Hidden behind a heavy black curtain in one of the nation’s busiest airports is Chicago’s unsettling response to a growing population of asylum-seekers arriving by plane. Hundreds of migrants, from babies to the elderly, live inside a shuttle bus center at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 1. They sleep on cardboard pads on the floor and share airport bathrooms. A private firm monitors their movements. Like New York and other cities, Chicago has struggled to house asylum-seekers, slowly moving people out of temporary spaces and into shelters and, in the near future, tents. Chicago's use of airports is unusual, having been rejected elsewhere, and highlights the city's haphazard response to the crisis, the Associated Press reports. The practice has raised concerns about safety and the treatment of people fleeing violence and poverty.
“It was supposed to be a stop-and-go place,” said Vianney Marzullo, a volunteer at O’Hare. “It’s very concerning. It is not just a safety matter, but a public health matter.”
Some migrants stay at O'Hare for weeks, then are moved to police stations or get into the few shelters available. Within weeks, Chicago plans to roll out winterized tents, something New York has done. Up to 500 people have lived at O'Hare simultaneously in a space far smaller than a city block, shrouded by a curtain fastened shut with staples. Their movements are monitored by a private company whose staff control who enters and exits the curtain. Sickness spreads quickly. The staffing company provides limited first aid and calls ambulances. A volunteer team of doctors visited once over the summer and their supplies were decimated.
Chicago offers meals at specific times and many foods are unfamiliar to the new arrivals. While migrants closer to Chicago's core have access to a strong network of volunteers, food and clothing donations at O'Hare are limited, due to airport security concerns. Most of the 14,000 immigrants who have arrived in Chicago during the last year have come from Texas, largely under the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott. Many migrants are from Venezuela, where a political, social and economic crisis has pushed millions of people into poverty. At least 7.3 million have left, with many risking an often-harrowing route to the U.S..