‘No rule of law’: City Council members decry criminal activity outside migrant shelters

During a three-hour hearing on the migrant crisis, Ald. Jeanette Taylor accused top mayoral aides of portraying a ridiculously rosy picture that doesn’t match the ugly conditions on the ground.

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Asylum-seekers step out of buses at Richard J. Daley College in June.

Asylum-seekers step out of buses at Richard J. Daley College in June. Migrants who had been housed there and at Wright College are now being. moved to American Islamic College, 640 W. Irving Park Road.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

City Council members on Wednesday decried the lawlessness — including sex trafficking and drug dealing — they say is occurring outside Chicago’s migrant shelters and demanded a crackdown before the behavior devolves into violence.

Education Committee Chair Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) represents the impoverished Woodlawn neighborhood where 584 migrants are staying in the former Wadsworth Elementary School.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) represents Streeterville, location of the Inn of Chicago, home to the city’s largest shelter, with 1,468 migrants.

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Although the economic circumstances could not be more different, both alderpersons described similarly chaotic and criminal conditions outside their shelters during a meeting of the Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“There was a gentleman who said he pulled out a gun on a migrant. And while I don’t agree with him doing that, that’s what’s gonna happen if we don’t have a real plan for what happens with people” who break the law, Taylor said.

During a three-hour hearing, Taylor accused top mayoral aides of presenting a ridiculously rosy picture that doesn’t match the ugly conditions on the ground.

“Tell the issue about the people who are outside threatening [residents]. Tell them about the sex trafficking that’s happening. The drug dealing that’s happening,” she said.

“They’re outside smoking weed. They’re outside having whole parties right in front of the senior building. And the police are scared. Let’s be honest. You got two [CPD] cars sittin’ out there who do nothing until I drive up and say, ‘Hey, they can’t stand there.’”

Taylor was reduced to tears at the May 31 Council meeting explaining how torn she was supporting $51 million in emergency funding for the migrant crisis while the needs of African Americans continue to be ignored. Her tears of anger intensified when a handful of protesters in the Council chambers branded her a “traitor” and ”sellout” for that vote.

Wednesday, Taylor demanded a special Council meeting on the city’s plan to combat the lawlessness, joined by Reilly, Committee Chair Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

Reilly said there is “no rule of law,” especially after 10 p.m., in the 100 block of East Ohio, site of the Inn of Chicago. A constituent sent him photos showing “60 kids, many of them with guns in their waistbands, consuming alcohol and marijuana on the public right-of-way unchecked,” he said.

Reilly said he was promised “regular patrols,” with beat officers checking the Inn of Chicago lobby once or twice a day, plus rigid enforcement of the tow zone he had installed to end the “curbside partying, drug dealing” and drug use.

None of it has happened. The number of “younger males brandishing weapons” is getting worse, he said.

“The only department that’s really responsive is Streets and Sanitation cleaning up the bottles, the marijuana butts, the garbage, the human feces from these blocks. That’s it,” Reilly said.

“There are a lot of guns on the two blocks around this site, suddenly. ... We are having people call 911 to report this. We’re having them call 911 for the consumption of narcotics. Not just smoking marijuana, but heroin and crack. … I’m also hearing about teenagers allegedly being sex-trafficked in the curb cut. It’s unconscionable,” Reilly said.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), volunteered Gage Park field house in his ward as a shelter site, and 277 migrants are now there. He sent a letter to Mayor Brandon Johnson Wednesday voicing concerns similar to those of his colleagues, including “drugs sale and usage, male & female prostitution and associated human trafficking” and “gang recruitment.” Area residents are “reaching a boiling point,” he wrote.

“Residents now feel that their only recourse is to take action against migrant asylum seekers. This is not the time for vigilantism. It is the time for you to step up and act,” Lopez told Johnson.

Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze, a Lightfoot administration holdover, acknowledged migrant shelters, like the city overall, have “some good actors” and “some bad apples.”

“During the [July 4] holiday, we had a shelter where people were partying in the shelter and drinking, and the shelter manager found them. It was 1 o’clock in the morning ... and those people were removed because it’s not just the safety of the residents that’s there. It’s the safety of the staff. It’s the community,” Knazze said.

At Wadsworth, Knazze said, 17 people were removed from the shelter. But arrests seldom result from the criminal behavior, and police reports are rarely generated, she said.

“CPD needs a reason, so, if they’re not on the property, then they can’t arrest them,” the commissioner said. “But if we allow that behavior, it’ll fester and grow, and that just won’t work when you’ve got that many people in a building. ... We have to protect the integrity of the shelter system because we can’t have chaos.”

Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, told the Sun-Times Friday night’s “altercation” between residents and migrants outside Wadsworth occurred during a power outage.

“It resulted in some broken windows at a neighbor’s property, then a retaliation with broken windows with one of the shelter resident’s cars,” Pacione-Zayas said. “We’re just trying to have some conflict mediation and some additional law enforcement presence so that we’re not having folks loitering and issues that can emerge when you’re just hanging out.”

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, Knazze said with the school year starting, the city is preparing to move migrants from Daley and Wright city colleges to the American Islamic College, 640 W. Irving Park Road.

Since August, roughly 11,500 migrants have arrived in Chicago. There has been a 19% increase in the last week, with 860 migrants still sleeping on police station floors.


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