A pile of donated clothes lies untouched on 76th Street, near Ford City East and across the street from Daley College. --Supplied photo
‘Welcome’ has limits, some say
By Tim Hadac
As city government continues to struggle with the flow of migrants from the nation’s southern border, at least two Southwest Side aldermen are calling for changes to Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance.
The call has come in response to reports of some migrants breaking laws as they remain temporarily housed at city police stations, airports and community colleges.
“Every week I receive calls asking us to do something about [migrants’] behavior: the drinking, loitering, drug use, outdoor sex acts,” 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez said. “Unfortunately, as the law is written now, all we can do is issue [a ‘notice of violation’ citation] or hold them in the police district. We must do better and show there are limits to our hospitality to those who choose not to be positive members of our society.”
The ordinance, initially passed by the City Council in 2012 and approved by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made Chicago a self-described sanctuary city. As such, city government was essentially prohibited from cooperating with federal authorities such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in matters relating to people suspected of being in the country illegally.
The ordinance contained exceptions to that rule, especially in cases where immigrants are documented gang members, are convicted felons or are wanted on criminal warrants.
Most refer to those exceptions as “carve-outs” in the ordinance. Others have described them derisively as loopholes that allow the feds to persecute migrants.
After years of activists’ pressure to eliminate the carve-outs, the City Council in 2021 (with the approval of Mayor Lori Lightfoot) closed the loopholes—a move the National Immigrant Justice Center hailed as a blow against what they called “the xenophobic, white supremacist immigration enforcement system.”
The 2021 changes were approved on a 41-8 vote. Southwest Side aldermen voting against the changes were Lopez, 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea and 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares.
With reports of crimes committed by migrants piling up, Lopez recently called for the carve-outs to be restored to the Welcoming City Ordinance and said he planned to introduce legislation at the Wednesday, Sept. 13 meeting of the City Council.
Lopez’s proposed change to the law would allow the city to engage with federal immigration authorities if any non-citizen has been arrested or convicted of gang-related crimes, drug-related crimes, prostitution-related crimes or crimes involving minors. The ordinance currently has 20 co-sponsors, Lopez claimed.
Since August 2022, about 14,000 migrants have been sent to Chicago by border state governors like Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Today, an estimated 1,500 are currently housed in 22 police stations across the city. Some 300 are housed at O’Hare International Airport.
“We’ve got more migrants in police stations than officers–with more coming–and the city has handcuffed itself when it comes to combating crime,” Tabares said. “Reopening communication to address criminal behavior will improve the safety of all residents, regardless of how they got here or how long they’ve called Chicago home.”
Most complaints about the migrants seem to involve the mess they create by living on the lobby floors of police stations and the tent-city appearance of their encampments outside the stations.
Other complaints involve allegations of misdemeanor crimes like panhandling and prostitution.
SW Siders weigh in
Most Southwest Siders contacted by the Greater Southwest News-Herald declined to speak on the record about the migrant influx, saying they were either afraid of being branded as racists or (on the other hand) being tagged as enablers of crime.
A few spoke openly.
“Most people who support [the migrants] don’t see what I see,” said West Elsdon resident William Malaczek, who said his aunt lives on the 3400 block of West 62nd Place—sharing an alley with the back of the Chicago Lawn (8th) District station, 3420 W. 63rd St.
“People can’t even put their own garbage in their own garbage cans,” he said. “And that’s the migrants’ garbage that makes it into the cans. A lot doesn’t. Pizza boxes, dirty diapers, water bottles, Coke bottles, donated food that just gets thrown on the ground because the migrants don’t like American food.
“Then you’ve got [migrants] using the alley as an open-air toilet, peeing on peoples’ garages and even pulling down their pants and taking dumps. It’s disgusting,” he continued. “I mean, I feel bad for [the migrants], to a point. But they came to this country illegally. The people living behind the police station are regular joes who pay their taxes and follow the law. Why should they have to live with this?”
“What I don’t like is that the Eighth District station has become a place where [johns] hang out,” Chicago Lawn resident Estela Aranda-Jimenez said. “You see them circling the block in their cars, again and again, until some Venezuelan girl meets them at the curb.
“Sure enough, after a minute or so, the girl gets in the [john’s] car and off they go. Ten minutes later, the car is back and the girl gets out. She walks back to the police station and the car zooms away,” she continued. “That has to stop.”
Garfield Ridge resident John Nikrut, a retired law enforcement officer, said it is “unfair that police have to bear the brunt of the burden of these migrants. Why them? Why police stations? Why not public libraries? Why not park field houses?
“Or here’s a better idea,” he added. “Why not at the offices and homes of every alderman who voted to make Chicago a sanctuary city? Or how about letting them set up a tent city on Superior Street on the West Side (where Mayor Brandon Johnson and family live)?”
A few others, like Ashburn resident Maribel Guzman, have found fault with Chicagoans trying to aid the migrants.
“These people don’t think things through,” she told the Greater Southwest News-Herald. “They empty their closets and just dump piles of old clothes right on the ground, in the open by Daley College or the police station—not asking themselves what happens to the pile of clothes when it rains or how many rats will be attracted by the pizzas they put on the ground that go uneaten by the migrants.”
Ashburn resident Nancy Mayweather said she only sees the situation getting worse.
“The politicians had to know these [migrants] would be coming, but they did nothing,” she said. “Now we have this crisis, and you know thousands more will be coming. If I could see some sort of plan in writing from City Hall, at least I’d feel a little better. But I don’t see one, so that tells me they don’t have one. It’s a damn shame.”
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