Community Meeting Set to Discuss Plan to Transform Brighton Park Vacant Lot into ‘Winterized Base Camp’ for Migrants

Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team discusses the debate about migrant funding and more of the day’s top stories. (Produced by Blair Paddock)

City officials will hold a community meeting next week to discuss plans for a massive tent to house at least some of the more than 4,200 migrants now living at police stations and O’Hare International Airport on a vacant, privately-owned lot in Brighton Park, Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th Ward) said Tuesday.

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The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave. But Ramirez warned that it may already be a done deal – whether or not she objects.

“The Johnson administration has informed me that they are taking feedback into consideration, however, ultimately, if the Water Department approves the site, the city will be moving forward regardless of where I stand on the matter,” Ramirez wrote in a letter to 12th Ward residents.

The Brighton Park lot at 38th Street and California Avenue is owned by the Harvey-based Sanchez Group, said Ramirez, who said the firm responded to a request for proposals issued by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office seeking locations to set up temporary shelters for the more than 18,500 migrants sent to Chicago from the southern border.

Ramirez said public safety in the 12th Ward, which includes parts of Brighton Park and McKinley Park, was her top priority, but urged residents of her West Side ward to consider the proposal. The majority of 12th Ward residents are Latino, according to city data.

“I also want you to be open minded and not buy into the fearmongering and false information spread by right-wing, anti-immigrant voices who wish to divide our city,” Ramirez wrote. “We are a nation of immigrants and people that are fleeing economic and political turmoil deserve an opportunity for a better life in this country.”

More than 3,643 migrants are living in police stations across the city and at O’Hare International Airport with another 11,266 migrants living in city shelters as of Tuesday morning, according to city data. Johnson has said the crisis was caused by “right-wing extremists bent on sowing chaos and division in our city.”

Johnson first unveiled the plan to build the massive tents, which could shelter, feed and care for as many as 1,000 migrants in a single location, more than a month ago, triggering intense criticism from some of his closest allies, including Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), his hand-picked chair of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

The city is set to pay $29 million to GardaWorld Federal Services to erect the tents to house the migrants, under a contract that was originally inked by state officials. Those plans call for soft-sided “yurt” structures to be built to hold 12 beds, with restrooms and dining halls serving several structures.

Vasquez, like other progressive allies of Johnson, were furious that the city would do business with GardaWorld Federal Services, which contracted with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to move migrants to states led by Democrats, according to the Tampa Bay Times. That contract was never executed, firm officials told WTTW News.

Johnson officials have told reporters the massive, winterized tents will “center the dignity of the migrants” and will not force those arriving in the city to live in “sub-par conditions.” The city is simply unable to open enough shelters in existing businesses to keep pace with dozens of buses arriving every week, officials said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has also criticized Johnson’s plan for the tents, telling reporters it would be better to house the migrants in unused federal buildings.

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

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