Since last summer, more than 14,000 migrants, primarily from South and Central America, have arrived in Chicago. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has bused more than 11,000 migrants and asylum seekers to Chicago. The rapid growth of migrants in the city is outpacing the city’s ability to house and care for them, according to Mayor Brandon Johnson. 

To accommodate the new arrivals, Johnson has opened 16 new shelters since his inauguration in May. While placing migrants in shelters and police stations, Johnson and his predecessor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have repeatedly advocated for more financial support from President Joe Biden to address the rising costs of caring for migrants arriving in Chicago. 

City leaders anticipate spending $255 million to shelter and care for new arrivals by year’s end.

The Johnson administration wants to relocate migrants from police stations to base camps before winter. On Sept. 12, the city awarded a $29 million contract to GardaWorld Federal Services, a private security company to build large tents for migrants. The decision raised concerns from human rights advocates due to the company’s mistreatment of migrants in other states and in Canada.  

On Sept. 20, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status to Venezuelan migrants, enabling them to obtain legal documents for living and working in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

Now that the city is a year into housing migrants, more questions continue to emerge, such as where the money is coming from to care for new arrivals and why the city won’t consider alternate spaces such as vacant Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to house migrants.

The TRiiBE made a list of important information about how city leaders are handling the humanitarian crisis and what to anticipate in the next few weeks.

Who are migrants? Who are asylum seekers, and why are they coming in en masse to Chicago?

Migrants began arriving in Chicago last summer when Gov. Abbott started putting people on buses and sending them to Democratic-led cities, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City and even Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence. 

Asylum seekers are a distinct group of migrants who are seeking refuge in America. Many have traveled to Chicago and other parts of the country to escape unstable conditions in their home countries, such as Venezuela, and are asking the U.S. government for protection. Asylum seekers are legally allowed to be in the U.S. while they await a decision on their request for asylum.

Although most migrants in Chicago are from Venezuela and are fleeing political repression violence, according to the city, there are others from all over the world, including Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Migrants move to other places in search of work or better living conditions. 

Chicago has a long history of welcoming immigrants, refugees and migrants. The city’s sanctuary status goes back to 1985, when then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order barring employees from enforcing federal immigration law.  

Since the 1980s, the city has revised its policies to protect undocumented residents. The most recent update came in 2021 under Lightfoot’s administration.

To date, how many migrants are in Chicago?

There are more than 14,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Chicago since last August.

Where are they being housed?

In police stations, airports and temporary shelters. Currently, there are 8,308 people that are housed in 20 city shelters. According to a Block Club Chicago news report, more than 2,000 migrants are waiting to be moved from police stations and Chicago airports to one of the city’s shelters. 

There are 20 migrant shelters citywide, and those staying in city-run temporary shelters can access wrap-around services, including legal help, children and youth services resettlement, and case management to support them in their integration into Chicago, according to the city’s website. The City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights releases data from the city on new arrivals that you can track here.

Why aren’t the migrants working to support themselves?

Migrants in the U.S. need legal papers to work, but getting work permits takes time. In the U.S., migrants requesting asylum must wait up to 150 days after filing their application to ask for a work permit. 

They can’t start working until their application has been reviewed for at least a month, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

Recently, migrant barbers in the Loop were arrested for running a business without a license.

Leaders like Johnson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and others in Democratic-led cities have pressed the Biden administration to speed up the work permit process. On Sept. 20, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status to Venezuelan migrants, ensuring they can legally work and live in the U.S. without worrying about deportation.

Why isn’t the city using shuttered CPS buildings to house migrants?

Over the last few weeks, numerous users on social media have asked why the Johnson administration isn’t using shuttered CPS buildings to house migrants. There are currently 20 vacant former CPS schools.

During a press conference on Sept. 14, Johnson inadvertently addressed that idea, “We’ve looked at all of them. Some of them have damage that would take $12 to $15 million to repair.”

The exception, however, is Wadsworth Elementary School. In February, the city relocated about 250 asylum seekers to Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn, which was shuttered by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in 2013.


How much money has been spent to care for and house asylum seekers?

According to City of Chicago press secretary Ronnie Reese, the city has spent $132.8 million between August 2022 and August 2023. The state has provided $50 million in funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services. The federal government has contributed more than $39 million. 

By year’s end, officials project that the city will spend $255 million to welcome and support migrants.

What is Mayor Johnson’s plan to address the humanitarian crisis?

Since Mayor Johnson took office in May, he’s opened 16 new shelters. Earlier this month, the Johnson administration shared a new plan to move nearly 1,600 migrants from police stations to tent cities before winter, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. The giant tents would hold up to 1,000 people. City officials have identified some locations for the tent cities, but it is unclear where they will be located. The ‘winterized base camps’ would include meals and educational programming as a way for the city to cut costs, according to the Sun-Times. 

The mayor has also asked all 50 city council members to identify two-acre areas in their respective wards that can hold large tents with heat and air conditioning units, a mess hall and water hookups.


Why are there concerns about the private security company that the city tapped to build tents for migrants?

GardaWorld Federal Services is the private security company that the city selected to build tents and staff base camps for migrants, as first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business. According to city records, the company would provide food, housing, sanitary services and security. This decision has raised concerns because the company has been accused of mistreating migrants in other states.

In July, elected leaders in Denver decided not to proceed with their plans to hire GardaWorld to shelter migrants due to pushback from community members, the company’s alleged lack of experience with housing migrants and reports of abuse and mistreatment, according to reporting by the Denver Post

What can Chicagoans do to help migrants?

Learn: On Sept. 28, City Bureau will host a public newsroom event focusing on ways Chicagoans can support new arrivals from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Albany Park. Guest speakers for the event include Pastor Thomas Terrell of Christ Lutheran Church and migrant support-core volunteers Dr. Rhoda Gutierrez and Veronica Llerena. 

Volunteer: There’s a volunteer sign-up at the 20th District police station on the North Side, where neighbors are helping migrants. 

Donate: The group 20th District Migrant Aid also has a GoFundMe to benefit the Latino Treatment Center, which will use the donations for food, medical treatment and transportation. 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.