Volunteers say buses of migrants arriving in Chicago at increased rate


Volunteers assisting with the effort to care for asylum-seekers who have arrived in Chicago said Saturday rates of arrival are higher than ever before.

Annie Gomberg, a lead volunteer organizer at the Austin District station on the West Side, said she received an email from a top immigrant staffer with Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration informing volunteers to expect five buses of migrants to arrive Saturday, which would be the largest number of buses carrying asylum-seekers the city has ever received in one day.

The volunteers late Saturday were still trying to determine how many buses actually arrived, but the email from Rey Wences-Najera, first deputy mayor of immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, underscored the concern many share as they scramble on a daily basis to provide basic care for new arrivals.

“We just don’t know. It’s really really difficult to plan when you don’t know,” Gomberg said, adding late Saturday the city predicted even more buses could arrive Sunday.

More than 150 volunteers have stepped up to help at Chicago police stations housing migrants, as the number of recent arrivals has soared past 14,000 in recent weeks. Gomberg, who estimates she volunteers about 40 hours per week, said numbers have ballooned since she started volunteering at the end of April and that the number of migrants living in police station is near 2,000 now.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re in a space that will promote public health, or public safety, or human dignity for the residents of the stations,” Gomberg said.

The latest influx of asylum-seekers comes as Johnson’s administration has begun moving forward with plans to put up migrant base camps across the city with the aim to place migrants at the camps rather than inside police stations. Johnson’s administration recently signed a nearly $30 million contract with a private security firm for the base camp project.

Gomberg is concerned about how the city’s infrastructure will be able to withstand the winter months.

“It’s management. There’s interpersonal conflict, there’s crises, operational conflicts and so many logistics,” she said.

Nationally, the arrival of large groups of migrants has recently overwhelmed Border Patrol agents.

Migrants were stopped at the border 142,037 times during the first 17 days of September, up 15% from 123,777 the same period last month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures released Thursday by Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador.

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Mexico’s top diplomat, Alicia Bárcena, said at a news conference in New York that migrant shelters in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, Texas, are 95% full.

Soledad Velasco, a social anthropologist and human geographer at University of Illinois at Chicago who recently got back from a fieldwork trip to the Darién Gap, said the number of people traversing the Panamanian border to the U.S. continues to grow, due mainly to unprecedented levels of unemployment following the pandemic and climate change.

“Chicago has been a migrant city, but this is a new moment in migration history all over the world. It’s the 21st century and we have to understand that we’re facing a global collapse. This is not the same Chicago as three decades ago, nor even a decade ago,” she said.

Assistant professor at the University of Chicago Chiara Galli, who specializes in international migration and volunteers at the 2nd and 3rd Districts, said that many of those helping at police stations are not medical professionals, and are not equipped to identify health needs.

“Migrants themselves are very confused about how to navigate the health care system in Chicago,” she said. “There’s an issue of resource constraints.”

Associated Press contributed.



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