Aug 17, 2023 - News

Tracking Chicago's migrant busing crisis, a year later

Crowded police station

Inside the 14th Police District in Logan Square on Tuesday night. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

More than 13,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago since last August, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott first started busing migrants to the city.

Yes, but: Abbott claims responsibility for only a third of that number. Thousands of other new arrivals appear to be funded by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Texas and in the city of Denver.

Why it matters: More buses are arriving almost daily, pushing city services into crisis, while leaving migrants with little support.

What they're saying: "This is an ever-growing humanitarian crisis that Chicago has not experienced before," Chicago Office of Emergency Management spokesperson Mary May tells Axios.

  • "It poses significant infrastructure challenges to an already overwhelmed shelter system, Chicago police districts, our city agencies, mutual aid partners, volunteers, and community residents."

Zoom in: City officials told Axios that in July an average of one to two buses a day, carrying 40-50 migrants, arrived in Chicago with "little notice."

  • A child traveling on a bus sent as part of Governor Abbott's operation died en route to Chicago last week.
  • Three more buses arrived Monday.

By the numbers: Roughly 6,400 migrants are living in local shelters, and about 1,060 are sleeping at police stations and O'Hare airport, according to city officials.

The vestibule of a the 14th District police station in Logan Square Tuesday night. Photo: Monica EngAxios

The latest: The Tribune reported this month that the Denver Department of Human Services has paid for about 2,100 bus and train tickets to Chicago since December.

  • Tribune staffers traveled in June from El Paso, Texas, to Denver with a migrant family. The day they arrived, the city bought the family five Amtrak tickets to Chicago, according to the Tribune.

Context: A Denver spokesperson told 9News in May that the city buys bus tickets for migrants who want to leave, and that migrants choose the destination. Most have headed to Chicago and New York, but the Denver official couldn't say why those cities are preferred destinations.

  • This month the number of migrants Denver has received has risen to 14,800 migrants. But as of Monday, only 587 were in local shelters, according to a city statement.
  • For this article, Denver officials did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Separately, Chicago officials have tracked thousands of arrivals from Texas cities that they don't believe are connected to Abbott's busing operation.

  • City officials believe the travel, including 69 buses from El Paso and "high numbers of people" each week from San Antonio, is being funded by Texas NGOs.
  • Axios has confirmed that Catholic Charities in San Antonio, Texas, has funded migrant travel to Chicago, but officials there would not say how many tickets they have purchased.

Of note: Catholic Charities in Chicago says it also assists migrants who need help traveling to sponsors in other towns.

What we're watching: Chicago officials tell Axios the city is committed to moving migrants out of police stations and into shelters, "putting them on a path to resettlement and self-sufficiency."

  • Department of Homeland Security officials tell Axios they've given Chicago and Illinois $44 million in federal funds for migrant services this fiscal year. An additional $73 million will be made available to states soon, but it's unclear how much Illinois will receive.

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