More than two months after hundreds of immigrants began arriving in Chicago from the southern border, one alderman is questioning the living conditions and services officials are providing.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) along with other community members delivered a letter Thursday to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff asking for a meeting with county, state and federal officials to discuss a plan for the more than 3,600 immigrants who have arrived from Texas. Immigrants arriving at the nation’s southern border are being sent by the Republican Texas governor — as a political statement — to Democrat-led sanctuary cities like Chicago.
The letter comes after Sigcho-Lopez said he visited a hotel in suburban Harvey where more than 100 immigrants, including children, had been temporarily living in “inhumane” conditions.
“I did not visit a hotel,” he said Thursday morning during a news conference inside City Hall. “I visited a jail.”
Sigcho-Lopez said he saw signs of overcrowding, and the children living at the hotel hadn’t enrolled in local schools. He said officials weren’t providing activities for the children, and there weren’t services helping the adults find jobs. He added that the group was isolated and many individuals didn’t have jackets to go outside.
In response to questions about the hotel in Harvey, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said that the hotel “did not meet our expectations,” adding that the asylum seekers had since been relocated to another location.
In a statement, city officials did not specifically address the individuals who had been living at the suburban hotel, but they did say newly arrived immigrants are provided shelter, food, medical care and are connected to other services.
“We are committed to assisting each family and individual, providing human services with respect and dignity,” the statement read.
Sigcho-Lopez said community groups had connected with immigrants who were later housed in Harvey when they first arrived to the city via a bus at the Chicago Greyhound bus station. He later visited the hotel after receiving reports about distressing conditions.
He said it’s been challenging receiving updates from officials about what kind of care and services immigrants are receiving. Sigcho-Lopez said he was told some immigrants have only received one health screening and others had not been evaluated for possible mental health needs.
“We all face institutional barriers, obstruction and even retaliation,” he said about seeking information.
Sigcho-Lopez said he thinks a space in the 25th Ward should be repurposed to house the new immigrants so they can more easily connect with bilingual services in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods.
Community activist Judy Vazquez called on the Archdiocese of Chicago to use closed churches to serve as a hub for social services for the newly arrived immigrants and others in need. Vazquez is part of a group protesting the removal of a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta from the now-closed St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.
“I am praying, asking, demanding that our churches return to their roots of caring for the people of God,” Vazquez said.
Delilah Martinez, the founder of the Mural Movement, said her gallery recently was turned into a temporary shelter after two men were told they had to leave the shelter in Chicago they were housed at because of a misunderstanding. Martinez, along with other community members, have spoken out before about how all the needs of the immigrants weren’t being met.
“They feel like they are prisoners,” Martinez said during the news conference. “They feel they are not trusted, and they feel they’re being mistreated. This is not just a race, religion or political issue, this is a human decency issue.”
Martinez and Vazquez signed onto the letter delivered Thursday along with William Guerrero, a community organizer, and Juan Soto, from the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.