Closing of Chicago Clinics Affects Undocumented Immigrants

Members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League have been supporting the movement against the closing of mental health clinics in Chicago. This blog was written by Xanat Sobrevilla and Sean McClellan, two IYJL organizers. For more information and to get involved visit or send an email to

When you have mental health you believe you are valuable, that you are a human being, that you can do something good for someone else, that you can help someone else. You can always help others. Its so, so important. — Consumer, Back of the Yards Mental Health Clinic (translated from Spanish).

The 2012 city budget pushed through the city council by the mayor’s office last month slashes funding for services that many immigrant families rely on. Particularly egregious are cuts to the city’s public health budget that will force six of Chicago’s twelve public mental health clinics to close. Because these clinics treat patients without regard to immigration status, ability to pay, or possession of insurance they are some of the only sources of mental health care for many of the city’s most disenfranchised. This is especially true for undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for state and federal health benefits (despite their contributions through taxes) and are unlikely to receive health insurance from their jobs or make enough money to pay for services themselves.

The clinics located in Back of the Yards and Logan Square, two of the clinics selected to close, are the city’s only bilingual clinics and the only clinics located in Latino communities. An employee at the Back of the Yards clinic estimated that as many as 90% of the patients seen there are immigrants.

The clinics are being shutdown as part of a an effot to reduce the $635 million dollar deficit projected for the city of Chicago in 2012. Defenders of these cuts claim the city budget is in such bad shape that there is no other option. However, shutting down the clinics will only save the city $3.3 million dollars next year. This is a small amount compared to the sums spent on other projects supported by the mayor including controversial corporate incentives financed with TIF money.  As the  analysis from the New York Times points out, the long term impact of closing these clinics will outweigh any short term savings.

Consumers at the clinics and their communities are fighting to keep the clinics open, but so far there has been no significant response from Mayor Emanuel and the city council.  A sit-in, a protest at a city council meeting, a passionate outcry at a clinic staff meeting and phone calls to aldermen and the Mayor have been disregarded by the administration. Last Monday consumers and their supporters from the Back of the Yards Clinic and the Northwest Clinic gathered at the office of Alderman George Cardenas, representative of Chicago’s 12th Ward and chair of the city’s mental health committee, to demand a council hearing on the clinic closings. Cardenas snuck out through the back door and sent an aid to tell his constituents he was not there.

At the beginning of the month Mayor Emanuel appointed Adolfo Hernandez to be the first director of the Chicago Office of New Americans, as part of making Chicago the “most immigrant-friendly city in the world.”  We argue that the closing of these clinics deprive hundreds of immigrant families of the mental health services they depend on.

We believe that the Emanuel administration, our alderman, and immigrant rights organizations need to consider immigrants as whole people. What happens to an undocumented immigrant’s mental health when they live in constant fear of deportation? What happens to immigrants who have to struggle with depression before they can get out of bed and go to work each morning? Are immigrants haunted by bipolar disorder or schizophrenia valued by the administration?

We are valuable because we are human beings and as human beings we deserve respect  and dignity. If we develop a mental illness we deserve support from the city to which we contribute. An immigrant friendly city is not a city that recognizes immigrants as some sort of input to an economic growth model. An immigrant friendly city is a city that recognizes immigrants as human beings.

For those of you in Chicago, please CALL YOUR ALDERMAN and tell them to hold hearings on the impact of clinic closures/privatizations and to take action to halt the closure and privatization of our City’s public clinics. Also please call the Mayor at (312) 744-3300. Most importantly, please spread the word and volunteer to help us out! We are regularly doing actions, knocking on doors, phone-banking and more. The clinics are about 1-2 months away from closure if we don’t stop it! For more information and to get involved visit or send an email to

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