Laura Rodríguez Presa, Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2023
Over the past five months since arriving in Chicago, Andrea Carolina Sevilla’s parents have been unable to enroll her in school even though the reason they left everything behind in their native Venezuela was for her to have access to better education.
In Venezuela, she said, she was lucky she could even attend school. Many other teenagers start working at an early age to help out their families, who often face extreme poverty.
But she did not have the same luck in the city that she once dreamed of visiting. The family went from sleeping on the floor of a police station, to a crowded shelter, to a house on the Far South Side, and then back to the floor of the police station after her stepfather Michael Castejon, 39, couldn’t afford the rent. He could not find a job that paid enough without a work permit, he said.
On Nov. 3, they set out to go back to Texas. And from there, they would go to Venezuela, the country they fled to seek asylum in the United States. They’re among the countless number of migrants who have chosen to leave Chicago in recent weeks in their search for a better life. They’re looking for warmer weather, more resources or to reunite with friends and family in other places.
One family of five left for Detroit because another migrant told them there was work there. One man went back to Texas, where he will join his cousins after trying his luck in Chicago. In the past month, at least 40 people, including Sevilla’s family, have left Chicago from the 1st District station on the Near South Side with the help of Catholic Charities of Chicago.
“The American Dream doesn’t exist anymore,” said Castejon as he laid on a blanket on the bare floor of the station the afternoon before they left. “There’s nothing here for us,” he added.
Migrants said they’re realizing the city is at a breaking point. Not only is there no more space in shelters, they also acknowledge that some residents in Chicago oppose the opening of more shelters for them. Castejon said that despite the dangerous trek to get here — often begging for money and sleeping in the streets to cross several borders — the journey had not been worth it.
His attempts to settle in the city failed. He said he never felt comfortable in a shelter, and that the hot meals, stipends and good jobs he’d heard about from other migrants never materialized. The father didn’t consider that once in the country, the family wouldn’t be granted asylum immediately and or even get a work permit while they wait.
It could have been misinformation, he said. Or that the benefits that those who arrived in the city before him, are no longer available because of the amount of people now here. But even after hearing that the temporary protected status (TPS) program was expanded and the process to get job permits could be accelerated, he decided he was exhausted and chose not to wait.
“We didn’t know things would be this hard,” he said. “I thought the process was faster.”
More than 2,000 people have gotten monetary aid from the state through Catholic Charities to relocate to other states with family and friends, according to Katie Bredemann, a spokesperson with Catholic Charities of Chicago. The program has been part of their effort to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Chicago and offer the migrants an opportunity to reunite with families or reach the city they intended to go to before being sent to Chicago.
But while some migrants are choosing to leave, many more still arrive every week. In what could be considered a revolving door for taxpayers, for example, Catholic Charities of Chicago is using Illinois taxpayer money to transport the migrants who want to return to Texas or to other states while simultaneously the Catholic Charities of San Antonio and the city of Denver are using federal taxpayer money to send new migrants to Chicago.
As of Friday, there were 20, 700 migrants who have arrived in Chicago since August 2022 when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending migrants to sanctuary cities such as Chicago, in part to protest federal immigration policies.
Even though many, including Castejon’s family, are leaving, others still hope to eventually find shelter in hotel rooms, get access to public services and cash assistance or live out the American Dream.
A proposed ballot question asking Chicagoans whether the city should keep its designation as a sanctuary city has roiled the City Council in recent weeks and immigrant- and Black-led groups gathered Thursday morning across the street from City Hall to urge “solidarity, not division” in responding to the migrant crisis.