Chicago migrants sent from Texas dominated 2023's news as city scrambled to help them

Liz Nagy Image
Friday, December 29, 2023
Chicago migrants sent from Texas dominated the news this year
Migrants in Chicago bussed from Texas by Gov. Abbott have dominated the news and life this years, as the city scrambles to find them housing and work.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It was in the waning days of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's term in late spring when migrants again started showing up in Chicago, dropped off by buses personally sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott without warning.

"We've got to step up, and, in this city, we've got to be a welcoming city," Lightfoot said at the time.

As she passed the reins of this sanctuary city to newly-elected Mayor Brandon Johnson, and pandemic-related restrictions at the border expired and asylum seekers flooded into Chicago.

With nowhere to go, and hundreds of them arriving each day, migrants made refugee camps of Chicago police stations.

Families sprawled across floors in blankets among their few belongings.

On his first full day in office, Mayor Johnson stopped at one of the city's first hastily established shelters at Pietrowski Park in Little Village.

"I'm going to work very hard to make sure people seeking asylum are supported but we also have to be very clear there are families that have not been supported for a really long time got to admit that," Johnson said.

Some residents in Chicago's most underserved communities on the South and West Sides revolted.

"All the sudden we have deep pockets for people who don't pay taxes," one resident said at one of many public meetings. "I understand helping people, but you start with your own home."

The scene played out over and over again in neighborhoods in every corner of the city, with mixed response.

"I want to be welcoming to them, but I don't want to do it at the sacrifice of our seniors and children," said another resident.

Volunteers dropped off donations day and night as newly minted city leaders scrambled to set up a shelter a week in hotels, schools, and churches.

In some cases that meant shuttering popular public park spaces widely used by Chicago residents.

None of it was enough.

At its peak in the heat of summer, hundreds of migrants per day were deposited by buses in Chicago.

In mid-October, with winter closing in, Mayor Johnson sent his top deputies and three city council members to Texas to coordinate with border officials and try to deter migrants from heading to Chicago.

"In Chicago I'm going to work, I'll do what God has in his heart for me, whatever," migrant Jose Valentin Ordosgoite Hernandez told us. "I'm a barber by trade."

ABC7 traveled along on the three-city stop to San Antonio, McAllen, and Brownsville.

"Even though we might say Chicago is cold or it's going to be hard to find work, that's not going to stop someone who now has the hope that there's possible work," said Beatriz Ponce de Leon, Deputy Mayor of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

A Halloween snowfall, and a few bitter cold snaps left migrants shivering on Chicago sidewalks.

The city's grand plan for a massive tent camp in Brighton Park aroused an intense backlash.

After an environmental assessment, the state scrapped the plans, deeming the site too toxic to be inhabited.

The skeleton of the camp the city spent close to a million dollars to prepare, disappeared virtually overnight.

Just as police stations seemed all but cleared with the generosity of churches, and the city set a 60-day limit on shelter stays, and began impounding buses violating city drop-off and permitting rules. An unannounced plane full of migrants from Texas touched down at O'Hare in late December.

"Clearly the governor is trying to circumvent law. And this is lawlessness that he is engaged in right now," Johnson said.

More than 26,000 people are now in Chicago seeking asylum.

They're in the center of a humanitarian crisis and political tit-for-tat; a federal problem that will continue to volley between the city and Texas in 2024, costing Chicago and Illinois millions of dollars with human welfare at stake.