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Asylum-seekers cleared from once-crowded Chicago police station as city begins to enact new policies

Alice Yin and Nell Salzman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration cleared all asylum-seekers from the one of the city’s most crowded police stations over the weekend, a significant move that symbolizes his ongoing pivot on how to handle the humanitarian crisis as winter approaches.

The 18th District station at Division and Larrabee streets was “decompressed” Saturday as part of the city’s efforts to move the migrant population from police stations to brick-and-mortar shelters, Johnson’s spokesman Ronnie Reese said Monday.

The action comes less than a week after the mayor rolled out a series of new protocols, including a 60-day shelter limit policy aimed at getting migrants to move to more permanent housing and plans to crack down on “rogue” buses that drop off asylum-seekers without the city knowing ahead of time.

While some advocates for migrants applauded the effort to shift asylum-seekers out of the police stations, they also raised serious reservations the moves were setting up migrants to find themselves back out on the streets in mid-January due to the 60-day shelter policy.

As more migrants continue to arrive in Chicago, while at a slower pace than in previous months, the administration also said it is beginning to augment plans to redirect incoming migrants who wish to go elsewhere, though it was unclear whether those efforts entail subsidized tickets out of the city.

The emptying out of migrants from the Near North police district station comes as several other stations across the city have seen their migrant population decrease significantly, city officials and volunteers at the stations told the Tribune.


The recent maneuvers paint a picture of the Johnson administration’s evolving response to the thousands of asylum-seekers whose fates have presented some of the mayor’s biggest challenges. Though his office maintains that its goal is to resettle new arrivals, the recent updates and new policies signal Johnson is walking a thin line of both trying to reiterate Chicago’s values as being a welcoming city while prioritizing current residents.

“The city continues to identify viable sites — base camps and brick and mortar shelter — as an alternative to new arrivals sleeping outdoors and on the floors of O’Hare Airport and police stations as winter fast approaches,” Johnson’s emergency communications spokeswoman Mary May wrote in a statement. “The goal is to decompress all police districts and airports and provide adequate shelter for new arrivals.”

During the summer, the police stations, as well as O’Hare International Airport, became the go-to locations for many migrants arriving from the southern border, most notably Venezuela. The stations got so crowded that many chose to set up tents outside. But the city has moved to slow those temporary encampments as temperatures have dropped in the past six weeks.

Still, as of Monday afternoon, about 1,600 individuals remained camped out among another 20 police districts, while belongings inside the Near North station and the cluster of tents that had dotted the sidewalks outside were gone. Whether the results at the 18th District will last hinges on whether the city can keep up with the ongoing — albeit slower — volume of buses from U.S. southern states, among other factors.


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