Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez calls on city leaders to address growing ‘humanitarian crisis’ migrants bused from Texas are facing

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A group of community activists stood with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, on Thursday to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city leaders to address the “humanitarian crisis” facing migrants bused from Texas and demand the implementation of a proposal that would repurpose empty community spaces into shelters.

At a news conference at City Hall, Sigcho-Lopez said he has become increasingly concerned by the living conditions of over 3,600 asylum-seekers who have arrived on buses from Texas and highlighted a plan from the 25th Ward to leverage underutilized schools, churches and community centers to provide housing and other support services for migrant families.

City officials have affirmed Illinois’ stance as a welcoming state, saying it is “committed to assisting each family and individual, providing human services with respect and dignity.” But Sigcho-Lopez said the city has not fully upheld that promise.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, denounces the city and state’s “lack of plan” to address the humanitarian crisis of migrants during a news conference at City Hall on Nov. 10, 2022.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, denounces the city and state’s “lack of plan” to address the humanitarian crisis of migrants during a news conference at City Hall on Nov. 10, 2022. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

“We were assured that Chicago was a welcoming city,” he said. “But in the weeks that followed, many leaders that you see here with me continue to seek information on the care that these migrants or refugees are receiving. We all face institutional barriers, obstruction and retaliation.”

Sigcho-Lopez said he has personally received reports of “distressed migrants” and visited a shelter in Harvey, where he said 108 people and at least 60 minors, including a 4-month-old, need immediate mental health care, immunizations, schooling and food security, among other critical needs.

He said some children were missing basic necessities such as jackets to be able to go outside.

“These migrants are isolated. They’re enduring food insecurity. … They’re facing mistreatment,” he said. “Where’s the plan? Where is the funding? Because what we see is unacceptable.”

According to Sigcho-Lopez, one of the quickest ways to address the crisis is to create supportive spaces for migrants and other Chicagoans at risk.

“This can be prevented, and this can be changed,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Doing nothing is not an option for our city.”

In a statement to the Tribune, a spokesman from the mayor’s office outlined the city’s efforts with nonprofit partners and the state of Illinois in recent months to aid asylum-seekers from Texas.

“Upon arrival, individuals and families are provided immediate shelter and support to meet their basic needs. They receive in-depth case management and connections to services from city, county, state, and community-based agencies. We have a responsibility to provide shelter, food, and medical care for each individual and family — many of whom walked hundreds of miles, navigating great danger through multiple countries, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States,” the statement said.

Faith leaders, such as Judy Vazquez of St. Adalbert Church’s rosary group, called on the Archdiocese of Chicago specifically to repurpose empty churches into shelters for migrants, rather than turning them into “luxury” spaces for profit.

“Churches built by our immigrant ancestors are being sold for millions in profit,” she said. “All the money is going to the archdiocese. Where is this money? Why isn’t the money going back into the communities?”

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The lifelong Pilsen resident said religious leaders must act with “compassion.”

“We have called on the archdiocese to do what it was created to do, to be compassionate and to serve the people of God created in His image,” Vazquez said. “I am praying, asking, demanding our that our churches return to their roots of caring for the people.”

For Sigcho-Lopez, it’s about diverting existing resources and funds to people who need them most.

“We have the resources to prevent suffering,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Every elected official who is choosing to ignore this crisis is complicit. The people are standing here, the communities around us, are choosing not to look the other way. This is not an issue of funding. The resources exist.”

Sigcho-Lopez and the community activists delivered a letter addressed to Lightfoot to urge county, state and federal officials to discuss their proposal and put families on a path to a “successful quality of life.”

After City Hall employees directed the group to several different offices, the alderman was able to leave the letter with a member of Lightfoot’s office. While feeling hopeful about the letter’s impact, he said it will come down to the public’s response.

“I don’t hold my breath, but at least I hope that the public opinion and the people who learn about the situation can motivate them to act,” he said.

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November 10, 2022 at 06:47PM

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