Chicago Faces Humanitarian Crisis as Venezuelan Migrants Seek Shelter

Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, is struggling to cope with a surge of Venezuelan migrants who have fled their country due to political and economic turmoil. As winter approaches, the city and its aid agencies are facing a humanitarian crisis as they try to provide shelter, food, health care, and education for the newcomers.

Venezuelan Migrants Arrive in Chicago After Long Journey

Many of the Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in Chicago have endured a long and perilous journey through Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S. southern border. There, they have applied for asylum and waited for their cases to be processed. Some of them have been released by the U.S. authorities and transported by bus to Chicago, where they hope to find a better life.

Humanitarian Crisis

One of them is Lismar Pinto, who arrived in Chicago in late April with her two grandchildren, aged 5 months and 5 years. She told Voice of America that she stayed on the lobby floor of a police station for eight days before finding a temporary shelter. “It was hard, of course, at the beginning, at least for us. We were in a station where there were sexual predators, something like that,” she said through a translator.

Another migrant is Jose Moran, who traveled with Pinto from Venezuela. He said he left his country because of the lack of basic services and opportunities. “The conditions in Venezuela are no secret to anyone, there is no food security, there is no education, there is no health, there are no working conditions,” he said. “It’s hard to live there because a salary there is $20 a month. No one can live on $20 a month.”

Moran said he was grateful for the assistance he received in Chicago, where he and his family have access to shelter, food, medical attention, and schooling. “Arriving here in Chicago, we have new possibilities, they are giving us shelter, they help us with food, we have had medical attention, and the children are studying in a school. They are enrolled. So, all of these things have given us a very important change in life,” he said.

Chicago Declares State of Emergency as Migrant Influx Overwhelms Resources

According to the city officials, about 9,000 migrants have resettled in Chicago since September 2020. Most of them are from Central and South America, especially Venezuela, which has been suffering from a severe political and economic crisis for years. The influx of migrants has overwhelmed the city’s police stations, shelters, and aid services, forcing the city leaders to declare a state of emergency in May 2023.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Michael Rodriguez, an alderperson in Chicago’s 22nd Ward, which is home to one of the largest Latino communities in the Midwest. “Right now, we only have about 2,800 shelter beds in our shelter system, and we are at capacity, so that leaves parks and police stations to temporarily house folks. It’s a major challenge and it’s costing a significant amount in resources.”

Rodriguez said the city needs more federal funding and support to deal with the situation. He also urged the U.S. government to expedite the asylum process and provide more legal assistance to the migrants. “We need to make sure that these folks have due process rights,” he said. “We need to make sure that they have access to lawyers and that they can get their cases heard as quickly as possible.”

Nonprofits Mobilize to Provide Aid and Advocacy for Migrants

In the meantime, several nonprofit organizations have stepped up to provide aid and advocacy for the migrants in Chicago. One of them is New Life Centers, which offers emergency food, clothing, health care, education, and legal services to the newcomers. The executive director of New Life Centers, Matt DeMateo, said his organization has helped about one-third of the migrants who have arrived in Chicago since last year.

“Families come here with absolutely nothing,” DeMateo said. “Each one of those steps in the chain, we really walk with emergency food, feeding families, getting clothes, things like that, and there’s a strong network in Chicago really wrapped around these families.”

DeMateo said his organization also works with other groups to advocate for the rights and needs of the migrants at the local and national level. He said he hopes that the public will recognize the humanitarian aspect of the issue and show compassion and solidarity with the migrants.

“These are human beings that are fleeing violence and persecution,” he said. “They’re not coming here to take anything from anybody. They’re coming here to contribute and be part of our society.”

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