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Borderless Magazine’s Top Stories of 2023

By December 26, 2023January 9th, 2024Immigration Policy

A long-delayed radiation cleanup, an all-women mariachi band, Afghans building community through soccer, and more stories Borderless reported on Chicago’s immigrant communities.

Mustafa Hussain for Borderless Magazine
Shamama soccer team coordinator, Hussein Rezaee, far right, socializes with the rest of the team after a game at West Park in Wilmette, Ill., May 21, 2023.
By December 26, 2023January 9th, 2024Immigration Policy

A long-delayed radiation cleanup, an all-women mariachi band, Afghans building community through soccer, and more stories Borderless reported on Chicago’s immigrant communities.

From asylum seekers looking for a better life to severe storms wreaking havoc on a majority-Latino suburb in Illinois, the Borderless team was on the ground reporting stories with our immigrant communities throughout Chicago and the nearby suburbs in 2023. 

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This year, Borderless Magazine covered the government’s response to the arrival of more Venezuelan migrants coming from the southern border. We highlighted the voices of these asylum seekers while also creating guides for migrants trying to navigate the complex immigration laws and providing resources for people needing support. 

Our reporters and photographers were knocking on doors, speaking with residents to hear their thoughts about a long-delayed radiation cleanup in West Chicago. We also found time to tell inspiring stories from an all-women mariachi band pushing the boundaries of Mexican music and building community in Chicago. 

As we approach the final weeks of 2023 and look ahead to 2024, here are some of the biggest immigration stories we covered this past year: 

After Decades Of Waiting, West Chicago’s Final Radiation Cleanup Begins

Ata Rehman, 42, has lived across the street from a former factory site that produced radioactive thorium in West Chicago since 2016.Efrain Soriano for Borderless Magazine

For decades, West Chicago residents raised health concerns about the former Kerr-McGee factory releasing toxic material. But their worries were dismissed until the early 1970s. It has taken the former factory owner and the government over three decades to clean up the radioactive waste, while many residents have felt left in the dark.

Last year, reporter Liuan Huska took a deep dive into the environmental cleanup and how the suburb’s majority Latino residents were left out of many of the conversations about the dangers of the pollution. Now that the final cleanup process is underway in West Chicago, Liuan brought us an update on her investigation. She talked to residents about the polluted site’s future and explained how this former “radioactive capital of the Midwest” is addressing its toxic legacy. 

Escape from Eriteria: Tsegay Gebreyohanes

Two children play soccer as a man smiles while holding a backpack.
Tsegay Gebreyohanes plays soccer with his sons Simon Afeworki and Eben Afeworki behind their home in Chicago, Ill., Oct. 20, 2023. Gonzalo Guzman for Borderless Magazine

Tsegay Gebreyohanes is a cook by day, a taxi driver by night, and a father looking to give his wife and three young boys a better life.  He shared his nine-year journey to escape Eritrea with Borderless Engagement Reporter Diane Bou Khalil. In his own words, Tsegay takes you on his journey, which began in 2008. Along the way, he was imprisoned in horrifying conditions in Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.

“There was no light, no water, and little oxygen — just a tunnel. The temperatures were hot and humid. There were hundreds of people in one room, and we slept like sardines, one on top of the other,” said Gebreyohanes of his time at Wia military prison in Eritrea, an underground detention facility shaped like a concrete sewer.

How Chicago’s All-Women Mariachi Group Is Embracing Their Roots — And Bucking Tradition

Mariachi Sirenas band members Jennifer Perez, Monique Guerrero and Ibet Herrera sing the chorus of “Las Ciudades” at Fiesta Del Sol in Pilsen, Chicago, Ill., July 30, 2023. Efrain Soriano/Borderless Magazine

Since first stepping on the stage six years ago, Mariachi Sirenas has seen their popularity grow. The group is defying stereotypes of what it means to be a mariachi performer. At Pilsen’s annual Fiesta Del Sol, they played hits like “Las Ciudades” and “Cielito Lindo Huasteco” to a roaring crowd. Borderless Pathways Intern Maia McDonald’s shares the inspiring story behind the group.

Black Immigrants Today: Jean Chrisbene Justin

Jean Chrisbene Justin and his son Oliver Ryan Justin, 5, at Bethlehem Chicago Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chicago, Ill. Feb. 25, 2023. Martine Séverin for Borderless Magazine

One in 10 Black people living in the U.S. is an immigrant. The Black diaspora in the U.S. is ethnically, linguistically and economically diverse, with people from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. 

As part of our series “Black Immigrants Today,” Borderless Magazine’s Sarah Luyengi shares the story Jean Chrisbene Justin, a former police officer in Haiti who left his home country with his son after being threatened by gang members. 

These Chicago Afghans Have Built A Community On The Soccer Field.

Shamama soccer team coordinator, Hussein Rezaee, far right, socializes with the rest of the team after a game at West Park in Wilmette, Ill., May 21, 2023. Mustafa Hussain for Borderless Magazine

Every week, Afghans gather to play soccer in Chicago. The game has helped local Afghan refugees meet each other and feel more at home here.

“After enduring the darkness under the Taliban’s rule, I finally felt alive when I arrived in America,” Abdullah Ghafari told Contributing Reporter Saleha Soadat. 

Pushing Boundaries: How A Pakistani African American Drag King Burst Into Chicago’s Drag Scene

Astrid Houze does her friend Ajit Sharma’s makeup for Satrangi: A Desi Queer Open Mic and Storytelling event at the South Asia Institute in Chicago, Ill., Friday, June 16, 2023.Efrain Soriano/Borderless Magazine

Raised in Houston, Texas, home to one of the largest South Asian populations in the U.S., D’Cameron May didn’t feel very connected to their hometown’s Desi community. But recently, May has found a home in Chicago’s queer immigrant scene, which has helped May grow artistically.

“I love how interconnected the immigrant, specifically the queer immigrant, scene that I’ve hung around with in Chicago is. Everybody really has each other’s back,” May told Borderless Pathways Fellow Katrina Pham.  

Chicago Rapper Shouly Explores His ‘Double Identity’ And Challenges Arab Stereotypes

Bilal Shouly. Samer Almadani for Borderless Magazine

Palestinian-Jordanian musician Shouly was only in middle school when he started writing music as a form of self-expression. After he moved from Amman, Jordan to Chicago in 2014, his love for storytelling through music persisted. 

Today, he has over 10 million views across various music platforms and has performed in Chicago, New York, LA, Abu Dhabi, and Amman. Borderless Engagement Reporter Diane Bou Khalil talked to the Chicago-based rapper about how identity inspires his songwriting, how he’s grown since his debut album and what he’s working on next.

LexisNexis’ Contract With ICE Allows For Illegal Surveillance Of Immigrants, Lawsuit Claims

Claudia Marchan, her son Enrique Espinoza, daughter Ximena Espinoza and mother-in-law Guillermina Peñaranda in their home in Harwood Heights, Ill, February 16, 2023. Marchan worries how the personal information LexisNexis has on her could affect her loved ones. Samantha Cabrera Friend for Borderless Magazine

Chicago-area individuals and immigrant rights advocates for immigrant rights sued the research and data brokerage firm LexisNexis over its collection and sale of immigrants’ personal data in a $22.1 million contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those involved with the lawsuit are concerned that the LexisNexis database removed the typical due process protocols like filing a subpoena or court order to access personal information. 

Borderless Contributing Reporter Chelsea Verstegen took a look at the lawsuit and gave readers a guide to protecting their digital security. 

A Community-Led Approach To Stopping Flooding Expands

The alley behind Juan Jose Avila's home is full of garbage bags of clothes and torn-up couches damaged by flooding in Cicero, Ill., July 3, 2023. Avila says this photo represents a fraction of the estimated $10,000 in damages in the family’s house caused by the flooding. Efrain Soriano/Borderless Magazine

Amid severe storms this summer, some areas in Chicago and the nearby suburbs faced damaged property from the deluge of rain. Aging infrastructure, increased rainfall and rising lake levels have all contributed to more floods. 

One of the hardest hit cities in Cook County, Illinois, was Cicero — a western suburb of Chicago where Latinos account for more than four out of five residents. Pathways program interns Maia McDonald, Efrain Soriano and Katrina Pham spoke with Cicero residents about the damages and the efforts to prevent flooding. 

After Five Long Years, A Venezuelan Family Is Reunited

Frank Sandoval hugs his daughter, Massiel Sandoval, 21, as they are reunited at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., Friday, May 26, 2023. Massiel hadn't seen her father in more than five years.Anthony Jackson for Borderless Magazine

​​Frank Sandoval fled Venezuela and came to the United States in 2018 to save his life. Borderless Contributing Reporter Chelsea Verstegen wrote about Frank’s journey and his work supporting newly arrived Venezuelan migrants last year and the dire shortage of immigration attorneys in the Chicago area. 

In the spring, Verstegen caught up with Sandoval at O’Hare International Airport. After five long years of separation from his wife and daughter, he reunited with his family at the airport.“I’m the happiest man alive right now,” Sandoval told Verstegen.