Neighbors are outraged by Chicago’s move to house migrants in a closed school

Over the course of the previous ten years, residents of the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of this city tried unsuccessfully to save Wadsworth Elementary School, an impressive brick structure that had long served as the hub of their community.

Some people said that they felt insulted yet again by the city when they learned that the old school building would be reopened as a refuge for migrants.

During a demonstration on Friday, a candidate for alderman and two others were detained after entering the property of the former school.

The tensions that are taking place in the Woodlawn neighborhood, where more than eighty percent of the people live are Black, highlight the delicate politics that cities like Chicago and New York are having to deal with as they try to deal with an influx of migrants, many of whom are being taken north by buses by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. A request for clarification was not received from the governor’s office.

Luis Cardona, a retired tow truck driver who helped organize the demonstration on Friday, said of the migrants, “I’ve got nothing against them.” We must first assist those in need here, and then assist others.

In Woodlawn, some residents claimed that the city had neglected the neighborhood for a long time and that the reopening of the school to house migrants was yet another instance of the city acting against the wishes of the community.

Patricia Hightower, an 80-year-old community activist, described the closure of the school as “like a feeling of just total disregard and disrespect for the community.”

Ms. Hightower said that she remembers the fight to save Wadsworth and a subsequent effort to use the building as a youth center or shelter for homeless people. As a result, the news that the city had decided to use the building to house migrants was devastating to the community. Ms. Hightower stated, “We don’t believe it was fair to us or to them for this to have taken place in the manner that it did.”

According to the city, approximately 5,100 migrants have arrived in Chicago on buses arranged by the states of Texas and Colorado since the end of August. Nearly 4,000 of them have been housed, and the city, Cook County, and the state of Illinois have provided them with assistance. A city spokeswoman stated that Chicago has utilized all of its resources to respond to what it considers a humanitarian crisis.

The city stated in a statement, “As with every shelter in the city, Wadsworth was selected because it meets the same necessary shelter and safety requirements to house individuals.” We will continue to work with leaders and residents of the community to support this population more.

According to officials, the number of homeless people in New York City’s shelters has reached a record high as a result of the approximately 45,000 asylum seekers who have arrived since the spring. Additionally, the city has established emergency relief centers, one of which is housed in a Brooklyn cruise terminal and provides 1,000 people with cots. Immigrant rights advocates have expressed concern regarding Randall’s Island’s cruise terminal and temporary tent city relief center in the fall of 2017.

Franklin Zapata, a 22-year-old Venezuelan carpenter who is staying at the former Wadsworth school in Chicago, was riding his bike to look for work on a recent day. He stated that while he is pleased to have a place to stay and the ability to shower, it is difficult to find work in a region where few people speak Spanish.

According to Johannes Favi, deputy director of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, which is based in Chicago, neither the state nor the city were prepared to accommodate the migrants who were coming to Chicago. Without a plan, they have attempted to do their best, he stated. It’s possible to make mistakes when improvising.

Wadsworth Elementary School students were relocated to a different building in 2013 as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wave of closing underutilized schools. Residents of Woodlawn tried to keep the school open. It has been empty since 2017, when it housed a charter school.

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