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A Bronco will help coordinate assistance for newly arrived migrants in Chicago

A close up photo of a Venezuelan migrant wearing a knit cap, with a bright blue band is seen looking directly at the camera.  The cap is embroidered in red with the name of the city she is in, "Chicago."  She also wears a burnt orange knit gaiter around her face that has a tag sticking out along the seam. Only her dark brown eyes can be seen, along with her left eyebrow.  Her right eyebrow is mostly obscured by the knit cap.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Gleicy Martinez from Venezuela, stands for a portrait after an interview with The Associated Press, Nov. 1, 2023, in a small migrant tent community near a Northside police station in Chicago. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023 that the state will funnel an additional $160 million to help get migrants on their feet in Chicago after arriving from the U.S. southern border, including $65 million to help the city launch “winterized” temporary shelter to avoid people sleeping outdoors as winter arrives. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)

Mayor Brandon Johnson picked the Western alumna to help advise the city on how best to help migrants.

Chicago's Advisory Council on New Americans advises the city on how to improve immigrant services. It’s an issue that gained importance in Chicago over the last year, as Texas started busing thousands of asylum-seeking migrants to northern cities.

Newly-appointed commissioner Ana Gil Garcia is the co-founder of the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance. Garcia, who is Venezuelan-American, said about 22,000 migrants have been bused into the city over the last year, and the city wasn’t prepared for it.

“The situation in Chicago has become very, very serious situation, because we were not expecting, you know, these numbers,” said Garcia, a retired academic who earned a doctorate in education from Western Michigan University in 1992.

Garcia said about 80% of the new migrants are from Venezuela. Half of them are children.

 “We are the only Venezuelan organization in the city, and in the State of Illinois. And when the crisis came last year, from the mayor's office, they immediately called us.”

Garcia said her organization used to send aid into Venezuela, which is facing acute political and economic turmoil.

“Venezuelans who live overseas, right now, we are in this philosophical dilemma. Because we are basically indirectly supporting the regime, because we are sending money, because we are sending boxes with food, because we are sending clothing. Because, you know, we can’t let them die.”

Garcia said her organization changed its focus when Texas Governor Greg Abbott began busing migrants to Chicago in late August 2022. The group is now helps new Venezuelan migrants in Chicago by organizing food and clothing drives, and helping with housing assistance.

Garcia was formally appointed to the Advisory Council on New Americans on Friday.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.