House migrants at City Hall, police union president says

John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he’s fed up with having Chicago police officers “babysit” migrants at district stations.

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Two migrant families from Venezuela shelter at the Central District police station earlier this year. Hundreds remain at several police stations, while  there are 12,864 residents in 26 Chicago shelters, as of Nov. 28, 2023.

Two migrant families from Venezuela shelter at the Central District police station at 1718 S. State St. in May.

Natalie Garcia/For the Sun-Times

Fed up with having Chicago police officers “babysit” asylum-seekers, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara on Thursday proposed an alternative to district stations: allowing hundreds of migrants to sleep in the lobbies and open hallways at City Hall.

“I don’t think there’s one single one of ’em living in City Hall — whether it’s on the county lobby floor or the City Hall floor. There’s certainly plenty of space to put a couple hundred in there, but I don’t see that happening in their workspace. But they certainly have no problem putting ’em in our workspace,” Catanzara said. “Why be a hypocrite?”

Catanzara said it was “so ridiculous” that “there’s actually mail. Migrants are using police district addresses to receive their mail. They now have CPS out there recruiting migrant children to register for CPS just to have that number in the next two weeks to grab as much tax revenue as they possibly can. Whether these kids come to school or not, they don’t care. This is all a big game to far too many people.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson has made it a priority to, as he put it, “decompress” police stations, but that appears to be a losing battle.

In the last week alone, the number of new migrant arrivals who’ve taken up temporary residence at Chicago police stations has increased 6% to 1,100.

Deputy chief of staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas has warned that Chicago could experience a fivefold increase in arriving migrants — 10 busloads per day, up from two — sent here by Republican governors trying to embarrass and strain Democratic sanctuary cities in the run-up to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago next August.

Catanzara couldn’t agree more.

“It’s 360 days until this Democratic convention,” he said, “and it’s promising to build up to a real s---show, to be quite honest with you.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets migrants staying at the 12th District police station in May.

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets migrants staying at the Near West district police station in May.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, Catanzara said he doesn’t blame Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for busing migrants to Chicago.

“How can you criticize a governor of a state who has had to shoulder the burden of an open border, literally, in his back door and to deal with it primarily on his own? When he said, ‘Enough is enough. You guys want to say you’re sanctuary. I’m gonna start sending you the problems we’ve been dealing with, and let’s see how you like it.’ I don’t see where that’s political,” Catanzara said.

Instead of demonizing Abbott, Catanzara pointed the finger of blame at Illinois’ Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Shame on the governor for not doing more, saying more. He’s been absolutely invisible in a lot of this,” the FOP president said.

Catanzara said Johnson “asked for” $250 million from the state, but received less than 10% of that amount.

“The governor wants to make Illinois a sanctuary state. Where’s his money? He’s worth billions of dollars. … How many migrants has he taken into his countless properties and vast acreage all over the United States? Has he taken any migrant families? No. They’re all hypocrites at the end of the day,” the FOP president said.

During the campaign, Catanzara warned of an “exodus like we’ve never seen before,” with as many as 1,000 veteran officers choosing not to work for a mayor who had a history of supporting the concept of defunding the police.

So far, that dire prediction has been off base.

Catanzara said Johnson has “reeled in the rhetoric and been more practical” since taking office, while choosing a new police superintendent in Larry Snelling, the counterterrorism chief, who is a favorite among the rank-and-file.

At the FOP’s request, Johnson also brought back veteran labor negotiator Jim Franczek, whom former Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired for joining the police union in endorsing mayoral challenger Paul Vallas over Johnson.

But Catanzara is wary of the mayor’s political shift from left to center. He said it might be calculated and temporary.

“Does a leopard change its spots? How do you go from such extreme positions to all the sudden more neutral, middle-of-the-road ones?” Catanzara asked.

“He has not been a fire-and-brimstone mayor like Lightfoot was, to his credit. Is that just smoke and mirrors until we get through this convention? Because they don’t want to rile everybody up before the convention. It’s hard to tell. ... I guess we find out in 365 days what the real Mayor Johnson looks like,” he said.

Neislymar González, de 24 años, migrante venezolana, con su hijo de 4 años y su hija de 5 años, sentadas dentro de la comisaría del Distrito Central de Policía, donde se alojaban en mayo.

Neislymar Gonzalez, 24, a migrant from Venezuela, with her 4-year=old son and 5-year-old daughter, was staying at the Chicago Police Department’s Central District station in May.

Natalie Garcia/For the Sun-Times

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