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  • Kenny Daniels

Migration Crisis in Chicago Leads to Influx of Arrivals in its Suburbs

Updated: Jun 8


More than 35,000 migrants have arrived from the US-Mexico border (especially the Texas-Mexico border) since August 31, 2022, according to Chicago officials. Many of these migrants are originally from Venezuela and have recently been arriving in Chicago's suburbs, largely due to the city’s new requirement for buses to get advanced approval before dropping arriving migrants off in the city.


Of the many suburban towns impacted, the New York Times reported that Wilmette has been notable due to the eagerness of its residents to provide support in easing this crisis. At its Metra station, where buses of migrants seeking shelter have been arriving and waiting for transportation into Chicago, volunteers greet the new arrivals and provide them with donated essentials, namely coats, and snow pants to keep warm in Chicago’s bitterly cold weather. However, many of these volunteers have expressed a desire to do more and hope that suburbs will be given a larger role in easing this crisis, a sentiment also shared by Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson (D-IL). Ideally, this would entail providing more housing, given that the 28 shelters in the city, most of which are well above their maximum capacity, are overflowing in an attempt to house over 15,000 people. The lack of shelter is one of multiple reasons why Chicago has redirected migrant bus arrivals to its suburbs, yet the vast majority of migrants venture into the city to access necessary resources that are absent in the suburbs.


In addition to Wilmette, many suburbs have provided aid in this time of need. This includes Oak Park, a small city adjacent to Chicago, whose local government voted to spend over $500,000 in an effort to provide shelter for the city’s 162 migrants for the rest of winter. In Lake Forest, a city about 30 miles north of Chicago, volunteers and city officials have worked to assemble care packages and other resources for the migrants who arrived in the neighboring city of Highland Park in late December. However, most impacted towns and cities have not been nearly as motivated to help, given that many residents have expressed disinterest in becoming involved, some believing that it’s Chicago’s crisis and not theirs. This sentiment was echoed by a city council member of Naperville, Josh McBroom, who argued against the allocation of public funds to support migrants and suggested that if Naperville’s citizens are looking to help, they should simply offer to host migrants in their homes instead. Other suburban mayors and city council members have shown more sympathetic attitudes–Mayor of Woodstock Mike Turner stated that while migrants deserve aid, suburban towns and cities don’t have the necessary resources or funding to support Chicago in navigating this crisis. 


This migrational shift influx is not only happening in Chicago’s suburbs. In late December 2023, 13 buses of migrants arrived at public transit stations in the New Jersey suburbs of New York, waiting for transportation into the city because New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D-NY) passed an executive order requiring 32 hours prior notice from buses of migrants before their arrival. Chicago enacted their own requirement a few weeks afterward. Additionally, almost all of these buses are coming from Texas, which has transported over 100,000 migrants to various major U.S. cities, with 30,800 heading to Chicago and 37,100 heading to New York (which are drastically higher numbers than any other impacted city). However, New York is much more equipped to handle this influx, given that it has over 200 shelters to house migrants, almost 10 times more than Chicago's. 


Chicago and New York (and their suburbs) will continue to see the effects of this migrant influx. If these major cities allocate more funds and resources towards managing this crisis, or if they are granted federal funding, the restrictions on bus arrivals in the city will possibly be lifted or become more relaxed. If not, however, then suburbs will most likely continue to be unequipped and uninterested in assisting, excluding pre-existing volunteer organizations. The upcoming changes within migrant populations in these cities have a chance of potentially impacting the platform of any local or state candidates in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas (or even presidential candidates) during the upcoming election season. Additionally, the federal government seems to have become more involved, with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) already having sponsored the GRACE Act in January of this year, which seeks to increase the annual maximum number of refugees admitted into the US. With Fiscal Year 2024’s budget set to be completed by March, more federal funding could possibly be allocated towards providing housing and other means of support to the Chicago and New York metropolitan areas. Regardless of whether the GRACE Act is passed or if federal funding is granted, this crisis will likely be kept in mind by voters in both Illinois and the Tri-State area as election season approaches. 


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