Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson vowed again Monday to move the 947 men, women and children still being forced to sleep on the floor of police stations across the city and at O’Hare International Airport into shelters as quickly as possible.
However, despite what city officials called an “all hands on deck” approach, the number of migrants at police stations and O’Hare has grown more than 45% in the past three weeks, even as a probe continued into whether more than one officer assigned to a West Side police station had sexual contact with at least one of the migrants.
Taking questions from reporters for the first time since investigators launched a probe into the allegations on July 7, Johnson said he was working as quickly as possible to move the migrants, who are all in the country legally after requesting asylum, out of the police stations.
“There is a degree of urgency that we do have,” Johnson said, adding that everyone who wants to call Chicago home is entitled to a “safe space.”
The migrants are waiting for beds to open up in one of 12 city shelters, which are now housing more than 5,313 people, according to city data.
Johnson spoke to reporters at Roberto Clemente High School, where he celebrated the opening of a welcoming center that will provide enrollment services for the migrants living in West Town and Humboldt Park. Hundreds of the new arrivals are school-age children, officials said.
The center will also offer free school supplies as well as help signing up for public benefits and health care, including vaccinations, officials said. The first day of school for Chicago Public Schools students is Aug. 21.
Hours after the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA, launched the probe into sexual misconduct, Johnson’s administration moved all of the migrants out of the Ogden (10th) Police District headquarters, which patrols Lawndale and Little Village, where the officers under investigation are assigned to work.
The mayor’s office has confirmed that the allegations involve a girl who recently arrived in Chicago from the southern border as well as “other allegations of sexual misconduct.”
The officers under investigation remain on the force with full police powers. Asked by WTTW News whether he thought that was appropriate, Johnson noted that rules governing investigations into police misconduct have to be followed, and the allegations have yet to be proven.
“We’re going to see what COPA discovers … before we make any proclamations about next steps,” Johnson said.
Johnson did not directly answer another question from WTTW News about whether his decision to move the migrants out of the 10th District was an implicit acknowledgment that they were not safe in the police station.
COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Tuesday outside the 10th District headquarters to provide an update on the probe.
It would be highly unusual for Kersten to speak publicly about a misconduct investigation before its resolution.
As city officials scramble to feed, clothe and care for the migrants — while working to find them permanent homes — two of the largest shelters will have to close in the coming weeks as the City Colleges of Chicago prepare to welcome students back for the fall term, which starts Aug. 24.
Nearly 800 families are living at Daley City College on the Southwest Side and at Wright City College in Dunning on the Northwest Side.
In all, more than 11,000 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 city data.
Fewer than 200 people have moved into permanent homes, and another 450 people are waiting to move after signing leases, with assistance from state, county and city officials, according to city data.
City officials are developing plans to open as many as five new shelters to prevent new arrivals from being sent to police stations.
Johnson has spent much of his first six weeks in office grappling with the arrival daily of dozens of migrants looking for food and shelter at a time when the city’s shelters are bursting at the seams. Since May 15, 51 buses have arrived in Chicago — as compared with just four buses between Jan. 1 and May 15, said Cristina Pacione-Zayas, the mayor’s first deputy chief of staff.