At a community meeting on Monday, some Pilsen residents welcomed the opening of a new temporary shelter for asylum-seekers in the neighborhood, but others wondered why the city wasn’t first helping homeowners in the area lower their property taxes.
The warehouse, at 2241 S. Halsted, is expected to start receiving migrants as soon as Tuesday, according to Beatriz Ponce de Leon, the deputy mayor of immigrant, migrant and refugee rights.
About 400 migrants, comprised of families with children, will be housed in the neighborhood’s first city-run shelter during the first phase, according to a fact sheet given out to meeting attendees. Up to 1,000 migrants could be housed during a second phase, city officials said.
“What we are doing here is saving lives,” local Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) told the hundreds gathered at Benito Juarez Community Academy’s auditorium about the new shelter, pointing out that many migrants are forced to stay in cramped conditions at police stations across the city.
But Sigcho-Lopez’s message to his constituents was interrupted by some residents who loudly questioned why property taxes in the area were so high. An analysis of the tax bills last year revealed that Hispanic neighborhoods — like Pilsen — were hit hard by property tax increases.
As people continued shouting over each other, Sigcho-Lopez implored residents to be civil and listen to one another.
“I ask you, listen to each other, because we are here at Benito Juarez, where our youth is, and we have to present better examples for them,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
Officials with the Department of Family and Support Services, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department were also at the meeting.
Many residents of the neighborhood — which has a sizable immigrant population — sympathized with the plight of the recent arrivals, but they wondered why immigrants who have been here for years aren’t receiving the same levels of help.
Esmeralda Zaragoza said she used to own a store at Cermak and Damen that was forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 48-year-old said she repeatedly sought help from the city and state but was left to fend for herself.
“It is not the same being a refugee and an immigrant,” Zaragoza said. “We don’t have the same things, but we want the same things that they are getting.”
Another resident asked whether he could get $6,000 from funds set aside for asylum-seekers to pay his property tax bill.
But others asked those in attendance to remember their immigrant roots and welcome their new neighbors.
“We have to build a community that is organized, humanist and informed,” said Rosalia Suarez. “And if we don’t listen to each other we aren’t going to build anything. Only the people can save people, but only if it’s organized.”
“I think we are forgetting where we come from,” another woman said. “I think we should all show our human side.”
Chicago has struggled to find housing for the more than 17,000 migrants who have arrived in Chicago since August 2022. Mayor Brandon Johnson plans to create giant tent cities, or “winterized base camps,” to house new arrivals.
And the number of arrivals is only expected to increase. At the meeting, Ponce de Leon warned that Chicago is expected to receive 25 buses a day from Texas beginning this week, potentially bringing in 1,250 migrants a day.