Deportation flights to Venezuela concern Chicago migrant advocates


President Joe Biden’s decision Thursday to resume deportation flights of Venezuelans sparked concern among immigration advocates Friday even as details about the policy shift remained murky.

It was not immediately clear how the deportation flights, which Biden officials said would resume within days, would affect the migrant population in Chicago and Illinois, state and city officials said. But the state expects the policy to reduce the number of Venezuelans arriving at the southwest U.S. border, said Alex Gough, a spokesperson for Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

For people who are found ineligible for asylum, “it could mean that there will be a higher number of them being processed for deportation,” Gough said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Brandon Johnson on Friday continued his public calls for the state and federal governments to ramp up aid to Chicago for the humanitarian crisis surrounding the city’s growing migrant population, saying Springfield must make “sacrifices” to support the city’s response to the asylum-seekers.

Migrants from Venezuela listen to Brayan Lozano, back to camera, outside the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District station on Oct. 6, 2023. Lozano, an asylum-seeker from Colombia, has become a leader of the mutual aid group at the station.

Johnson’s remarks came a day after he met with Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch at his City Hall office to discuss the statehouse’s fall veto session, and after Pritzker showed lukewarm interest in sending more large pots of money to Chicago for its thousands of asylum-seekers.

“I’m gonna continue to have conversations to ensure that the sacrifices that are being made, that it is shared equitably,” Johnson said when asked whether it’s time for state legislators to trim fat elsewhere in the budget to afford more migrant grants to Chicago.

Pritzker appeared to close the door Thursday on any more state money being allocated for migrant relief by state lawmakers, who are meeting later this month and next for their fall veto session.

“It isn’t as if we’re coming in with enormous surpluses,” Pritzker told reporters. “This is not something where we have hundreds of millions of dollars to support.”

The mayor did not answer whether Welch has signaled approval for his additional funding request but said he told the speaker, as well as the governor and the White House, that they must help alleviate the city’s burden in caring for over 17,000 migrants who have arrived in Chicago from the southern U.S. border since August 2022.

Johnson’s deputy chief-of-staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas, a former state senator, also during the week said that Springfield should look into trimming some of the state’s existing appropriations toward migrant grants for the city.

“The people of Chicago, we’re being asked, and frankly tasked, with carrying the vast majority of this responsibility,” Johnson said. “I know that the leadership and the state of Illinois recognizes the importance of Chicago. And the only thing that I can do is do my part. And I’m asking other folks to do their part.”

Still, the mayor nodded to the growing impatience that Chicagoans are expressing, while maintaining, “I know we’re gonna get to the other side of this.”

He also indicated that he was not worried about the race to enact his plan to relocate migrants sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations and airports into winterized base camps before temperatures dip.

“I know that the city of Chicago has been incredibly patient with my administration. Everyone knows. It’s not like I’m calling up relatives from another country saying, ‘Y’all want to come live with me?’ Our people know that,” Johnson said.

Migrants grab a hot meal outside of the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District station on South State Street on Oct. 6, 2023.

Though Biden’s decision Thursday to resume deportation flights of Venezuelans alarmed immigration advocates and some of Johnson’s allies, the mayor himself chose not to criticize the White House. The federal government had not been deporting people to Venezuela because of severed ties with the South American country’s government.

“The sanctions, of course, that are causing the turmoil is being brought to us by the right-wing extremists in this country,” Johnson said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s oil sanctions against Venezuela. “The real disconnect is the fact that you have global population shifts that have been propagated by the very failures of the Republican entities that want to score political points by attacking major cities where Black and brown people live.”

Last month, the Biden administration announced it would grant temporary protected status, or protection from removal when the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return, to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. between March 2021 and July 31 of this year.

Immigration advocates on Friday questioned Biden’s decision to simultaneously grant protected status to nearly 500,000 Venezuelans in the United States and now resume deportations for others.

Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the response from the Biden administration concerns him. “It’s been contradictory,” by first announcing the extension of TPS and then resuming deportations to Venezuela, he said.

Tsao said that the coalition of pro-immigrant organizations is still evaluating and trying to understand the announcement and how it could affect migrants already in Chicago.

The Department of Homeland Security did not provide details on how it will carry out the deportations, or whether it will solely be focused on the border.

Maria Salgado, a U.S. Department of Justice accredited representative who works in the legal department at Centro Romero, said migrants who entered the U.S. after July 31 “could fall into the undocumented population, which puts them at risk of deportation.”

If these individuals had orders of removal and missed their court dates or did not follow up with their cases, or had orders of removal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can search for and deport them, even if they’re living in a sanctuary state, Salgado said.

Immigration attorney Salvador Cicero predicted the policy would not affect people who come to the U.S. with valid asylum claims, like political persecution. However, it is likely to affect “economic migrants” who move to the U.S. in hopes of finding better jobs, he said.

“The people who don’t have any sort of (asylum) claim, now they’re just going to be deported,” Cicero said, adding that prosecutors and judges will still have discretion. “I think those people are likely to get sent back a lot sooner than they would have expected.”

The policy will also allow the federal government to deport some Venezuelans who commit crimes while living in the U.S., Cicero said.

Illinois law enforcement agencies are not allowed to detain people solely on the basis of civil immigration warrants or arrest them based on immigration status, said Gough, Pritzker’s spokesperson. He deferred to federal authorities to clarify the policy’s impact. A White House spokesperson did not respond to calls and emails requesting explanation of the policy’s effect Friday.

“This is why no one trusts the immigration policy, because there is so much arbitrariness to it, there’s no basis to it,” Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, a refugee shelter in El Paso, Texas, said. “Two weeks ago, you found Venezuelans to be at risk, and now they’re no longer at risk and can be sent home.”

On Friday afternoon, a group of migrants living at a police station on the Near South Side gathered around to try to make sense of the news.

“But where do we find an attorney?” a woman asked.


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