 150 days after filing for asylum, a process that can itself sometimes take 90 days. During that time, the ICDI homes fill in the gaps. Once people can work and find jobs, the money they earn often goes to family members back home or, in some cases, to the traffickers that helped get them to the United States, Sinclair says.
The house in Hyde Park is full right now, with a long waiting list of undocumented immigrants, most of whom are asylum seekers, wanting a shot to get back to work. There’s only enough rooms for 20 people, each room equipped with old furniture from the Palmer House Hotel downtown—a double bed, a desk, a desk chair, a recliner, and a dresser. The two case managers assist residents in scheduling English classes, doctor’s appointments, and so on, and helping them get around.
Every member of the house signs a covenant committing them to avoiding drugs and alcohol, contributing to house chores such as vacuuming the hallways and running the dishwasher, keeping the common room and the tiny kitchen clean, and abiding by a 10:30 p.m. curfew on weekdays and 11:30 p.m. curfew on weekends.