Dec 5, 2023 - News

Illinois cancels Brighton Park migrant camp

Two giant white tent constructed on gravel in Brighton Park.

The Brighton Park camp, where construction has been discontinued. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Illinois officials put a permanent stop to Chicago's partially built migrant camp in Brighton Park on Tuesday, citing environmental concerns.

Why it matters: The move sends city and state officials back to the drawing board on where to locate alternative housing for thousands of migrants who've been living in makeshift tents, police stations, churches and overcrowded shelters.

Driving the news: Gov. JB Pritzker's office announced the decision in a statement following an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency review of a city-commissioned report that found high levels of mercury, lead and other toxic elements at the site.

  • The "IEPA cited concerns related to insufficient soil sampling and remediation. Given the significant time required to conduct additional sampling, to process and analyze results, and to implement corresponding further remediation, the State will work with the City to identify alternate shelter options," Pritzker's office said.

What they're saying: "My administration is committed to keeping asylum seekers safe as we work to help them achieve independence," Pritzker said in the statement.

  • "We will not proceed with housing families on a site where serious environmental concerns are still present."

Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement that the state didn't raise any concerns or provide additional guidance "about its own decision to move forward with construction prior to the release" of the environmental report.

  • "The city's goal has been and continues to be to move with urgency in providing shelter for new arrivals," Johnson said.

Catch up fast: Illinois had paused construction on Monday until the environmental study could be reviewed by the IEPA.

  • A day earlier, the city released a statement saying that the site would be "safe for temporary residential use" once workers had removed contaminated soil and completed other remediation work.

Zoom in: Ald. Julia Ramirez, whose 12th Ward includes the Brighton Park site, praised the state's move to discontinue construction after she had warned about "toxic metals" at the location for weeks.

  • Ramirez said that "ensuring the health and safety of both our 12th Ward residents and immigrant families seeking refuge must always be our top priority."
Two small tents stand on the sidewalk with protest signs objecting to environmental concerns at the Brighton Park migrant camp.
A house across the street from the now canceled Brighton Park migrant camp. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Between the lines: This latest move highlights ongoing tensions between Pritzker and Johnson over the migrant crisis.

  • The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Pritzker's administration had created flyers warning would-be migrants in Texas of Chicago's cold winters and limited resources, but Johnson's administration disapproved of the effort and the flyers were never sent.

What we're watching: State officials tell Axios they're preparing another shelter location at a former CVS location on Pulaski Road in Little Village to be open this month.

  • Ald. Michael Rodriquez, whose ward includes Little Village, tells Axios he's heard both pushback and support from 22nd Ward residents.
  • "But┬áthe opinion I keep hearing that keeps on resonating with me is, 'We've got to take 3-year-olds out from living in front of a police station in a small tent in the middle of winter.'"
The state says this former CVS store at 2634 S. Pulaski Road could be ready for about 200 migrants this month. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add a statement from Mayor Brandon Johnson.


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