Chicago delegation hopes knowledge gained at Texas border will help migrant planning

ByLiz Nagy and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Friday, October 20, 2023
Texas border towns share migrant management playbook with Chicago
Chicago officials said knowledge shared by Texas border towns will help them plan for and better manage the steady influx of migrants.

MCALLEN, Texas (WLS) -- Chicago aldermen who traveled to Texas towns along the U.S.-Mexico border say they hope the knowledge gained can help the city better plan for incoming migrants.

In San Antonio City Hall, some of Chicago's top deputies on migrant issues got lessons from a city half our size with a transient population many times what Chicago has seen.

"I can tell you here in San Antonio, which is a city of 1.5 to 1.6 million people, we've had almost 600,000 migrants come through our city since January 2021," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. "It's a significant challenge for us to deal with."

READ MORE: Chicago delegation arrives in Texas, tours El Paso migrant facilities

Chicago city leaders said it's become clear through multiple stops in multiple cities that Texas is a temporary stop for migrants after crossing the border. They're also not part of the state's efforts to send buses of migrants to Chicago.

"The city of San Antonio is not part of that. What we do here is we work with folks who are here and they have their sponsor families or next destination for asylum hearings set up," Mayor Nirenberg said.

"What we've learned is that of the individuals that have come through lately, 9% are identifying Chicago as a final destination. So having that information in advance can assist us with planning," said Cristina Pacione-Zayas, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Federal emergency management money reimburses San Antonio for the cost of their Migrant Resource Center. In a well-orchestrated partnership, the daily operations for more than 1,000 migrants are managed by Catholic Charities.

The group, not city employees, also operates a 1,200 person shelter in McAllen for people like Jose Valentin Ordogoite Hernandez, who arrived in America with a small roll of cash she's managed to save.

"I have a little bit of money. It's not a lot. I only have $70," he said through a translator.

He is trying to get himself, his young wife and toddler to Chicago.

"In Chicago I'm going to work," he said in Spanish. "I'll do whatever God has in his heart for me, whatever. I'm a barber by trade."

Officials say 500 to 600 migrants arrive in McAllen every day, but the tiny city of only 144,000 people is not experiencing a crisis because they don't stay.

"We don't have the issues with immigrants that New York, that Chicago that Los Angeles is having," said Mayor Javier Villalobos. "Because they don't stay here. They don't want to stay here."

With a migrant population of more than 18,000 and counting, Chicago's challenge is more permanent.

"Chicago has become a resettlement city so our efforts have to be different," said Deputy Mayor for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de Leon. "What we are proposing is that we partner with these border cities to do advocacy at the federal level to fund us in the ways that we need."

As he saves money to get to Chicago, Jose Valentin hopes to eventually reap the benefits of our resettlement mission.

"I chose to leave my country," he said. "I want to be somebody in life, in due time."

After meetings in three Texas cities, Chicago's top deputies on migrants issues now have a clearer view of their own reality.

"They are willing to share their playbook for the migrant resource center so that we can build out ours in collaboration with the state of Illinois, so that can save us some time to work smarter, not harder," Pacione-Zayas said.

Some aldermen said they will cut the trip short after 12th Ward Ald. Julia Ramirez was swarmed and harassed at a protest at a migrant camp being built in Chicago.

Ald. William Hall returned to Chicago Thursday and joined ABC7 to share his first-hand experience and assessment of the border migrant crisis.

Sixth Ward Alderman William Hall shared his assessment of the migrant crisis and the Chicago City Council delegation's border visit.