Mayor Brandon Johnson’s team eyeing Wright College as shelter for immigrant families

Johnson’s chief of staff said the Northwest Side school is under serious consideration as a new respite center to “alleviate some of the pressure on the police stations.”

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A gymnasium at Wright College, pictured here in a community meeting in 2015, could soon host 400 newly arrived asylum seekers, officials said.

A gym at Wright College, pictured here in a community meeting in 2015, could soon host 400 newly arrived immigrants, officials said.

Sun-Times file

Four hundred asylum seekers could be housed at Wilbur Wright College starting June 1 — and remain on the Northwest Side campus until Aug. 1 — to minimize the need for migrant families to sleep on the floors of Chicago police stations, a top mayoral aide said Friday.

Rich Guidice, Mayor Brandon’s Johnson’s chief of staff, said Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave., is under serious consideration as a new respite center to “alleviate some of the pressure on the police stations.”

“We have a lot of migrants inside our police stations. There’s challenges with that, giving them space issues, the public having access to the building, stuff like that,” Guidice told the Sun-Times.

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“If there’s a facility that’s being underutilized, or it’s down for the season, that would be a better option for us.”

More than 500 families, many of them with young children, are sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations. Some stations are so crowded with immigrants, area residents are having a tough time getting to the front desk to file crime reports.

Guidice was asked whether using the gymnasium and community room at Wright would make that uncomfortable, unsanitary and downright dangerous situation unnecessary.

“No, I don’t think it’s big enough to do just that. But ideally, we’re looking for larger facilities or larger big-box type solutions. ... We’ve got a whole team of people evaluating these facilities … just to make sure that they’re safe and that we’re putting them into a safe environment,” Guidice said.

Thirty-eighth Ward Ald. Nick Sposato is circulating flyers asking his Dunning constituents to attend an “important community meeting” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the city college, which is in his ward.

Sposato said he expects a “boatload” of security concerns to be aired at that meeting, including some of his own.

“Safety is a big concern of mine, mainly safety for the migrants because you’ve got 400 strangers living together. ... Let’s say you have a family with a 16- or 17-year-old boy living with a 14- or 15-year-old girl,” Sposato said.

“When they’re going to shower or going to the bathroom, are they showering together? Do the girls go here and the boys go there? There’s just a lot of questions. Are they gonna make sure they have security there? Originally, they told me, `We’ll put special attention on it.’ That’s not good enough. I told them we’re gonna need 24/7 police and a 24/7 interpreter over there.”

Sposato said he is concerned about “the migrants being taken advantage of — from each other or strangers.”

“If they’re trying to work and work for cash or do odd jobs, I’m more worried about that. I’m more worried about the criminal element coming over there somehow, some way and taking advantage of these people,” he said.

Sposato is further demanding an ironclad guarantee: that not a single police officer will be taken away from the Jefferson Park District to provide security at Wright.

These need to be people from headquarters. We’re short as it is. If we’re gonna put police here, which we absolutely, positively need to, they can’t come from the 16th District.

”I don’t want any police from the 16th District to be assigned to this detail,” he said.

Sposato said he is encouraging his constituents to “come out” on Tuesday night and “be civil.”

“The fear of the unknown. There’s a lot of moving parts here and a lot of scary things to me, to tell you the truth. I mean — any time you put 400 strangers together, that’s not a good mix,” the alderperson said.

“I don’t think there’ll be like any alcohol over there, but who knows? You never know. If somebody goes and gets some alcohol, and they drink on the street, then they go there. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about these people other than what I feel in my heart of hearts. Minimum, 95% of these people are here to make a good life for their families.”

Guidice said Sposato’s security concerns are “the same concerns we have.”

“We know that this is a situation that is uncomfortable for a lot of people, but we’re working our way through it as best we can,” the chief of staff said.

Juan Acuna, owner of Tom and Jerry’s Gyros, across the street from Wright College, said he empathizes with the immigrants, as he came alone from Mexico when he was 12.

Acuna, now 34 and a homeowner in Jefferson Park, said he wants to help however he can because he knows the struggles — including how people “make comments” when they know someone is an immigrant.

“Because you’re Hispanic or you’re an immigrant, people are going to look at you differently,” Acuna said. “People think that since we’re coming to this country, we’re taking something away from them.”

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Juan Acuna, owner of Tom and Jerry’s Gyros, is shown in his Dunning store Friday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Now a resident with his green card and working toward citizenship, Acuna said the biggest barrier to success for many immigrants is learning English. Since the immigrants are being hosted at a college, he said he hopes the college uses some of its resources to help teach English to anyone who wants to learn.

“If you learn the language, I think you can do anything,” Acuna said.

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Wilbur Wright College, at 4300 N. Narragansett Ave. in the Dunning neighborhood, is one of the sites temporarily housing immigrants this summer.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Dianna Garzon, who graduated from Wright two years ago, said she think it’s “great.”

“The buildings are really empty over the summer. … It’s a good use of space that’s already here and being paid for,” she said.

Gorzon said she wasn’t concerned about the students being welcoming but said some conservative members of the community might object.

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