On Wednesday, the City Council passed a $51 million appropriations measure to support recently arrived asylum seekers, despite pushback from some community residents.  The vote was delayed at last week’s council meeting by Alds. Anthony Beale (9th), Ray Lopez (15th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st). At today’s meeting, more than a dozen City Council members spoke in support or opposition of the measure in a debate that lasted over an hour.

The funding will go to providing support for recently arrived asylum seekers and “provide additional staffers for seven city shelters, respite centers, meals, legal services and transportation for migrants,” according to WBEZ.  

Voting “no” on today’s funding measure were Alds. Gregory Mitchell (7th), Michelle Harris (8th), Anthony Beale (9th), Marty Quinn (13th), Raymond Lopez (15th), David Moore (17th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Monique Scott (24th), Emma Mitts (37th), Nicholas Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and James Gardiner (45th).

Asylum seekers began arriving in Chicago last summer, when Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas started putting people on buses and sending them to cities like Chicago. About 10,000 asylum seekers have arrived since last August.

Like last week’s meeting, about half a dozen public commenters weighed in on the appropriation measure today. Those who spoke in favor of the measure were occasionally interrupted by others who booed, or emphatically asked, “What about us?”  There was a real sense of pain and exasperation in today’s meeting.

A few members of the audience also interrupted proceedings after the public comment period concluded. Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change founder Tyrone Muhammad, who crashed Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s press conference on asylum assistance last week, was asked to leave after interrupting today’s meeting. Natasha Dunn, a South Shore resident who filed a lawsuit to prevent a neighborhood school from being used to house asylum seekers, also left the meeting.*

Earlier this month, South Shore, a majority-Black community, found itself in the center of the humanitarian crisis because of a proposal put forth by former mayor Lori Lightfoot to house asylum seekers at the old South Shore High School at 7529 S. Constance Ave. 

Numerous South Shore residents voiced opposition to the city’s proposed plan during a public meeting hosted by City officials on May 4. Those who spoke during the meeting and its aftermath spoke about the systemic lack of investment the neighborhood experienced over time. In addition, they cited the lack of affordable housing, shuttered neighborhood schools, support for small businesses and homeowners, and crime and violence, among other issues. 

They also feel that the city has purposefully left them out of the decision-making process. In addition, the debate on where the city houses asylum seekers is contentious and has unearthed pre-existing tension between Black and brown people, as well as anti-immigrant sentiment. But not all longtime residents hold those views. Underneath that sentiment are pain, trauma and the feeling among Black people that if the city assists asylum seekers now, they will be forgotten again

“The system is pitting us against each other, and no one is winning but a very select group of folks,” said South Shore resident Dixon Romeo, the executive director of Not Me We, a grassroots community group building power for poor and working-class folks in South Shore. Romeo is also an organizer with the Obama Community Benefits Agreement coalition.


In the days leading up to the May 4 community meeting, third-generation South Shore native Natasha Dunn said the public meeting was initially advertised on Eventbrite and was limited to one RSVP per participant, leading to no more space left. However, Dunn said after being called out for limiting capacity, the City opened the meeting to include more participation from community members.

To house asylum seekers in the middle of a majority Black neighborhood without community input mirrors what happened to residents in Woodlawn, Dunn added. 

In February, the City moved to relocate about 250 asylum seekers to Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn. Woodlawn residents also felt left out of the decision-making process when the City moved to house migrants at the school building. Wadsworth was one of the fifty Chicago Public Schools shuttered by then-mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013. 

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) echoed those sentiments during today’s City Council meeting. She voted in favor of the ordinance. 

Dunn said she left the May 4 meeting with more questions than answers. 

“They didn’t give us proper notice. They did not have a proper plan in place. We didn’t know how long they were going to stay there,” Dunn said. “Or what the setup would be in terms of the community’s safety and respect to our land. None of that was laid out to us.” 

In response, Dunn and other South Shore residents filed a lawsuit on May 10 against the City. They asked a judge to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the City from proceeding with its plans to house migrants at the old high school. 

She added that the old high school, which was shuttered in 2014, was promised to community residents then. She and others presented their ideas for the space to Emanuel and former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. They wanted to repurpose the space to be a community hub. Some of their ideas also included using the old school building for training offices for people in the community and housing. 

“The ultimate goal really for the community is to take back over that building and make it into what we want it to be,” Dunn explained. 

Instead, in 2019 the City Council approved an ordinance establishing a lease agreement between the City and the Chicago Board of Education for the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Fire Department to use the facility as a training center. The lease expires in 2028. The lawsuit lists the ongoing lease as one of the reasons why the school building cannot be converted to house asylum seekers.

It is still unclear whether or not the City will proceed with its plans to use the building as a respite center for asylum seekers. In response to questions from The TRiiBE about the status of the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Law Department said the matter is an ongoing legal proceeding and declined to comment.

Asked by The TRiiBE how his administration will balance supporting asylum seekers and residents of Chicago communities that have historically been divested from, Mayor Johnson said he will propose a 2024 budget that includes resources for asylum seekers as well as current Chicago residents, and committed to passing the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would create a permanent funding stream to reduce homelessness.

“I’m very much committed to a revenue stream or revenue streams that ensure that we are dealing with the crises of those who are unhoused in the city of Chicago, while also making sure that there’s room for those that we are welcoming,” Johnson said.

Dunn said she feels that asylum seekers are innocent in this crisis. The blame, she said, rests at the feet of elected leaders who have historically ignored the needs of Black Chicagoans. 

“They’re just people trying to come here and make a better life for themselves. I’m not blaming them. I blame our elected officials and our government. Our government is creating the us versus them [narrative],” she said. “They’re doing this, instead of them working with the people who have been here and have been historically disenfranchised for generations. If we were up, I could say come on in, let’s help you. We’re not there.” 

She added that it feels like the City is prioritizing the health, safety and welfare of migrants and ignoring Black people. 

Romeo agrees with Dunn about the lack of resources the Black community has. He recalled Jewel leaving the 71st Street corridor and it not being replaced with another store for many years, schools closing in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood’s current housing crisis. According to an analysis by the Reader, South Shore experiences the highest level of evictions in Cook County. 

Both Dunn and Romeo want South Shore to be a thriving neighborhood with fully funded schools so that children won’t have to leave the neighborhood to attend school and affordable housing for those who need it. 

But Romeo disagrees with the notion that Black people can’t still push the City to provide the resources it needs to thrive. 

“If we want something to change in our community, it’s not going to change by picking a fight or withholding resources from another oppressed group of people,” Romeo explained. “It’s gonna come from us coming together and being very clear on the conditions we deal with and what’s going to lead us out of them. Replicating harmful systems, replicating the zero-sum game of us versus them is not going to empower Black folks it historically never has.”

Update 5/31/2023: This article originally stated that Natasha Dunn was asked to leave the meeting. After the article published, Dunn told The TRiiBE she “stood up and announced [she] was leaving” and that she protested the funding allocation as she left the Council chambers.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.