Chicago, IL

Other Cities Feeling Overburdened Fly Their Migrants to Chicago

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

O'Hare Bus/shuttle station converted to temporary shelter for asylum seekers other cities fly in

Newly disclosed data indicates that during the summer and early fall, thousands of migrants were flown into Chicago, even as tens of thousands of others continued to travel via bus.

Data from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications shows that since June, at least 3,424 migrants have arrived at the city's airports in search of sanctuary and other assistance.

A few hundred people arrived by air from Houston, New York City, Denver, and San Antonio, Texas, which accounted for the majority of the attendees. Based on city data, O'Hare has received 2,705 passengers from most of the flights.

One of Chicago's 24 makeshift shelters, or "staging areas," is the bus shuttle center at O'Hare. After being transported to one of the staging grounds, migrants are placed in one of the 24 shelters managed by the city.

As inbound planes increased in August and September, almost 800 people crammed into the bus shelter waiting to be placed last month. In one week, a record 300 migrants arrived, according to city data. Based on information given on Monday, there are currently 536 individuals residing at the O'Hare shelter.

Volunteers with the Police Station Response Team, which assists immigrants at O'Hare, Vianney Marzullo, said that volunteers have pushed city officials for additional support, and that need is only increasing.

Because O'Hare is congested, isolated from the city, and lacking in washing and shower facilities, it is challenging to assist asylum seekers there, according to Marzullo. There is always a need for things like blankets and underwear, she noted. This page allows people to give goods to the volunteer group.

Marzullo said, “If we are assisting, we need to have a better line of communication [with the city and staff], but the bigger issue is how are we going to decompress [O’Hare] as much as possible and the logistics of giving them aid. A lot of them are sleeping on the floor and have to travel to other police stations for aid, like clothes. We don’t get info on when they arrive there.”

According to official figures, since June, around 2,100 people have been flown in from San Antonio. The Catholic Charities of San Antonio is funding many of the tickets that people are bringing in, as the Sun-Times revealed earlier this month.

Among the recipients of an airline ticket from the NGO is a man from Venezuela who is seeking refuge at O'Hare. He came to the U.S. for opportunities he didn't have in Venezuela.

“I didn’t have to pay for the flight,” the man said. “I was coming with my wife and my son. … I was only there one lucky day. … I came here to help my family. That’s the goal of everything here, most of us — to come here to look for another new opportunity. In Venezuela, you are not going to get it. And so I can help my family over there, my father and grandfather.”

Despite Chicago officials' insistence that the city is full, the organization has persisted in bringing in migrants by air, according to the Sun-Times. The tickets are purchased by Catholic Charities San Antonio with cash from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a report by the Sun-Times.

The CEO of the nonprofit organization defended the practice, telling the Sun-Times that it was a more compassionate alternative to forcing individuals to take lengthy bus excursions to the city; nonetheless, the organization does not advise visiting Chicago. The organization is attempting to "displace the responsibility" for asylum seekers, according to Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Mayor Brandon Johnson's first deputy chief of staff, as reported by the Sun-Times.

In order to provide migrants with humanitarian relief, legal services, rest, and other necessities, the NGO obtains funds from a variety of sources, according to Kimberly LaQue, director of marketing and communications.

According to city data, an additional 144 individuals have been flown in from New York City, 96 from Houston, and 382 from other cities like Denver.

It's not clear who is the person in charge of transporting migrants from other cities by air.

According to a city representative, Denver, which has also found it difficult to assist the thousands of migrants being bused in from different Texas cities, has sent eight planes to Chicago since June.

According to representatives for the organizations, Catholic Charities of Denver and Houston are not sending immigrants to Chicago. Requests for comment from city officials in New York City, San Antonio, and Houston were not answered.

At city budget hearings, aldermen have questioned Johnson's staff about whetherChicago is ready to handle an increase in asylum requests starting in 2024.

The amount the city plans to spend on migrant services in 2023 is significantly  less than the $150 million it has set aside for that purpose in the budget next year. Critics pointed out that the city should be ready in case the additional funding doesn't materialize, despite Budget Director Annette Guzman's assertion that the cityis putting pressure on state and federal representatives to contribute more.

Additionally, aldermen have called for greater transparency as to how the budget will support the placement of more asylum seekers in shelters and other housing, as well as the hiring of more Spanishspeaking employees for the city's department that assists newcomers.

The volunteer at the O'Hare shelter, Marzullo, stated that it's getting harder and  harder to keep up.

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