Stop Separating Immigrant Families Press Conference and Rally Chicago Illinois 6-5-18 1943 by is licensed under Creative Commons

Each year, the U.S. Border Patrol encounters over 1 million people at the Southern border. Some who enter illegally turn themselves in to American authorities in an attempt to seek asylum. Whether they are accepted or denied depends on a variety of factors, including fear of significant danger upon return to their home countries, according to the New York Times.

The City of Chicago reports that over 36,000 migrants have arrived since August 2022, getting off buses that arrive at odd hours and in unspecified locations. The drastic increase in migrants has put significant pressure on city officials to find housing, work and resources for these Chicago newcomers. Chicago natives’ reactions to the city government’s actions have been mixed, with some questioning whether large amounts of public funding should be allocated to the crisis and others affirming support for people fleeing dire circumstances.

How are migrants ending up in Chicago?

Over 1,400 miles away from Chicago, the “Rio Grande” region of Texas encounters over 500,000 migrants each year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Once entering into the U.S., the on-foot journey many migrants take ends. Buses and planes chartered by the Texas government transfer the migrants on a one-way  trip to a “sanctuary city,” or a location which offers minimal enforcement of immigration laws.

Cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago are self-designated sanctuary cities. Millions of migrants live in these regions to avoid deportation or to receive better resources upon arrival.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said Texas’s busing policies were “irresponsible” and “inhumane,” in a press conference held last December. The process to find shelter and appropriate accommodations for the migrants has been difficult, he said.

Chicago refers to itself as a “Welcoming City,” according to its official website, and has stated that it is the city’s duty to support migrants as they reach their destination.

“The City continues to expend all available resources to welcome asylum seekers with care and dignity in a shelter system that has reached capacity,” Johnson stated in a press release. “The City is addressing the immediate needs of those arriving from the Southern border with resources including blankets, water, food and warming buses.”

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas ordered that buses be loaded and sent directly to sanctuary cities after the introduction of Operation Lone Star, an effort to limit illegal immigration and expel significant numbers of migrants. Since 2022, over 36,000 migrants have been sent to the Windy City as a result of this policy.

Abbott’s ousting of migrants was a reaction to the federal government’s handling of the border crisis, particularly blaming the Biden administration, according to the Texas governor in a January press release.

“The Executive Branch of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce federal laws protecting States, including immigration laws on the books right now,” Abbott said. “President Biden has refused to enforce those laws and has even violated them. The result is that he has smashed records for illegal immigration.”

The move to send migrants out of Texas was also motivated by partisan disputes. Abbott, a Republican, decided to target certain cities due to their Democrat-led governments and sanctuary city status. The consistent transportation of migrants to these cities has caused pressure within Biden’s own party for updates to border security and federal funding.

What happens next?

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and eight other Democratic governors called upon Congress to deliver “common sense solutions” in a letter responding to federal inaction to increasing migrant populations across the country. The governors mention that a $100 billion aid package requested last year could offer significant assistance to manage the flow of migrants.

Following the letter, President Biden released a statement in January, arguing that slow congressional negotiations have inhibited his ability to fix the problem.

“What’s been negotiated would — if passed into law — be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country,” the statement said. “It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Mayor Brandon Johnson has struggled to manage the lack of shelter within the city. He said that state officials have not followed through on plans for new beds, indicating rising tensions between city and state governments.

“The state of Illinois committed to 2,200 beds,” Johnson said in a press conference addressing inaction by state governments. “We could really use those right now.”

On February 8, a joint initiative launched by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant, Migrant, and Refugee Rights, the Chicago Dept. of Family and Support Services and the Chicago Dept. of Public Health, called “the New Neighbors Campaign” was announced.

The campaign will attempt to streamline the volunteering process to assist new arrivals.

Residents of Chicago have been displeased with the response by the city and Johnson. His approval rating reached a near record low for mayoral history with only 28 percent of respondents approving of his job. Almost 70 percent of respondents disapproved of Johnson’s handling of the migrant crisis, according to a poll taken by the Illinois Policy Institute this year.

What does this mean for migrants coming to Chicago?

Over 10,000 migrants are housed in Chicago shelters. As the city prepares for new arrivals, the unprecedented humanitarian crisis presents new challenges. Housing will not be guaranteed to all asylum seekers. The city delayed initial evictions until mid-March, allowing enough time for migrants to adjust to life in Chicago, said Mayor Johnson.

“Our plan for temporary emergency shelter was never meant as a long-term housing solution,” Johnson said at a press conference.

However, for many migrants, the situation isn’t promising. Limited privacy, unsanitary living spaces and threats of removal from the shelter are conditions that migrants face daily. For those looking for alternative housing, most cannot work legally to afford accommodations such as an apartment, according to Borderless magazine.

“They’re constantly threatening you,” said one woman living in the Pilsen shelter, Chicago’s largest. “You have to be so careful because they write a report for everything. If you slip, they report you and kick you out.”