More respite centers in Hispanic neighborhoods key to reducing migrant crisis tensions in Chicago, mayor’s floor leader says

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa wouldn’t say where the new centers could be, only that the administration was “very close to moving on a number of locations, some big and some small, primarily in Spanish-speaking communities.”

SHARE More respite centers in Hispanic neighborhoods key to reducing migrant crisis tensions in Chicago, mayor’s floor leader says
El concejal Byron Sigcho-López (25º) y el alcalde Brandon Johnson se reúnen con los migrantes alojados en una comisaría en mayo.

Mayor Brandon Johnson (center left) and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (far left) meet migrants staying at the 12th Police District station, 1412 S. Blue Island Ave., on Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Historic political tensions between Black and Latino residents rekindled by Chicago’s migrant crisis can be eased by creating more respite centers in Latino neighborhoods, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s City Council floor leader said Thursday.

Thirty-fifth Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said Johnson’s transition team held daily meetings with “federal, state and local stakeholders” in the run-up to Monday’s inauguration to “discuss what needed to be done” to resolve the burgeoning crisis.

Those efforts, led by newly appointed deputy chief of staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas, are about to produce some tangible results, Ramirez-Rosa said.

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“There is a plan in place to expeditiously begin opening up larger, what the city has been calling respite centers or welcoming centers. ... Instead of sleeping on a police district floor, which is totally unacceptable — they would have a safe, comfortable place to sleep, to get a good meal and to begin the process of figuring out what their next steps are,” the mayor’s floor leader said.

Ramirez-Rosa refused to pinpoint precise locations for the new centers, only that the Johnson administration was “very close to moving on a number of locations, some big and some small, primarily in Spanish-speaking communities.”

“The reason why you want to do that is because you want the migrant that arrives here that doesn’t speak English to be able to walk out of the shelter and to be able to go to church. To be able to go the local business. That leads to a much smoother transition into the city and allows them to more quickly be integrated into the fabric of our neighborhoods,” he said.

Already, more than 8,000 immigrants have sought refuge in Chicago, many of them given one-way bus tickets by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

That has caused tension in neighborhoods where Park District field houses have been closed to house asylum seekers and shuttered schools like South Shore High School have been converted to respite centers. South Shore residents have filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking that conversion.

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets migrants staying at the 12th Police District station, 1412 S. Blue Island Ave., in May.

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets immigrants Tuesday staying at the Near West Police District station, 1412 S. Blue Island Ave.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Republicans and folks like Abbott have been working for years to create discord among the Democratic base. To create ill will between Black and Brown communities. … It’s tragic to see some of the rhetoric,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “But in the same communities where you’ve seen some people protest, you’ve also seen people cook meals. You’ve also seen people collect Pampers and basic necessities that these families need.”

In one of his first acts as mayor, Johnson signed an executive order creating a deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights. He spent a portion of his first full day on the job visiting a police station in Pilsen and a Park District field house in Little Village where immigrants have been staying. He did it to get what he called a “firsthand” look at the crisis.

On Wednesday, the new mayor will preside over his first City Council meeting, where alderpersons will be asked to reallocate $51 million in surplus funds to the migrant crisis — that will only be enough to get the city through June 30.

What happens after that?

“Our partners at the state and federal level tell us that more [money] is coming — that this is just the start. And we’re in very serious talks with the state to identify a large sum of money to be able to open up some of these shelters sooner rather than later,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“No city can do this alone,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting will also be the first test of Johnson’s City Council muscle — and his new floor leader’s ability to whip up votes in favor of his Council organization plan.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) speaks at an Oct. 27 news conference where Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson announced he was running for mayor of Chicago.

Thirty-fifth Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa spoke at the campaign kickoff for Brandon Johnson and is now Mayor Johnson’s City Council floor leader.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ramirez-Rosa said the vote won’t be close.

He’ll have more than the 26 votes he needs to ratify Johnson’s plan to shrink the number of committees from 28 to 20, replace Finance Chairman and 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack with 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, anoint 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin as Budget chair and install himself as chair of the powerful Zoning Committee.

“We have gone through four years of gridlock in the Chicago City Council and it has not benefited anyone. We enter this term with major crises. The migrant crisis, violence, the ongoing need to create jobs. We have to get things done,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“This unity plan is about avoiding gridlock. It’s about avoiding a divided government where nothing is getting done. ... Not going towards Council Wars, where you have a Council that’s fighting the mayor. This city desperately needs unity of purpose and desperately needs us to get things done as quickly as possible.”

Weeks before Johnson put his stamp on the March 30 reorganization approved by the lame-duck City Council, Waguespack warned Johnson to “leave this alone” and make no changes to the unprecedented declaration of independence that added nine new committees to ensure passage.

Asked whether those remarks sealed Waguespack’s fate, Ramirez-Rosa said, “There are those who wanted to work collaboratively, and there were those that wanted to ice out the mayor. … Ultimately, the vast majority decided that the best way to move forward is to work collaboratively with the mayor.”


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