Chicago Sends Migrants to Police Stations as City Scrambles to Find Space
FAIR Take | May 2023
In her last few weeks as Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot turned to the Chicago Police to provide shelter to illegal aliens arriving from the border. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of migrants have been sleeping and eating meals on the floors of police stations because the City – a staunch sanctuary city – has been unable to find other options.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, hospitals, hotels and short-term rentals have all declined to take in the asylum-seekers because they view the crisis as a public health matter. Two weeks ago, aides to Mayor Lightfoot warned City Council members that Chicago was out of money, space and time to handle the crisis. At least 8,500 illegal aliens have arrived in Chicago since last summer. The city is now seeing between 100 and 200 migrants arrive daily. Roughly 3,100 are being housed in shelters.
The use of police stations to house migrants has put severe strain on the officers who are still trying to carry out their law enforcement mission. John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, told the Sun-Times that bed bugs have been “a consistent issue.” He also noted that there has been a lice problem at the Near West District and cases of chickenpox at the Shakespeare District, adding that it’s “improper” to use police buildings and resources to house immigrants. The 12th District Station reportedly had over 100 migrants living and sleeping on its floors and started to turn migrants away.
Feeding the migrants has also proven difficult. Boxes of meal rations that were sent to one district last week had expired in September 2020, and a notice was sent out urging police officials to return any expired meals they’d received. A police source complained that officers are being given “zero assistance” from the city, leaving them to personally support those in need. He recalled sending a tactical officer to grab food for a group of immigrants and personally purchasing baby wipes and diapers for an infant after his district started filling up in recent weeks.
Chicago’s neighborhoods are also feeling the impact of the migrant crisis. The first week of May, an after-school program at Brands Park in Avondale announced it was relocating because the City decided to convert the building at the park into a temporary shelter for migrants. To accommodate the migrants, the City is moving children enrolled in the after-school programs to Horner Park and Linne Elementary. Parents who picked up their kids from Brands Park that week were simply told their children couldn’t come back.
In the South Shore neighborhood this week, residents engaged city officials in a heated debate after plans were announced to use the former high school there as a shelter for migrants. The City’s plan is to use the first floor of the former high school, which is currently being used as a police training facility, to provide temporary space to 500 asylum-seekers while local officials search for long-term housing options. Attendance at the community meeting was at capacity, and residents pressed city officials about how much the plan would cost and what impact it would have on crime. City officials promised 24-hour policing.
One week before her term in office ended, Mayor Lightfoot signed an emergency declaration in a last-ditch effort to address the city’s growing migrant crisis. In the executive order, the Mayor called on Governor Pritzker to mobilize the National Guard to provide staffing and logistical support to the city. The order also allows emergency funds to be moved to address the crisis. “We don’t have any more space. I cannot emphasize that enough,” Lightfoot said in a news conference.
Incoming Mayor Brandon Johnson, who was sworn in on Monday, said the solution to the crisis will require collaboration with the state and federal government for more resources. “We do need more resources from the federal government. We do. And yes, there has to be far more coordination, and, so, I’ve already assembled a very small team in the midst of my transition to work through a plan that brings people together,” Johnson said. But critics have pointed out that Mr. Johnson has not offered residents of Chicago any specifics.
Mayor Johnson comes into office having promised to maintain, and even expand, Chicago’s sanctuary city policies. On his campaign website, he stated: “Chicago must lead with and live by the promise to be a sanctuary city and welcome immigrants and refugees, and treat them with dignity and respect. This sanctuary promise must extend to everyone who needs it in our city, and residents both old and new.” He added, “Our public schools must be sanctuaries for all children by investing in dual language programs, ethnic studies and English as a Second Language (ESL). We must coordinate efforts with local communities with the infrastructure to support displaced immigrants and refugees, and coordinate efforts at all levels of government to provide humane conditions for everyone.”