As winter sets in, a wave of Venezuelan immigrants engulfs Chicago

Buses full of Venezuelan immigrants now pour into downtown Chicago day and night, doubling in numbers in recent weeks. As more than 2,300 migrants sleep in police stations, lobbies and outside makeshift camps, city officials are scrambling to open more shelters.

At the city’s airports, where migrants who have just landed are sleeping on the ground, many with babies and toddlers, local officials are calling for more help from the federal government.

“We don’t have any place for them to go,” said Christina Pacione-Jayas, deputy to Mayor Brandon Johnson. “We’re struggling.”

Like New York and many cities around the country, Chicago is struggling to accommodate the growing number of migrants who arrived last year on buses from the US-Mexico border. But as Chicago’s infamously cold winter approaches, volunteers and leaders worry the situation will only get worse.

The situation puts new pressure on Mr Johnson, who took office in May.

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said This week he plans to travel with a city delegation to the border, where they will gather information on the flow of migrants.

The crisis has caused friction in the Chicago City Council, whose members have fought over how much to spend on asylum seekers amid other pressing priorities in the city of 2.7 million people.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” said Andre Vasquez, president of the city’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Committee. “You’re going to see more people find a way to survive on the street.”

Volunteers have worked to help asylum seekers in the spirit of Chicago’s heritage as a sanctuary city for immigrants. But resistance is growing in some quarters. Public meetings to discuss opening shelters have turned into shouting matches, with residents accusing city officials of prioritizing the needs of longtime Chicago newcomers.

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Some residents think the city is too spacious. Deaundre Miguel Jones, 47, said he watched with great excitement as the police station in his old city neighborhood turned into a place where migrants camp inside and outside sleeping on cots in tents.

“They eat better – better phones than me, better shoes,” said Mr. Jones said, sitting outside his apartment complex. Chicago officials, he said, have been doing more to help immigrants than residents of the city for years.

“How are you going to take care of someone else when you don’t even take care of your own people?” he said.

What drew immigrants to Chicago was not always clear. Some eagerly boarded buses to Chicago, on the southern border, because they recognized the city’s name and thought it was big enough to offer a chance to work and a place to work. Officials in Chicago pointed to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, for a politically motivated campaign to bus migrants to liberal cities.

In interviews, many recent Venezuelans said they came to Chicago because they had distant relatives in the city or heard from friends that it had strong social services. But many said Chicago became their destination after being offered free plane or bus tickets from previous accommodations, where they arrived penniless and sleep-deprived.

“We came here with one purpose: to work,” said Yudo Luis Ledesma, 41, who arrived in Chicago on Tuesday after a two-month trip that began in his hometown of Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela. “We were tired of living in misery.”

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Many of the newly arrived Venezuelans said they moved to Chicago after staying in shelters in San Antonio and Denver.

Yureibi Olivo, a mother of four who arrived in Chicago this summer, said she’s already glad her family took the big risk to leave. He was one of the lucky few who got beds in a temporary shelter at a downtown hotel.

Ms. Olivo, 45, has been selling arepas, stuffed cornmeal cakes, on the streets, where she earns about $60 a day. Back home, he said he would earn that amount in three months with two jobs — one as a street sweeper and one as a government-subsidized food preparer.

“It’s a privilege to be here,” Ms. Olivo said. “God has given us an opportunity, and the government here has opened the door.”

Gov. of Illinois, a Democrat. JB Pritzker provided state resources and financial support. Through August 2022, his administration has earmarked $328 million in aid, a spokeswoman said.

But, this is not enough, say the corporation officials. Chicago Chiefs Signed A $29 million deal last month called for migrants to stay in winter tents. And the overall cost of immigration and feeding immigrants is rising: The city is expected to spend at least $345 million, according to city officials. (Chicago Public Schools, by comparison, is annual Budget (over $9 billion.)

Mr. In a letter to President Biden this week, Pritzker said additional federal aid is urgently needed.

Currently, more than 10,000 migrants are in shelters, according to city data. About 3,200 people are staying at police stations and airports.

Erica Villegas, a volunteer who helps migrants at police stations, said she was worried about the migrants’ ability to withstand the coming cold weather, especially since many are sleeping outside in tents.

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“For Chicagoans, it’s beautiful weather,” he said. “But for new families, they ask for jackets. People are like: ‘I couldn’t sleep all night. My toes were cold all night.’ They don’t know what’s coming.

On the Far South Side, City Councilman Anthony Peele said the situation has become a disaster and an embarrassment, especially when considering the role of the federal government.

“The solution, No. 1, is for Joe Biden to close the border,” he said. “Secondly, what we need to do is to disperse immigrants evenly across the country, not just send them to certain cities or certain states. Everyone should help deal with this crisis.

Volunteers in Chicago have been working for more than a year to help immigrants at police stations with food, clothing, tents, medical care and public school registrations. Summer 2022.

“We’re in a new phase this past week,” said Annie Gomberg, a lead volunteer organizer at a police station on the West Side. “We are reaching capacity, much to everyone’s concern. The mayor’s office seems really overwhelmed by this problem.

Ms Gomberg saw the visit as an opportunity for the long haul.

A West Side Austin neighborhood with plenty of vacant apartments has already encouraged one landlord to rent to newcomers, he said.

“I said, ‘If you hire these people, this will revitalize a blighted part of Black Chicago — you could be the mayor of Little Caracas,'” he said. “This could be the next wave of immigrants that will always be the bedrock of Chicago.”

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