Chicago faces a humanitarian crisis

Chicago faces an endless humanitarian crisis due to the arrival of thousands of migrants


Chicago (USA), Dec 13 (EFE) – With the approach of the harsh winter in Chicago (USA), local authorities are fighting against the clock to provide housing for thousands of migrants, precariously sheltered, who have overwhelmed the response capacity of the city, which is facing an endless humanitarian crisis.

According to figures from the Mayor’s Office and civil aid organizations, out of a total of 23 thousand people who arrived fleeing violence and economic collapse during the last year, there are still several thousand living in tents and makeshift camps in front of police stations or at O’Hare airport.

Venezuelan immigrant Jesus Aular, who sells arepas outside a city shelter, says he is “grateful for the opportunity they gave him to come to Chicago” and asks for “calm” from his compatriots.

Those who have been taken care of are temporarily living in 26 shelters run by the city, which also appealed for hotel rooms and asked the Archdiocese of Chicago to donate space in abandoned schools and churches.

But there was a backlog of some 2,000 people who could not be housed and were to be placed in a kind of military camp set up with tents in the Brighton Park neighborhood. However, the work began and was suspended a few weeks later when it was found that the land chosen was highly contaminated.

“There is no planning, there is no plan. The tents are not a solution and would put the lives of the refugees at risk during the winter,” Alderman Byron Sigcho Lopez, of Chicago’s 25th Ward, told EFE.

The Democrat demanded that the people be placed in brick buildings and properly prepared to withstand the cold, which in January and February can reach 20 degrees Celsius below zero. “It is a shame, these people need to be treated with dignity”, he affirmed.

Venezuelan Tania Gelvez, who is staying in a tent outside a police station in Chicago, told EFE that they are “fighting” and without hope of receiving help, especially food and clothing, amid the low temperatures.

Meanwhile, Marilú Bueno, program director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights defended the work of the municipality: “Of course, concrete and brick shelters would be preferable, but the city has responded as best it can, and as quickly as possible,” she said.

Eighty-five percent of the refugees are of Venezuelan origin, but there are also those from Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and even Russia.

This is the case of Colombian Daniel García, who also lives in a tent and told EFE that the United States was not what he imagined and that he was thinking of “self-deporting”.

The crisis worsened since April 2022, when the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, began to send busloads of newly arrived immigrants to cities and states considered “sanctuary”, friendly to immigrants, and 23,000 foreigners went to Chicago.

According to the Mayor’s Office, in the beginning, an average of eight buses per month arrived with refugees, but the number increased and from November until now, for example, there were already 102.

Sigcho López considers that Chicago is the victim of a “political attack” by Governor Abbot and the Republican Party, who have created a major problem to “persecute and dehumanize immigrants”.

But there are other leaders, such as Baltazar Enriquez, of the La Villita Community Council, who see the crisis as a power struggle between Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.

Although both are Democrats, “they are not on the same page” to face the fundamental solutions that the problem demands and they do not know “where to put the refugees,” he said.

He reported that his institution, which has been operating since 1967 with funds contributed by the Mexican-American community to help immigrants integrate, has provided housing solutions for 28 families and has suggestions for adapting a hotel and other abandoned buildings as shelters.

“But they don’t listen to us. They prefer to spend millions of dollars on contracts with allies and friends, each for their own part,” she said.

Jacquelyn Zúñiga, a Brighton Park activist, complains for her part about the lack of transparency. “People don’t know what’s going on and are protesting,” she said in an interview with EFE.

Residents of the neighborhood where the tents were to be erected celebrated the suspension of construction. Before the announcement they held a protest against the project that ended with police intervention to rescue a councilwoman and her aide from an angry crowd.

“Our neighborhood is a melting pot, with people of all backgrounds who are concerned about the effects of the influx of thousands of new residents who would surely come to complicate our already overcrowded and under-budgeted schools, lack of jobs and safety issues,” he added.

Local authorities and activists also blame the federal government for the crisis and lack of solutions.

“There is a certain systemic racism practiced by Washington, which took a year to start issuing work permits to help get the lives of Venezuelans, who need to get out of the shelters, on track,” said Alderman Lopez.

In contrast, he noted, some 25,000 Ukrainians who arrived in Illinois at the same time fleeing the war had no document problems or installation delays.

“The federal government is a direct cause of the situation, for imposing economic sanctions that have generated migration from those countries. It has to take responsibility and provide the necessary funds to take care of these people,” concluded the alderman.

Jorge Mederos

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