Mary Dixon: Texas Governor Gregg Abbott continues to send asylum-seekers crossing the border, many from Venezuela, by bus or plane to Chicago. More than eight thousand have arrived since last August. The flow slowed in recent months but it’s picking back up. For the past two weeks, Chicago officials estimate more than a hundred new arrivals per day are seeking shelter. And a number of them are ending up at Chicago police stations. WBEZ’s Michael Puente has the story.
Michael Puente: At several of Chicago Police Department Stations, you'll find Little Caesar pizza boxes, Dunkin Donuts coffee cups and other items surrounding the migrants who lay sit or stand in the vestibule of these stations, with little to protect them from the blowing wind when the front doors open. The Diaz family arrived at one two weeks ago. Their journey began two years ago when they left their native Venezuela and found a temporary home in neighboring Colombia. Then they went to Mexico before arriving in Chicago. Joana Diaz says it's been tough. She says they had to sleep on bare floors with no sheets, no food or access to showers and sometimes they aren't made to feel welcome.
She says they weren't given anything. One police officer approached her and told her it wasn't his responsibility to find her food. The Diazes are part of the latest wave of asylum seekers to arrive in Chicago, now averaging 75 to 125 people per day according to city officials. But with no place to put the new arrivals, officials have been sending them to police stations all over the city as a last resort. Diaz's family spent nights going from one to another before finding themselves at district four in South Chicago. There, they are given a little more privacy, situated off to the side and away from the sliding doors. Joana Diaz says the officers are nicer here.
Joana Diaz: Y bien lo maltratado de maravilla acá en este policía no se puede quejar de acá si nos ayudan comida con agua nos ayudan para bañarnos que en otra estación no nos hacen eso muy bien muy bien muy bien con nosotros acá.
Michael Puente: Her husband, Edwin Diaz, says he didn’t come to the United States seeking help. He just wants to find a place to stay so that he can find a job and help his family.
Edwin Diaz: No vine aquí para pedir ayuda a nadie. Quiero encontrar refugio para poder salir adelante con mi familia y encontrar un trabajo. No quiero estar aquí por mucho tiempo en la estación.
Michael Puente: Another migrant, Jose Jimenez is also staying at the 4th District station with his wife Adriana and their three children. As we talk, Adriana approaches us after returning from a nearby church with her daughter and a few others who went to take showers. Adriana Jimenez agrees that the hospitality shown here is much better than the other police stations she’s visited.
She says she can't complain about the treatment here because they help them with food, water and other items. She was hoping for a place to stay to make it more comfortable for her three children, including her son who was sick. When new arrivals may make it to Chicago, they are directed to call the city's non emergency number 311 to request shelter. Hospitals were once an option for those seeking shelter, but not anymore, according to Nubia Willman, director of the city’s Office of New Americans. Last week she spoke before the Chicago City Council on the issue to not overburden one station arrivals spread out across the city.
Nubia Willman: To be clear, this is not a long-term solution. There are only chairs, no space to eat, no showers, laundry or activities for children.
Michael Puente: Willman says the city has developed so called respite centers, but they fill up fast. The city is trying to identify suitable locations for more respite centers to take the pressure off the police stations. Alderpeople also say that it's unhealthy for both the migrants and the police officers, or anyone, to be living at the stations. The city is also seeking millions of dollars to care for the migrants already here, and the onslaught of those expected to come soon. For Joana Diaz, she just wants to find a place to live, work, and schools for her two young children, including her four year old daughter who is autistic.
She says says she wants to put her in a school for autistic children and she hopes to provide a better future for her family, a future she didn't have. Michael Puente, WBEZ News.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.