Residents concerned about plans to turn Brighton Park lot into migrant 'base camp'

Brighton Park residents express concerns at community meeting

Wednesday, October 25, 2023
Residents worry about plans to turn SW Side lot into migrant base camp
Mayor Brandon Johnson's offices said it intends to turn a Brighton Park lot into a camp for migrants in Chicago. Residents expressed their concerns.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In Spanish and English, people of Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood both revolted against and boisterously accepted the city's plan to place a massive winterized base camp for migrants in the Southwest Side community.

"I hope the neighborhood can find in their heart what I witnessed as a child, which is a welcoming community," said Arturo, a teacher who spoke at Tuesday night's community meeting.

"Our government recently resettled 29,000 Ukrainians. That is what I want for all of our neighbors," added Katherine, another speaker.

Bulldozing, and water and sewage work at the privately-owned 10-acre space at 38th and California caught the community off-guard.

"I want them to have buildings, but I don't want it to be here," said Anna Zhou, a Brighton Park resident.

"I feel sorry for these people. They are all over. Brighton Park is too small," said Ermelinda Quiles, who is against plans for the camp.

Despite the presence of construction crews performing work on the lot for a little over a week now, it wasn't until Tuesday that Mayor Brandon Johnson's office confirmed its intent, with the site eventually expected to look something like a migrant camp already constructed in New York City.

Johnson's office released a statement on Tuesday, saying, in part, "The site at 38th and California appears viable, and the intention is to construct temporary shelter at this site."

"If you look at New York right now, and the mayor saying that his city is falling apart, that this is going to destroy New York City, why are we not looking to them as an example?" said resident Jackie Zuniga.

Dozens of residents have staged around-the-clock protests at the site for the last week.

"We have more than 2,000 people who signed this, and said, 'No!'" one speaker said.

Speaking publicly for the first time since last week's contentious encounter with protesters led her to being escorted away by police, Ramirez said she was not consulted prior to the city's selection of the privately-owned lot. But, she hopes people will come to the meeting with an open mind.

"I was not aware city trucks, not asked or given a vote," Ramirez said. "It's a humanitarian crisis. We're seeing people at the police stations, and winter is coming."

On Tuesday night, some of the answers residents have demanded about when the tent shelter might open and who will live there finally came.

The city said the green light hasn't yet been given in terms of the site's viability, though at this point, the signs are pointing in the right direction. And, if and once erected, the base camp could house at least 2,000 family members with children.

"With respect to move-in date, still TBD. Still making assessment on space and land," said Deputy Chief of Staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas. "We will start with 500 individuals, 2,000 phased in over time."

"One reason we are using base camps is it's a turnkey solution, comes with everything we need," added Deputy Mayor of Infrastructure Lori Lypson.

With thousands of asylum-seekers spilling onto sidewalks outside police stations, city leaders say winterized tents are an absolute last resort.

"If we want 4,000 people to be indoors before winter, we need to do this," said Deputy Mayor of Immigrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de Leon.

Signs hung at the site indicate some Brighton Park residents are worried for their own safety.

"You are not putting a few people here. You are putting a few thousand!" one speaker said.

Chicago police promise to patrol 24 hours a day.

For all the outrage, plenty of people stepped up begging their neighbors to remember their own history of immigration.

The mayor's office said it will notify residents once a final assessment has been made, which will not be on Tuesday night. They added that additional details will be shared before any migrants are moved in.