Aldermen push for more transparency and tracking of migrants Chicago evicts from shelters

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration could soon be required to track and share more details about migrants the city evicts from its shelters under an ordinance aldermen advanced that is gaining support at City Hall.

As the Johnson administration has just begun pushing out migrants from shelters, following months of delayed plans to do so, the ordinance would compel city officials to publicly share anonymized information about those migrants it evicts — including their country of origin, age, gender, date they were removed and which shelter they left. The ordinance passed unanimously Wednesday through the council’s Immigration Committee.

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The tracking push comes as the city faces soaring costs for migrants in Chicago and has slowly announced closures of its 23 shelters housing collectively more than 10,000 people. The city two weeks ago began removing migrants from shelters after 60-day stays. But that process — which the city amended with several exemptions — has been met with confusion and unanswered questions.

The policy exemptions include families with children, people planning shelter exits and migrants with health issues. So far, the policy has forced out only 24 people from shelters, according to a city spokesperson. Some volunteers supporting migrants say evicted shelter residents often end up being placed back into the same shelters they left. Shelter residents remain unsure when they might have to leave after the city made several changes to the removal policy, the volunteers said.

“Being able to get this tracking right now allows us to dig a little deeper to make sure whatever moves forward is done properly, even if I don’t think we should be doing evictions in the first place,” said the ordinance’s sponsor, Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, who chairs the Immigration Committee. “Providing that transparency, that clarity in the detail is important because if we don’t, then we undermine the things that we’re trying to actually prove and have done.”

In addition to eviction data, the ordinance also would force the city to share information about conditions at each shelter, including how many residents are staying there with exemptions, how many residents are back in shelters after being evicted and how many grievances residents have filed.

Since evictions began on March 17, the city has only shared limited information with the public. On Saturday, March 23, the total number of evictions was added to daily census counts, with additional information about exemptions available upon request.

The tracking ordinance is set to face a final vote from the full City Council in mid-April and would go into effect a month later, if passed.

The ordinance could have been sidelined by the mayor’s City Council allies, but cruised into Vasquez’s Immigration Committee after facing no objections when it was introduced last week. Still, the administration had concerns over how heightened data-reporting requirements could affect migrants’ privacy.

In an interview earlier this month, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, Cristina Pacione-Zayas, expressed some consternation about publicly announcing migrants’ personal details, such as pregnancy or disability.

“How do we, as an administration, strike the balance of informing the public while at the same time preserving people’s humanity and protecting them?” she asked.

During Wednesday’s committee meeting, aldermen called for tracking to include migrants’ countries of origin, among other suggested tweaks. The meeting paused as city attorneys and committee members stood around a table behind the council chambers negotiating changes to the ordinance.

They quickly landed on a compromise that would allow the city to share updates on a weekly basis instead of daily while adding country-of-origin tracking. The deal-making was “the democratic process” at work, Ald. Mike Rodriguez, 22nd, said.

“This is not a perfect system, we’ve got to make it better,” Rodriguez said. “We can always do better when it comes to transparency, and I think this is a step forward.”

Speaking Wednesday morning at an unrelated news conference in Chinatown, the mayor did not address questions about the importance of tracking migrants who are evicted from city shelters. When questioned about migrants reentering the same shelters after being evicted, Johnson responded with the same refrain he has for months when he’s discussed the migrant crisis.

Johnson labeled the migrant arrivals an “international crisis” and said that without major federal funding the city is not equipped to house and support the 38,000 people who have arrived in Chicago since August 2022. While the city must support migrants, shelter space needs to be made for new arrivals, Johnson said.

“I’ve built scores of shelters over the course — in the first 10 months of my administration. This has been an unprecedented response, and there is no other model in this country right now that can stand up to the model that we’ve built in Chicago,” he said.

Vasquez praised Johnson’s administration for not moving to block the tracking ordinance, similarly calling the migrant situation an “unprecedented crisis.” The so-far-successful transparency push is another example of council members’ growing independence, he said.

“It’s better to put this into the municipal code, so when you see these kind of crises happen again — and with climate change, they will — we have the stuff written in there to know these are the expectations,” Vasquez said.

While aldermen are working to change the way the city reports evictions after they occur, volunteers supporting migrants have repeatedly criticized the city for not clearly communicating with migrants facing removal and the people supporting them, a critique echoed by Lydia Wong, a volunteer with the grassroots group Chi Welcome. Migrants should be receiving wraparound services and housing vouchers, but are instead being told at the last minute that they need to leave buildings they have called home for months, Wong said.

“Not even the case managers knew about it,” Wong said of one recent eviction. “All of us volunteers are now anticipating a flurry of texts and concerned calls from people at all the shelters, trying to figure out what this means for them.”

Wong said the evicted migrants her volunteer network tracked often went back to the very same shelters where they had been staying previously, following a quick visit to the city’s intake center.

“This seems like a very dystopian reality in which we are wasting resources and cycling people,” she said.

Communication about when migrants are supposed to leave shelters is vital for mutual-aid groups, said Erika Villegas, a real estate agent who helps asylum-seekers on the Southwest Side. These groups have consistently stepped in to help when the city can’t meet the high level of need, she said.

“There is improvement to be made with transparency about migrants leaving shelters,” she said.

Tribune reporter Alice Yin contributed.