Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson says limited migrant shelter evictions to start

CHICAGO — Mayor Brandon Johnson said Wednesday the city will move ahead with evicting an unknown amount of migrants from city shelters for the first time, rejecting the latest outcry from a group of aldermen opposed to the policy.

Johnson told reporters at an unrelated West Side event an unspecified number of the thousands of migrant shelter residents who were issued 60-day notices to vacate by Saturday will receive “exemptions.” However, others without those privileges will be forced to leave and restart the process for temporary shelter.

“I don’t know if it’s a substantial number, but again, they can return to the loading zone,” the mayor said when asked about how many migrants must leave the shelters. “That’s one place, or they can decide to move on. You know, they don’t necessarily have to remain within the structure that we’re providing.”

It was unclear how many migrants previously required to exit will qualify for city-issued exemptions allowing them to instead stay. Johnson’s administration previously estimated as many as 5,600 could be removed, but exceptions will be made for those in the process of securing housing or out-migrating, as well as people with extenuating health circumstances, including pregnancy, he added.

“The ultimate goal is to move people to resettlement or out-migration,” the mayor said. “What this policy has essentially done is given us the opportunity to have real substantive conversations with migrants to help them move on.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s immigration committee chair was spearheading a letter with colleagues urging the city to scrap the 60-day shelter limit policy entirely.

The mayor first announced the policy in November to remove migrants from shelters after a 60-day stay as a way to push them to find permanent housing and relieve pressure on the expensive, overburdened shelter system. A day later, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state’s rental assistance program for asylum seekers would be curtailed from six months of support to three.

Johnson has delayed enacting the policy three times since it was first announced. The previous pushbacks, each announced in January, came amid cold weather and aldermanic complaints just days before migrants faced removal.

The number of migrants in city shelters has sharply declined since a late-December high from 14,895 to 11,362 Tuesday as many migrants leave the city or move into other housing, often with rent support.

Despite Johnson signaling last week the administration had not yet made a decision on whether to again delay, mayoral spokesperson Ronnie Reese told the Tribune “nothing has changed” since Johnson set the new removal date for Saturday on Jan. 29.

“The decision was made,” Reese said.

But the sudden spread of measles at a crowded Lower West Side migrant shelter has intensified concerns over the looming deadline. More infections have been announced almost each day since the first case became public Friday, with seven cases now confirmed.

The spread has prompted Latino aldermen to go inside the now-quarantined facility in an urgent bid to convince residents to get vaccinated against the virus. The illness’s new presence has also renewed calls from council and community members for Johnson to delay the 60-day limit’s enforcement once more.

Activists and volunteers held a rally Saturday urging another pushback, calling the removals “traumatic” and “damaging.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, began circulating a letter among aldermen calling on the mayor to replace the “60 Day Eviction Policy” with a policy that addresses shelter stays on a case-by-case basis. The majority of shelter residents are not allowed to work because of their asylum seeker immigration status or cannot access rental assistance, he wrote in the letter.

“What we have also now seen after this weekend is that there are public health concerns that could be exacerbated if people who have no rental assistance, no work authorization and significant language barriers are put out on the street,” Vasquez wrote.

Johnson deputy chief of staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas said after the last delay that giving migrants 60-day notices to leave shelter spaces should not be labeled an “eviction.”

“It’s a misnomer,” she said. “What’s implicit in that is that people have not been provided resources, have not been connected to a case manager and are just being pushed out.”