Hundreds of migrants, including babies and the elderly, have been staying at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as the city tries to deal with the onslaught of asylum seekers.
Migrants have been observed snoozing within a few feet of passing commuters while resting on cardboard mats and using public restrooms. Using an airport as a temporary shelter is a unique solution, as most overcrowded cities would likely dismiss it as too risky. Some refugees wait weeks in the terminal before being transferred to a shelter, police station, or sheriff’s office. Meanwhile, all of them are crammed into an area no bigger than a city block.
Chicago has created 15 shelters with nearly 3,000 beds since May, according to Democratic state senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas of Illinois. Although 190,000 meals are provided to the migrants each week, and they are paired with groups to provide medical treatment, the system still heavily relies on volunteers to fill gaps. However, minor first aid is available at the terminal; thus, illness can spread rapidly there. The medical supplies for a team of volunteer doctors who visited once throughout the summer were quickly depleted.
While migrants near downtown Chicago have easier access to a network of well-meaning volunteers, asylum supporters say that food and clothing contributions are substantially constrained at the O’Hare site due to airport security concerns. Many of the new arrivals in Chicago over the past year have come from Texas, and it is widely believed that the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, is the reason. Abbott busses migrants out of Texas border towns to spread the burden on his state that the federal government will not address.
Since June, about 3,000 people have flown in from all around the world seeking refuge. Many originate from Venezuela, where a decade-long political, social, and economic crisis has left millions living in abject poverty.
The use of airports in other places has been contested because of the problem. At Boston’s Logan International Airport, refugees who arrive overnight sleep on cots for a couple of hours before being transported elsewhere. Local politicians in New Jersey’s Atlantic City slammed the federal government’s reported proposal to utilize the airport as a shelter, saying the state lacked the resources to care for refugees properly.