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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

As city officials focus on police stations, they also are turning attention to incoming asylum-seekers by trying to identify and punish so-called rogue buses whose operators, city officials say, are not coordinating with them and dropping off migrants in scattered areas throughout the city.

Utilizing a new provision quietly included as part of Johnson’s 2024 budget that sailed through the City Council last Wednesday, Johnson and his team plan to fine intercity buses that don’t obtain approval via an application with the Chicago Department of Transportation before unloading at designated bus stands, zones or other locations. Unscheduled buses from out of town must pick up or drop off at designated sites: currently only the west-side curb of South Desplaines Street south of West Polk Street, and only between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Companies that break the new ordinance will be subject to fines between $2,000 to $10,000, one per each unauthorized unloading, the city said.

That designated site at 800 S. Desplaines St. will continue to be used as a “landing zone” for incoming migrants arriving by bus before they are temporarily moved into Chicago police stations and airports, but Reese said the goal is to bypass those destinations altogether once more shelter beds open up or the winterized base camps debut.

In addition to the 1,600 remaining at police stations as of Monday, another 570 individuals were sleeping inside O’Hare. But the combined number of migrants awaiting shelter beds has dropped sharply from a peak of about 3,800 earlier this fall.

Johnson’s team said it will increase staff at the Desplaines Street site, which is the Maxwell Street Market, to try to trim the population entering the shelters. The city intends to guide new arrivals with family or connections elsewhere out of the city.

Johnson administration officials would not say whether that change comes with free bus, train or plane tickets, as has been the case in other cities struggling to keep up with new arrivals. May, Johnson’s emergency office spokeswoman, said Catholic Charities “in partnership with the state provides onward movement” without elaborating.


The mayor’s office added that the state of Illinois may also step in at the Desplaines site, though questions remain on what that cooperation would look like.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week announced an additional $160 million infusion to help the city address the crisis, $65 million of which is expected to be used to set up another tent encampment for migrants that, while funded by the state, would be operated by the city. The remaining $95 million would go toward a new centralized intake center for new arrivals and other assistance.

As of Monday, city and state officials did not have details on where either the state-funded tent encampment or welcoming center would go.

(Chicago Tribune’s Laura Rodriguez contributed.)


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