Chicago Suspends 60-Day Limit on Shelter Stays for Migrants; Pritzker Appeals to Texas Gov.’s ‘Humanity’ to Stop the Buses Amid Extreme Weather

The city of Chicago’s landing zone for migrants at Desplaines and Polk streets on Jan. 3, 2024. (WTTW News)The city of Chicago’s landing zone for migrants at Desplaines and Polk streets on Jan. 3, 2024. (WTTW News)

Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Friday he would not evict migrants from city shelters starting on Tuesday, amid a fierce winter storm and a forecast that expects windchills to drop far below zero.

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The city’s 60-day limit on shelter stays for migrants sent to Chicago on buses paid for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will be suspended until at least Jan. 22, Johnson announced as the city struggled to cope with near-blizzard conditions Friday.

“To be clear, we’re not evicting new arrivals out into the cold,” Johnson said, once again pleading for additional help from state and federal officials and thanking mutual aid groups that have mobilized to care for the migrants. 

Approximately 650 migrants, including about a dozen who have been in a city shelter since 2022, were set to be evicted on Tuesday, according to Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brande Knazze. Instead, they will be allowed to stay for at least another week, she said.

“We will continue to reevaluate this situation and prioritize safety,” Knazze said.

More than 14,500 migrants, all of whom are in the country legally after requesting asylum, are living in 28 city shelters. Since August 2022, nearly 31,000 men, women and children have made their way to Chicago as part of an effort by Abbott, a Republican, to damage President Joe Biden’s chances for reelection and divide Democratic voters.

Johnson called Abbott “mean” and “evil-spirited” and contrasted the city’s efforts to care for the migrants with Abbott, who vowed in an interview this week to continue to stop migrants from crossing the southern border.

“The only thing that we’re not doing, is we’re not shooting people who come across the border because, of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder,” Abbott said.

Johnson said Abbott was “not right in the head.”

Shortly after Johnson addressed the news media, Pritzker released a letter to Abbott pleading with him to stop the buses and stop sending migrants — often clad only in T-shirts and flip flops — to Chicago.

“The next few days are a threat to the families and children you are sending here” because of the bitterly cold weather, Pritzker wrote.

“We refuse to play your political game of exploiting the most vulnerable for the sake of culture wars and talking points,” Pritzker wrote. “You seem to have no interest in working on bipartisan solutions to the border crisis because that would put an end to your cruel political game, but I am writing to you today hoping to appeal to your humanity.”

A spokesperson for Abbott did not acknowledge the human toll of his decision to send tens of thousands of migrants to the Midwest at the height of winter.

“Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue transporting migrants to sanctuary cities to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis,” said Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris.

Nothing in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance obligates officials to use taxpayer funds to care for immigrants in Chicago. The ordinance focuses on protections for undocumented immigrants, so it does not apply to any of the migrants.

More than 140 migrants are being forced to live on 10 CTA buses at the city’s designated “landing zone” for buses from Texas at Polk and Desplaines streets in the West Loop. Another 250 people are living at O’Hare and Midway airports, according to city data.

“It is not the ideal set of circumstances,” Johnson said.

Johnson acknowledged that the conditions for the migrants at the landing zone were poor, and announced new plans to transport them to Chicago Park District fieldhouses for showers and to provide meals through a nonprofit group.

Johnson’s administration briefed members of the Chicago City Council on Friday that officials had not opened a new shelter since Dec. 23, and had no immediate plans to open new shelters as officials begin “planning for rightsizing to address budget concerns.”

In addition, there are no plans to immediately open massive, winterized base camps.

The Chicago City Council set aside $150 million to care for the migrants in 2024, but it is unclear whether that will be sufficient to meet the needs of the hundreds of people arriving in Chicago every day.

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

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