Stephanie Salgado, HOPES Site Coordinator
Time and time again, migrants and asylum seekers are marginalized as their humanity is ignored and their stories go untold or are blatantly overshadowed by persistent negative stereotypes. Their journeys, which often start with hope for a better future, a seemingly simple dream, is a dangerous and deadly reality. In addition to risking falling prey to kidnapping and exploitation, among other horrible fates, while they await their claim, asylum seekers are in a legal and social limbo as their lives are essentially put on hold as they operate under the threat of deportation. On top of the psychological stress and financial burdens, migrants and asylum seekers are met daily with racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. While not everyone shares these experiences, it is a reality for many who are hoping for a better life as they make the life-altering decision to resettle in a different country.
For decades, an integral part of United States immigration law is the right to asylum. At the same time, it has been a touchstone of the U.S. political debate for decades as sizeable ideological differences in immigration goals collide. More recently, the city of Chicago has seen a surplus of migrants, mainly from South and Central America which has been met with mixed reactions by media and communities.
The first bus with migrants, sent from Texas under Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, arrived on August 31st of 2022. Since then, as of August 2023, over 12,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago (Hernandez, 2023). The city’s government officials and local organizations have been scrambling to supply these individuals and families with necessities and place them in temporary shelters. However, it quickly became increasingly clear that the city is not able to provide the necessary support for these new arrivals as migrants, including pregnant women and children, are being forced to sleep at police stations and public parks as they await space in shelters. These living conditions are worsened as reports surface of infections and infestations, as well as expired food being provided (Schuba & Malagón, 2023).
One of these police stations is located near the West Side in the 12th district, where dozens of families sit outside with everything they own, some having left their country with only “the clothes on their backs.”(Perlman, 2023) Johon Torres, a Venezuelan who was moved to this station with his three daughters and niece details his current living conditions where, “every morning, they’re told to leave the station until 6 p.m. At night, they are allowed inside, sleeping along with other families in tight quarters. They haven’t taken a shower since they arrived at the station. Now, they wait for help from the city and for a bed of their own.” (Perlman, 2023)
As resettling migrants out of police station lobbies became a priority, temporary city-run shelters opened throughout the city including Daley College on the South Side and Wilbur College on the Northwest Side. These shelters, however, were quickly running out of resources and struggling to meet demand. More recently, hundreds of migrants have been moved from these temporary shelters and police stations to the Northside lakefront neighborhoods. Local organizations, volunteers, and mutual aid groups have extended a helping hand to migrants by providing pop-up showers, clothing donations, hot meals, recreational activities, transportation, health screenings, and other temporary resources (Nuques, 2023). While conditions have slightly improved, persisting are concerns surrounding availability of housing and additional resources as migrants continue to arrive.
Along with temporary housing services being provided to newly arrived migrants, children and teens are granted the opportunity to be enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. “Kids who just arrived today, yesterday and this week are registered for school and get all the supplies that they need to set them up and welcome them are here in Chicago,” said Kathleen Murphy, one of the volunteers from the mutual aid group, Todo Para Todos, that that helps migrant parents enroll their children (Medina & Ong, 2023). Twelve-year-old Yasmari Leon, a Venezuelan native who migrated with her father to Chicago and stayed at a temporary shelter, was able to finish out the last school year alongside other CPS children (Loria, 2023). Her father, Jackson Leon, expressed the importance of her enrollment when he said, “Here she can study again, learn English and learn another way of life.” (Loria, 2023)
Ensuring that these students will have the resources to succeed academically will prove to be difficult as schools prepare to welcome new students “in the thousands” of which many require translation services and other basic services. Nonetheless, a CPS team lead by the district’s language and cultural education chief, Karime Asaf, are striving to efficiently direct resources to schools receiving these new students (Issa, Loria, & Moreno, 2023). Families who haven’t enrolled in school are located and directed to schools who are most likely to have the programs and space to support the student.
Currently, there isn’t any clear long term plans that have been proposed to address this growing issue as efforts have solely focused on supplementing resources at the immediate moment. However, city officials need to administer long-term solutions and policies given that this issue will continue to persist if proper action is not taken. They should consider implementing a stable infrastructure for housing and long-term accessible resources (e.g., physical and emotional health, education, food access, clothing, and employment, among other resources) in communities as not only will it meet the needs of those that are just arriving but also for the overwhelming minority community in Chicago. Providing stability in these avenues for individuals and families is pivotal as it will provide a foundation by which they can begin to start their new life in this country.
Esperanza Health Centers
Chicago Public Schools Food Distribution Center
La Casa Norte
Hernandez, Acacia. “40 to 50 Migrants Arrive to Chicago by Bus Daily, Officials Say.” WTTW News, 4 Aug. 2023, https://news.wttw.com/2023/08/04/40-50-migrants-arrive-chicago-bus-daily-officials-say. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Issa, Nader, et al. “CPS Juggles Funding, Bilingual Staff to Welcome Thousands of New Migrant Students.” Chicago Sun-Times, 20 Aug. 2023, https://chicago.suntimes.com/education/2023/8/20/23837103/cps-migrant-bilingual-students-public-schools. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Loria, Michael. “Dozens of New Immigrants Joining Chicago Public Schools as School Year Nears End.” Chicago Sun-Times, 22 May 2023, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2023/5/22/23732754/migrants-chicago-public-schools-students-chldren-enrolled-lawndale-little-village. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Medina, Andrea, and Eli Ong. “WGN-TV.” WGN-TV, 22 Aug. 2023, https://wgntv.com/news/chicago-news/chicago-non-profit-ctu-members-help-register-migrant-children-for-school/. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Nuques, Katya. “Little Village Is a Model for How to Help Migrants in Chicago Build New Lives.” Chicago Sun-Times, 30 May 2023, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2023/5/30/23742465/migrants-chicago-little-village-community-organizing-katya-nuques-op-ed. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Perlman, Marissa. “Chicago Police Station Houses Dozens of Migrant Families.” CBS Chicago, 9 May 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/chicago-police-station-migrants/. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
Schuba, Tom, and Elvia Malagón. “Immigrants Forced to Sleep on Floors, Eat Expired Meals at Shelters Run by Chicago Police.” Chicago Sun-Times, 1 May 2023, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2023/5/1/23707352/expired-food-infections-infestations-chicagos-police-stations-makeshift-shelters-migrants. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.