Police issue citations as activists attempt to enter shuttered Woodlawn school housing newly arrived immigrants

The city’s plans to transform the shuttered James Wadsworth Elementary School into a temporary shelter for migrants seeking asylum has been met with controversy in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

SHARE Police issue citations as activists attempt to enter shuttered Woodlawn school housing newly arrived immigrants
A Chicago police officer tries to move Andre Smith on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, as he and Luis Cardona stand in the street and try to stop a Chicago Transit Authority bus from dropping asylum seekers off at the former James Wadsworth Elementary School at 6420 S. University Ave., which was converted into a temporary shelter for newly arrived immigrants,

A Chicago police officer tries to move Andre Smith on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, as he and Luis Cardona stand in the street and try to stop a Chicago Transit Authority bus from dropping asylum seekers off at the former James Wadsworth Elementary School at 6420 S. University Ave., which was converted into a temporary shelter for newly arrived immigrants,

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Three people were issued citations by Chicago police following a protest in which they tried to enter a shuttered South Side school that has turned into a temporary shelter for newly arrived immigrants seeking asylum.

Activist Andre Smith said by phone Friday afternoon that he was one of the three people who were handcuffed by officers and given a written citation at the Grand Crossing police station. Smith, of Washington Park, said they weren’t able to enter the former James Wadsworth Elementary School, 6420 S. University Ave., and they were detained by police on the property’s parking lot.

Chicago police confirmed three people were issued written citations Friday for criminal trespass to land.

Smith said he spent the night in a tent near the property leading up to Friday’s protest to call for a congressional hearing into the city’s sanctuary policies. He said they were attempting to go inside the Woodlawn building because they want the new arrivals seeking shelter inside the school to be moved to another neighborhood such as Little Village.

“We want to talk to who’s in charge,” Smith said. “And see if we can sit down with them and see how we can get them over to Little Village.”

Smith was one of two people who tried to stop a Chicago Transit Authority bus that was transporting a group of new arrivals to the shelter when it opened in early February. He is running against the current 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor in the upcoming Feb. 28 municipal election. The school sits within the 20th Ward.

Smith said he doesn’t see his actions as racist against immigrants.

“I’m fighting against the process,” Smith said by phone. “The process is all wrong.”

After being released at the police station, Smith said he went home to eat and was contemplating his next steps. He wasn’t sure if he would return to the property or take other actions.

The shelter, which is housing at least 100 men and women, was met with opposition from Woodlawn residents who pressed the city for answers. The city delayed the opening to allow for community meetings that grew contentious as residents expressed frustrations about a lack of transparency.

City officials previously said that the property will initially house about 250 adult men and women, and it will operate as a shelter for at least two years.

Since August, more than 5,140 immigrants have arrived in Chicago, many who were brought in on buses chartered in Texas as a political ploy after being released from immigration detention. Many have fled political and economic instability in Venezuela and are seeking asylum in the U.S.

Despite the backlash in Woodlawn, a new poll commissioned by the Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 found that a solid majority of voters in Chicago are in favor of City Hall providing more support for the new arrivals.

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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