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ALUMNI PROFILE Nubia Willman (JD ’10)

Creating Connections for New Americans

Nubia Willman (JD ’10) represents vulnerable communities in her mayor-appointed role serving Chicago immigrants

When Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Nubia Willman (JD ’10) director of the city’s Office of New Americans in May 2019, she hired someone uniquely qualified for the job. 

Willman, the first lawyer to hold the position, has spent her career representing and empowering some of the city’s most vulnerable residents: people affected by poverty, domestic violence, human trafficking, and employment discrimination. Today, Willman helps set immigration policies and works with city partners—including community organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector—to strengthen economic development, increase civic engagement, and protect the well-being of the city’s more than 560,000 immigrants and refugees.

“Essentially, if there is a new policy, ordinance, program, or initiative that should be created by the city to help immigrants, my job is to research the framework and logistics, and meet with community partners to ensure there is support and that it is the best solution,” Willman says. “Then, I draft a brief with an action plan for the mayor to review.”

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“I love what I’m doing now to help new Americans access programs, get the support they need, and become more civically engaged. Information is power.”

As head of the Office of New Americans—a one-person office—the Mexico-born Willman also acts as a clearinghouse for issues surrounding language barriers, food access, housing assistance, immigrant rights, business ownership, health care, legal assistance for immigrants granted deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), access to remote learning, and school enrollment. On one day she may meet with community leaders at a neighborhood chamber of commerce to discuss solutions to challenges affecting immigrant and refugee communities; on another day, she may connect with national partners on other major issues, such as how to coordinate a response to the latest DACA decision from the Supreme Court.

The coronavirus pandemic in many ways exacerbates difficulties facing immigrants, especially those who own small businesses. For example, undocumented workers and business owners cannot file for unemployment or apply for other federal government benefits—“even though they are and have been an important part of the city’s economic wheel,” Willman says. “So I press my colleagues who create plans for relief and access to review those plans through the lens of immigration,” she says.

At a press conference with U.S. Representative Chuy Garcia and other community leaders, Willman speaks out against the federal administration’s announcement that it was sending border patrol agents to Chicago.

In addition, in keeping with Chicago’s designation as a sanctuary city, Willman’s office helped draft Chicago’s Accountability on Communication and Transparency (ACT) ordinance, which prevents police and fire departments, public schools and colleges, and other city agencies from sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials seeking to deport immigrants or conduct raids.

Willman also cited recent changes to the federal “public charge” rule affecting immigrants by restricting their visas or denying them U.S. entry because of a disability or insufficient funds. “I work with my city partners to let immigrant and refugee communities know that they do not have to forgo necessary health care for fear it might affect their residency status,” she says. “The issues are complex.”

Willman sees her role as instrumental in improving the lives of all Chicagoans “by connecting them on a deeper level to their communities, building stronger relationships within neighborhoods, and removing barriers to government and city agency services and assistance,” she says. 

“I love what I’m doing now to help new Americans access programs, get the support they need, and become more civically engaged,” she says. “Information is power.” –Carla Beecher

From Loyola Law Magazine 2020

20.7%

Immigrants’ share of Chicago’s population, 2016

Source: New Americans in Chicago, New American Economy

22.4%

Foreign-born households held 22.4% of all spending power in Chicago, more than their 20.7% share of Chicago’s population.

Source: New Americans in Chicago, New American Economy

$659 M

Amount generated in business income for Chicago by 39,130 immigrant entrepreneurs.

Source: New Americans in Chicago, New American Economy


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