Conflicts & War

Chicago faces humanitarian crisis as thousands of migrants arrive

Jorge Mederos

Chicago, USA, Dec 13 (EFE).- With a harsh winter approaching, local authorities in Chicago are racing against the clock to provide shelter for thousands of migrants living in precarious conditions, overwhelming the city’s response capacity.

Out of last year’s 23,000 people fleeing violence and economic collapse, several thousand still live in tents and makeshift camps.

Many are outside police stations or at O’Hare Airport, according to data from the mayor’s office of Chicago and civic aid groups.

Jesus Aular, a Venezuelan migrant who sells arepas (South American flatbread made with cornmeal) in front of a shelter in the city, says he is “grateful for the opportunity they gave him to come to Chicago” and asks his fellow countrymen to “keep calm.”

Those who have been taken in, are temporarily living in 26 shelters run by the city. The city has also appealed for hotel rooms and asked the Archdiocese of Chicago to donate space in abandoned schools and churches.

Despite efforts, 2,000 people remain unhoused, and a military camp in Brighton Park was halted due to contamination.

“There is no planning, there is no plan at all. The tents are not a solution and would endanger the refugees’ lives in winter,” Alderman Sigcho Lopez of Chicago’s 25th Ward told EFE.

The Democrat called for housing people in brick buildings and properly preparing them to endure the cold, which can reach 20 below zero in January and February. “It’s a shame. These people need to be treated with dignity,” he added.

Meanwhile, Marilú Bueno, program manager for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, was in defense of the city’s work: “Of course, it would be better to have shelters made of concrete and bricks, but the city has responded in the best way it can and as quickly as it can,” she said.

While 85 percent of the refugees are from Venezuela, others come from Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and even Russia.

It is the case of Colombian Daniel Garcia, who is also living in a tent. He told EFE that the United States is not what he imagined and that he is thinking about “self-deporting.”

The crisis worsened since April 2022, when the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, started sending busloads of newly arrived immigrants to cities and states considered “sanctuary” and friendly to immigrants.

According to the Chicago mayor’s office, an average of eight busloads of refugees arrived each month at the beginning of the year, but the number of arrivals increased as the months went by.

Sigcho Lopez believes that Chicago is the victim of a “political attack” by Governor Abbott and the Republican Party, which has created a major problem by “persecuting and dehumanizing immigrants.”

Political plight

Other leaders, such as Baltazar Enriquez, president of the Little Village Community Council, see the crisis as a power struggle between Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

Although both are Democrats, “they are not on the same page” to face the fundamental solutions demanded by the problem and do not know “where to put the refugees,” he said.

He reported that his institution has been operating since 1967 with funds donated by the Mexican-American community to help immigrants integrate, providing housing solutions for 28 families and it also has proposals for converting a hotel and other abandoned buildings into shelters.

However, neighbors celebrated the suspension of construction at the neighborhoods where these constructions are located.

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