City seeks more federal funding to manage migrant influx as some sleep in Chicago police stations

More asylum-seekers are heading to Chicago, and there is no money left to help support them

Diane Pathieu Image
Saturday, April 29, 2023
City seeks more money for migrant influx as some sleep in CPD stations
Aldermen discussed the influx of Chicago migrants in a virtual meeting on Friday as they work to find migrant housing outside of police stations.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Around 100 migrants a day are being sent to the city by bus and by plane.

According to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 8,100 migrants have arrived here the since August of last year.

Chicago is spending more than $20 million each month to house and support them, according to the city budget director, and it has evaluated more than 200 potential facilities to house migrants.

Now, city leaders and elected officials are calling this a humanitarian, and potentially fiscal, crisis.

City budget officials said money to help migrants is running out, and the shelter system is already over capacity. And, with the rate at which more migrants are coming, there's no easy solution in sight.

Marielis Carolina Ruiz Aguilarte, 22, and her growing family are part of what city officials are calling a new migrant surge. She, her husband and her 3-year-old son, Eduardo, arrived in Chicago four days ago from Venezuela, and have spent all of those nights sleeping on the floor of the 10th District Police Station.

"They've taken us in," she said. "They've given us clothes. They've brought us food. They've treated us well. Here in the police station, they treat us well."

Aguilarte is also eight months pregnant, and hasn't seen a doctor since she came from Venezuela via Mexico. So, why Chicago?

"Our goal is to come here and establish ourselves, and to work hard and move forward. I'm pregnant, so my husband is the only working right now. We want our kids to go to school," she said.

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But, right now, Aguilarte doesn't know when that will become a reality. All three families staying at the 10th District are waiting on shelters and housing, and it's hardly an isolated issue.

"The reality is, the surge is here. Last week alone, we placed over 300 people, many arriving via airport, requesting shelter and help," said City of Chicago Chief Engagement Officer Nubia Willman.

City officials and council members met Friday to discuss funding and resources for migrants, but with a dire warning.

"Our system is over capacity. Make no mistake, we are in a surge and things are yet to peak," said Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze.

City budget officials estimate Chicago will need more than $20 million per month just through June to support the influx of migrants. And, while $800 million of federal money from FEMA has been earmarked for the migrant crisis nation-wide, none of it has been disbursed to Chicago yet.

"We are just working against time. We are working against money. We are working against space," Knazze said.

And, until more shelter space is available, families like Aguilarte's will have to wait with help from grassroots organizations like Little Village Community Council.

"We're going to become their family, support them, integrate them in the neighborhood, make them feel welcome," said Little Village Community Council President Baltazar Enriquez.

The city has opened one respite center, and is planning to open more to take some of the burden from police districts, but it's clear the city knows a new approach is needed.

The question is, will the state and other federal partners step up to provide the funding and space necessary? And, there are real questions long-term on how supporting a large influx of migrants can be sustained.