POLL: Chicagoans want more help for newly arrived immigrants — despite controversy over South Side shelter

A majority of Chicago voters think local government should provide more assistance to the hundreds of recently arrived immigrants, according to a Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 poll.

SHARE POLL: Chicagoans want more help for newly arrived immigrants — despite controversy over South Side shelter
A girl sits on her father’s shoulders as he speaks to a police officer while other migrants from Texas wait outside Union Station for a bus to take them to a city shelter in August.

A girl sits on her father’s shoulders as he speaks to a police officer while other migrants from Texas wait outside Union Station for a bus to take them to a city shelter in August.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

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Tanisha Williams believes newly arrived immigrants — and most everyone for that matter — should be treated as your own brother, sister or mother.

It’s one of the reasons the 50-year-old retail worker thinks City Hall should do more to provide assistance to the hundreds of people who have arrived in recent months, many of them seeking asylum in the U.S. Many were unexpectedly bused north by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“They’re migrating, they have to leave their hometown for whatever the case may be, and they are going somewhere where they say they believe they are going to be safe,” said Williams, who lives on the West Side in the Austin neighborhood.

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Williams’ opinion is shared by a solid majority of Chicagoans, according to a Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 Poll.

Some 61% of Chicago voters thought City Hall should provide more help to the recent arrivals, as opposed to 33% who thought officials should not provide more assistance. Williams and 624 other Chicagoans planning to vote in the Feb. 28 election were surveyed last week.

A larger percentage of Latino voters — about 81% — thought the city should provide more assistance, and about 59% of Black voters also thought the city should do more. About 50% of white voters thought the city should provide more relief.

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A majority of Chicago voters — 56% — didn’t approve of other states busing immigrants to the city, the poll found. The only group that did approve of the practice was Latinos, with about 51% of Hispanic voters in favor of it.

That’s despite tensions that surfaced when the city transformed the shuttered James Wadsworth Elementary School in the Woodlawn neighborhood into a shelter.

Since August, more than 5,140 immigrants have arrived in Chicago, including those sent on buses from Texas and Colorado. In late December, there were 1,531 new arrivals living at city shelters. In total, 3,936 have sought shelter provided by the city, Cook County and state, according to city officials.

Historically, Chicago has been one of the most immigrant-friendly destinations, where new arrivals have become a core component of local politics, said Jaime Domínguez , an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University.

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Domínguez said the recent pushback has been about community resources and seeking transparency while also grappling with the unknown. But the issue might not grab all voters’ attention.

“Business goes on as usual,” Domínguez said. “It’s not like that phenomena is somehow impeding on your lifestyle. I think that’s why it’s been kind of under the radar.”

Overall, voters surveyed in the poll ranked immigration as the fourth most important issue they will consider while casting their ballots in the election later this month. It tied with education for that spot. The top issue on voters’ minds was crime and public safety, followed by criminal justice reform and jobs and the economy.

The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc., from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. The 625 likely voters were randomly selected and interviewed by phone. The survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Michael, who participated in the poll but asked that his last name not be used, said he is more concerned about crime, but he cares about immigration because of volunteer work he’s done with refugees. That’s why he’s in favor of the city providing more help to immigrants.

“It does need to continue to be a city that takes in people from all walks of life and helps integrate them within the city itself to continue to grow and develop the city,” the West Town resident said.

Immigrants from Venezuela were transported from Texas and dropped off at Union Station in August.

Immigrants from Venezuela were transported from Texas and dropped off at Union Station in August.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo

Community groups say candidates vying for mayor should outline plans for the new arrivals.

“It’s an existing crisis that’s happening and that we’re dealing with,” said Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “Whoever is going to be mayor better be ready to continue to deal with this.”

His organization is working with the new arrivals, many who fled economic and political instability in Venezuela. It’s a complex issue that calls for better coordination of resources, Brosnan said. It’s also highlighted existing problems, especially around housing. For example, some families are struggling to find adequate housing near schools with better resources for their children.

Veronica Castro, deputy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said it will be important for candidates to not pit communities against each other for resources.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way — is really what was seen here,” Castro said. “Everyone deserves to have basic needs met with dignity and respect.”

But the lack of resources for residents who are already here is one reason Charlotte Coats, who took part in the poll, said she thinks City Hall should not provide more assistance to the new arrivals. She also opposed the busing of immigrants.

“We got homeless in the city, we got people who are going without food, we got senior citizens who are simply just being warehoused,” said Coats, 71, who lives in a senior building in Wrigleyville. “It’s not immigrants — the issue itself — it’s we don’t take care of home first.”

Woodlawn resident Kimberly Scott has joined neighbors in seeking answers from the city about the Wadsworth property. She doesn’t see the controversy as being about one group versus another, but about transparency.

“I don’t like the way it was done,” Scott said. “It was a lack of transparency. They weren’t truthful, and there is still a lack of transparency, a lack of follow-through. We don’t know the end game.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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