Chicago is now sheltering hundreds of illegal migrants at O’Hare International Airport as the city waits for new shelters to be built.
The hundreds of recent arrivals, including babies and the elderly, live in a shuttle bus center at the airport’s Terminal 1, where they sleep on cardboard and use airport bathrooms, the Associated Press reported.
Up to 500 migrants have lived at O’Hare at the same time in the crowded area where privacy is a curtain closed with staples, although the migrants have spread out beyond the curtain, some sleeping along windows as travelers walk by.
Medical care is limited, and germs reportedly spread quickly in the living area.
A private firm watches the migrants and their activities.
The haphazard shelter situation has raised concerns about public health as well as safety.
“It was supposed to be a stop-and-go place,” said Vianney Marzullo, one of the few volunteers at O’Hare. “It’s very concerning. It is not just a safety matter, but a public health matter.”
Some migrants are also living at Chicago’s other airport, Midway International Airport, about 20 miles south of O’Hare. Others are sleeping on the floors of police stations.
Chicago has been scrambling to respond to a migrant crisis before the cold winter months arrive. The country’s third-largest city has experienced an influx of about 14,000 migrants recently, many from Venezuela, and has already spent at least $250 million on the issue.
Last month, the city of Chicago signed a $29.4 million contract with a private security firm to build massive winterized camps for newly arrived illegal migrants. The firm will be responsible for building, staffing, and operating the huge tents, which must be able to house between 250 and 1,400 migrants.
Chicago Democratic Mayor Brandon Johnson faced pushback last month when he asked all 50 city council members to find two acres in their wards for a large tent that could house 200 migrants.
“I’ve looked in my ward. I just don’t have any available space. I have one of the most dense wards in the city,” Alderman Brian Hopkins, whose ward includes parts of downtown, said last month.
In the meantime, Chicago leaders have been begging the federal government for help with the migrant crisis.
“Let me state this clearly: the city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes,” Johnson said in late August.
The federal government has already given Chicago and Illinois at least $8.5 million for the migrant crisis.
Other major cities are battling a migrant problem as well.
New York City is struggling to process about 113,000 migrants who have streamed into the city since last summer. New York also set up tent shelters for migrants last year but ran into issues, including flooding in one of those shelters.
Other cities like Boston and Atlantic City, New Jersey, have rejected the idea of sheltering migrants in airports.
“It is such a preposterous solution to the problems we have,” said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson recently about the idea. “Who is going to secure these people? Who is going to feed them? Who is going to educate them? We really don’t have any infrastructure to take care of them.”