HUMBOLDT PARK — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Friday afternoon visited Humboldt Park, the city's Puerto Rican enclave, to formally call on President Donald Trump to provide more aid to the hurricane-ravaged island.
"We have not done enough. We must do more. And we must do it quickly," said Durbin, flanked by local politicians Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) and State Sen. Omar Aquino, as well as representatives from groups like the Puerto Rican Agenda.
Durbin continued, saying, "We are literally talking about life and death in many of these communities that are without power, without access to water, with no place to turn."
State Sen. Omar Aquino, Ald. Milly Santiago and Ald. Roberto Maldonado talking to U.S. Sen Dick Durbin at a private meeting before the press conference. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
The senator addressed reporters at the press conference, held at the Puerto Rican National Museum, 3015 W. Division St., after meeting privately with local leaders.
To combat what he described as an "emergency," Durbin formally unveiled an eight-step action plan that he developed with a few of his colleagues in the senate. In it, the politicians urge the president to provide more money for Medicaid in Puerto Rico, expedite food delivery, coordinate relief efforts with federal organizations and restore power, among other actions.
Read the full action plan here.
Durbin said the federal government's initial response to the hurricanes was inadequate and the action plan is designed to make up for lost time.
"When it came to Texas, Louisiana and Florida, we had planned and pre-positioned resources. So when the hurricane struck, as devastating as it was to the families and communities, we were there in a hurry with large numbers. Not the case in Puerto Rico," Durbin said. "I think we are moving, but we have so much to catch up on."
When asked what accounted for the delay, Durbin said, "I don't think we were prepared, and I don't think they have the resources. I don't think we really understood the devastation. It was much more than we anticipated."
The island was recently battered by not one, but two hurricanes, with the latter, Hurricane Maria, being the most devastating. Hurricane Maria created a wave of destruction, leaving countless people without homes, food, water or belongings. The powerful storm, which killed at least 16 people, also wiped out the entire island's electric system.
According to Durbin's office, Illinois ranks seventh for the largest Puerto Rican population in the country with more than 200,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Maldonado said he expects to see a "massive migration" of Puerto Ricans to Chicago in the wake of the disasters.
"We need to start preparing for that," Maldonado said.
The alderman said he and Durbin are looking to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on ways to waive regulations so Puerto Ricans can more easily get subsidized housing in the city.
The U.S. Virgin Islands also suffered great damage from the storm.