The former Wadsworth Elementary School building, 6420 S. University Ave.

Chicago City Council voted to accept $20 million in state funds for the city’s growing population of asylum seekers and refugees, a measure met with vocal opposition from all local alderpeople.

Council members voted 32-15 to accept the funding. Joining several South Side alderpeople, local Alds. Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) voted against the measure, saying they want more communication from the mayor’s office about its plans for the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago over the last six months.

In late August, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began bussing hundreds of migrants to Chicago and other sanctuary cities in protest of federal immigration policies. Later that year, Colorado also began bussing people. In total, more than 1,540 people seeking asylum and refugee status have been sent to Chicago and another 1,500 have arrived independently, according to the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).

The city has set up more than a dozen temporary shelters, but new arrivals are coming every day, a DFSS spokesperson said, and the department is getting increasingly overwhelmed. Tensions around the city’s shelter rollout have been especially high in Woodlawn, where the city pushed forward with a plan to house hundreds of migrants in the former Wadsworth Elementary School in spite of vocal opposition from the community members and Ald. Taylor.

The city began moving about 100 men and women into the school, located at 6420 S. University Ave., in early February. The move followed several public meetings in which residents repeatedly expressed exasperation to city officials at the project’s moving ahead without community input and in a neighborhood many said the city has neglected for decades. Other residents have expressed xenophobic or racially-charged opposition.

During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, these tensions came to a head.  

“With all due respect, this should have been a conversation with us. As a matter of fact, this is a conversation I asked for back in October,” said Taylor. “I’m confused at how we’re here again, trying to pass something without still having a conversation.”

The funds come from the Illinois Department of Human Services for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The $20 million will be used by DFSS to supply food, shelter and hire more staff. 

Taylor asked the council to reject these funds, saying Mayor Lori Lighfoot’s office has bypassed talking to alderpeople about its shelter rollout plans.

“I want us to have a conversation about this. I’ve said it time and time again, I wanted us to have a conversation about where these camps were in the community,” Taylor said. She added that previous attempts to work with the mayor’s office on setting up a shelter elsewhere in the 20th Ward went ignored. 

“I made it clear to this administration in October, I had a part of the ward that I felt could accommodate (the migrants), because they’re Latinx-speaking folks, and part of my ward is Latinx. But I wasn’t listened to. It felt like nobody heard me and it went on deaf ears,” Taylor said. “So when do we have the conversation about where it’s safe, where people should actually be, where they can get the support that they need in the community?”


Lightfoot denied this, saying that they had considered the location but it was unsuitable. Taylor said she hadn’t been told this. 

Hairston also voiced opposition to the funds, saying the council should hold off on accepting the money. 

“Because once you get this money, the administration does exactly what they want to do,” Hairston said. “I want to know who is making these decisions.”

Alds. Ray Lopez (15th) and Jason Ervin (28th) also urged the council to vote against the measure. Taylor unsuccessfully attempted to defer a vote on it to a later meeting.

Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd), Maria Hadden (49th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd),Gilbert  Villegas (36th), Byron Sicho-Lopez (25th) and others argued in favor of accepting the money.  

“This money is going to the same people doing the work for multiple populations,” Hadden said. The DFSS, she noted, also provides services and shelter for the city’s unhoused population.

“We should not take food out of the mouths of people who need it,” Dowell said.

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

(1) comment

Terence herlihy

The reason that government committee findings seen unreal is because they make decisions under the guidance of Robert's Rules of Order written by some white racist thug 200 years ago, whose sole objective was the preservation of slavery. I have wasted whole days going to "public hearings" and getting 120 seconds to explain my position on an incredibly complicated issue that the highly "donated to" commissioner would then vote on with no input from expert witnesses or their own engineers, if they still have any.

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