Lightfoot Defends Plan to Open Temporary Shelter for Immigrants in Shuttered Woodlawn School

Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended her decision to transform a shuttered school in Woodlawn into a shelter for immigrants bused to Chicago as part of an “all hands on deck” response to what she called a crisis manufactured by the Republican governor of Texas during an interview on Tuesday with “Chicago Tonight.”

Lightfoot acknowledged that Woodlawn residents “raised some, I think, legitimate concerns” during a community meeting shortly after the Christmas holiday, and promised to address those concerns.

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“But fundamentally, we have to be a welcoming city by living our values,” Lightfoot said. “It can’t just be the responsibility of one community versus another.”

If the city does move some of the 1,500 immigrants still in its care into the former Wadsworth school at 64th Street and University Avenue in Woodlawn, it will come over the objection of Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward).

Taylor said the Spanish-speaking immigrants, who often arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their back, would struggle to communicate with their new neighbors and access needed services in a part of her South Side ward with few Latino residents.

The city should shelter the immigrants in a place where they could start to rebuild their lives, Taylor said.

City officials have spent $1.5 million to renovate the school, even as the mayor’s office denied officials planned to use it as a temporary shelter for immigrants beginning in October, as first reported by CBS2-TV.

Since Aug. 31, 2022, a total of 3,854 immigrants have been bused to Chicago from Texas, with an additional 1,400 immigrants coming from other states, officials said. Since then, the city has set up 11 emergency shelters, Lightfoot said.

“This is going to be one of those all hands on deck moments,” Lightfoot said.

City officials spent approximately $7 million caring for immigrants in December, Lightfoot said.

The city's 2023 budget set aside just $5 million to help the immigrants, as Lightfoot said she expected federal officials to cover much of the cost.

The financial burden facing the city is set to grow significantly at the end of January, when state funding earmarked for the immigrants’ care is set to dry up.

Lightfoot said she was “going to be optimistic” that state officials would grant her request for $54 million in emergency funding to help the city care for the immigrants.

“It is going to require real resources for us to make good on the promise that we are a welcoming city,” Lightfoot said. “We must have more resources coming to Chicago.”

Lightfoot also defended her decision to order the Chicago Police Department to encrypt all of their communications and delay them for 30 minutes, citing officer and victim safety.

Lightfoot said she was open to a “reasonable compromise” but again rejected a proposal from several news media organizations that would grant credentialed journalists access to the transmissions in real time.

“A delay is going to have to happen,” Lightfoot said.

All eight of the candidates running to deny Lightfoot a second term have said they would allow the news media access to the transmissions, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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