Similar to the Salvadorans, Guatemalans numbered very few in Illinois prior to the 1980s. A wave of migrants came to the United States and to the Chicago area, fleeing the intense and extreme violence of civil war.
The United States, in particular Chicago, played a vital role in aiding and providing shelter to Guatemalans seeking refuge from their war-torn country. In 1981 the government of Guatemala launched a scorched earth campaign that resulted in genocide, torture, and other war crimes against anyone suspected of participating in or empathizing with revolutionaries. This campaign continued into 1982, and it has been described as â€œthe most intense years of the 36-year civil war.â€72 During this time, the U.S.-based Sanctuary Movement offered protection to Central American refugees. Many Chicago-based churches and organizations provided assistance to Guatemalans and Salvadorans facing deportation.
Guatemalan refugees thus joined the Salvadorans who were fleeing their own political persecution. Refugees from various parts of Guatemala, and hailing from various ethnic groups, were part of the Sanctuary Movement and many of them had suffered torture and other unspeakable acts. During the 1990s there was another large wave of migrants from Guatemala, owing to extreme poverty and natural disasters. Various Chicago service organizations have estimated that Guatemalans in Chicago numbered up to 80,000 by 2000. The 2000 census reported 19,444 in the Chicago metropolitan area.73