Chicago Facing ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ Amid Renewed Surge of Migrants from the Border, Officials Say

Chicago is facing “a humanitarian crisis” amid a renewed surge of migrants from the southern border and the Chicago City Council will soon be asked to spend $53 million from the city’s budget surplus to care for the thousands of people who have already made their way to Chicago, city officials said Friday. 

More than 8,100 people, most of them from Central and South America, have arrived in Chicago since Aug. 31, when Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent the first bus of migrants to Chicago, according to a letter Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent to the City Council Friday, acknowledging that once again the city’s shelter system is bursting at the seams.  

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

That has forced dozens of men, women and children to sleep on the floor of police stations across the city while they wait for beds, officials said. Immigrants who arrived by plane are also sleeping at O’Hare, as first reported by Block Club Chicago.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Nubia Willman, the head of the Office of New Americans. “We are aware a new approach is necessary.” 

But after fielding pointed questions from several City Council members, city officials said that new strategy is still under development, even as the city’s shelter system strains under the burden posed by the arrival of between 75 and 125 people every day without much more than the clothes on their backs. 

“This is inhumane,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward). 

More than 2,800 recent migrants, who are in the country legally after requesting asylum and being granted parole, are being housed in the city’s shelters, said Brandie Knazze, the commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services. 

That surge began about 10 days ago, officials said, catching city officials off guard who were relieved that the crisis appeared to have eased after peaking in the fall. City officials were focused on preparing for a new wave of people to make their way to Chicago after federal officials stop enforcing a public health rule designed to limit the spread of disease by expelling asylum-seekers on the southern border on May 11.

“We are using every tool in our tool box,” said Knazze, adding that the surge is already here, and more asylum-seekers will likely head to Chicago after the rule expires. 

There were no available beds in city-run shelters for families on Friday, Knazze said. 

Officials said their requests for financial help from the state and federal governments have gone mostly unfulfilled. 

In all, the city received just $5.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to care for immigrants who arrived in 2022, Budget Director Susie Park said. The city had asked for $17 million. 

State officials agreed to send $20 million to Chicago to help officials care for the migrants, but that covered the city’s costs for just two months: January and February. State officials agreed this month to give the city an additional $10 million to help care for the migrants — a fraction of the approximately $62 million the city requested, Park said. 

In all, it will cost the city $124.8 million to care for the immigrants sent to Chicago from the nation’s southern border between January and June, leaving Chicago financial officials no choice but to ask the City Council to earmark an additional $53 million from the city’s surplus to cover the costs, Park said.

Several alderpeople said they were deeply frustrated that city officials appear to have no real plan to find somewhere for the immigrants to stay — other than the floor of police stations. 

“It has to be all hands on deck,” said Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward).   

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

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors