Far Northwest Side neighbors furiously yell at city officials and each other during a split The meeting was called on Tuesday over plans to house hundreds of migrants at Wilbur Wright College.

The nearly two-hour session — held inside the same Wright College gymnasium into which the city’s asylum seekers could be moved early Saturday — only after residents of Dunning, Portage Park and other surrounding communities packed the bleachers. Started as standing room. Rows of foldout chairs for questioning and protesting.

Before the meeting began, the polarization of the crowd was already reflected in the presence of pro-law Blue Lives Matter flags as well as rainbow posters that read: “A better Chicago starts with America!” City officials then began their briefings on the temporary shelter, but were often drowned out by alternating waves of boos and applause. Finally, a question-and-answer portion saw residents clash verbally over perceived safety and public health concerns and whether Chicago is living up to its ideal as a sanctuary city.

It is the latest in a series of struggles over how the city can absorb Recent influx of migrants, a crisis There have been nearly 10,000 new arrivals in Chicago since Aug. 31, mostly from Central and South America, according to figures presented Tuesday evening by city officials.

One of the most controversial moments came when a man approached the microphone and baldly said, “They don’t belong here. They must be bringing disease to the neighborhood.”

38th Ward Alderman Nicholas Sposato said he arranged the meeting to inform his constituents, trying to placate the nervous onlookers with a plea to “be respectful”. But the next speaker raised fears about what would happen if migrants arriving at Wright College didn’t come back at night.

The woman said, “They can just walk around the neighborhood.” “We have seniors, children, disabled and vulnerable women. Do all these people have background checks?”

A member of the audience shouted in response: “Concealed carry.”

Under US law, migrants have the right to seek asylum at ports-of-entry along the country’s border and must cooperate with background checks when they seek official protective status. But the federal government has been behind schedule in processing those applications for months, one of the major tensions in Chicago as more than 700 new arrivals — many bused or flown in from the Texas border — are now sleeping on the floors of various police stations. Most of them families with children, officials said.

The city said the Chicago Police Department’s 16th Precinct, located in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, is no exception, which has seen gatherings of more than 40 migrants per day since late April. The purpose of moving asylum seekers to college is to address that issue. City officials said the plan is to relocate 400 people – only families; No single adults – in college until August 1st. No visitors, drugs, alcohol or smoking will be allowed. The curfew will go into effect at 11 p.m. and residents must sign in and out.

But such provisions appear to do little to pacify some in the audience.

Attendees listen to speakers during an information and discussion meeting about housing migrants at Wilbur Wright College on May 23, 2023.

City College Chancellor Juan Salgado condemned the first round when he said the crowd was “confident it would go well.” Sposato tried to calm them down with “We’re better than this,” but some in the crowd kept shouting, “Bulls—.”

Jesús del Toro, project manager for the city’s Office of New Americans, was also incensed by some in the crowd when he noted that Italians and Poles were also immigrants fleeing political repression and poverty and “for the most part, For example, Venezuelans are coming here for the same reason.

“Right now, Wright College is the solution we need,” said Matthew Doty, an emergency coordinator with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Nevertheless, a large portion of the crowd voiced their support for the migrants as well. Neighbors moved and said the blame lay with Republican governors of border states, who launched an initiative to herd asylum seekers into Chicago and other major cities in the North. A woman who said she has been a ward resident for 15 years said, “We taught our children to have compassion and empathy, and I feel very sad that we are not showing that kindness and empathy to these families.”

Audience members also expressed more cynical comments, such as noting the expense of providing water to migrants. some opposed each other; A woman asking how Chicagoans could help asylum seekers was met by someone in the crowd who shouted at her to “give them the keys to your house.” One man challenged the city’s commitment to evacuate migrants by August 1, asking, “Where do they go?”

Area resident Jim Ignatowski shouts at a panel of speakers during the public comment section of a meeting about housing migrants at Wilbur Wright College on May 23, 2023.

Asked about plans ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Sposato said, “Well, I don’t No Support it.” He said the new shelter would provide immediate relief to the 16th District Police Station, but would not solve the “heartbreaking” crisis it has been facing since last August.

“The alternative is that they end up in police stations, which I know nobody wants to see,” Sposato said. “It’s a strong pro-police community.”

The alderman said he does not expect all of his constituents to be happy, listing concerns over his background “vetting” process: “I think the fear of the unknown is the biggest concern people have.”

The pressure on local social services peaked in May when former Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a state of emergency on the situation while city budget officials continued to scramble to find funds to keep shelter operations afloat last June.

Eld.  Nick Sposato, 38, during a discussion meeting about immigrants at Wilbur Wright College on May 23, 2023.

The roots of the humanitarian crisis go back to late last summer, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, sent the first busloads of migrants north, mainly from Central and South America, arguing that migrants in border cities had run out of room and resources to shelter them and said that “sanctuary cities” such as Chicago should accept them.

Lightfoot, Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Brandon Johnson ridiculed Abbott’s action as a cynical political stunt, but Abbott says he’s calling on President Joe Biden and other Democrats to help fix the growing crisis at the US-Mexico border Are applying Federal border restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic also expire this month, potentially spelling a new era of record migration.

some communities have more accepting of migrant asylums find out in their neighborhood after starting resistance, But most of the solutions are temporary, with the pressure on the city’s budget continuing to mount.

However, the city council delayed voting Wednesday on allocating $51 million in surplus to keep shelter and food operations going through the next month. Sposato voted “no” on the committee because he said it was unfair to designate city funds for migrants and deny the same assistance to existing homeless Chicagoans. His concerns have been echoed by some black aldermen on the South and West Sides, who said their communities haven’t seen investment in decades.

Still, a longtime Dunning resident told the Tribune he walked away from Tuesday’s meeting feeling more questions weren’t answered, especially with regard to public safety.

“It says a lot about the ongoing divisiveness across the country,” said Danielle Aviles, 45. “But when it comes to something like this, we have to find common ground.”

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