CHICAGO - Seventy-five migrants who arrived in Texas were dropped off at Chicago's Union Station on Wednesday night, officials said.
Ryan Johnson, a representative for Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, confirmed the information.
"Chicago is a welcoming city and as such has collaborated across various departments and agencies to ensure we greeted them with dignity and respect," said Johnson in a tweet. "We understand that many are fleeing violent, traumatic, or otherwise unstable environments," he added in an attached statement.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the arrival of the "first group" of migrants bused to Chicago in a separate statement Wednesday night.
In his statement, the Republican governor said that in addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City, Chicago will now be a drop-off location for the busing strategy as part of his response to President Joe Biden's "open border policies overwhelming border communities in Texas."
Johnson said the city "will respond with essential services while these individuals navigate the next steps of their journey and our community partners have been working diligently to provide a safety net."
The migrants will on arrival "receive health care screenings, the offer of COVID-19 vaccines and emergency housing, along with additional legal resettlement assistance," said Emily Bittner, a spokesperson for Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who also welcomed the group.
Around 9 p.m. along the Canal Street side of the station, a group of about 15 people, some of whom were from Venezuela and were waiting for another bus, were standing or sitting on a sidewalk. Some were looking at their phones as others were speaking to each other and to a Chicago Tribune reporter.
Most were men, but there was one woman with her young daughter and husband. They were waiting to be picked up and taken to a shelter, they told the Tribune reporter.
After more than 12 hours of travel from Texas, 3-year-old Danieli Cataleya Salazar, sat on the ground outside Union Station eating a nectarine with her pregnant mother as they waited for transportation to a shelter to rest for the night. Before arriving to Chicago, they had traveled for two months from Venezuela, said the child's mother, Ana Julia Ramirez Duran.
Ramirez Duran, 22, who is eight months pregnant with a boy, and her husband, Elier Salazar Chacon, 29, and their daughter fled poverty and an authoritarian regime, they told the Tribune. She shared the bag of nectarines a Chicago police officer had given her with the others.
Hungry with swollen feet, Ramirez Duran said that she and her husband decided to migrate north, desperately seeking an opportunity to find a good job that would allow them to provide for their children. They said they didn't have enough money to buy food for their family and it was difficult to find employment in their country.
One of at least two Chicago police officers who stood nearby told the Tribune there was a much larger group of migrants who had boarded a bus and had already left Union Station.
"As a city, we are doing everything we can to ensure these immigrants and their families can receive shelter, food, and most importantly protection." Johnson said in his statement. He added, "Unfortunately, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is without any shame or humanity. But ever since he put these racist practices of expulsion in place, we have been working with our community partners to ready the city to receive these individuals."
Other Venezuelan immigrants who arrived on the same bus from Texas shared a similar story.
"We are tired and hungry, like any other human being," one said. "Can you help me?" he asked a Tribune reporter.
Many of the migrants waiting carried a clear plastic bag with their documents and small possessions. Few had cellphones and most had a piece of paper where they had written phone numbers of people who might be able to help them.
"We just want a place to sleep tonight," said Jose Rios, 40, as other Venezuelan men surrounded him. They all met on their journey from Texas to Chicago, they said.
"We are so hungry but have no idea where to go or what to do," said Rios, who left his three children and wife back in his native country. He said he migrated because the poverty in Venezuela is extreme. "We just want to work now - have a dignified life," he said.
While some migrants were able to connect with their families or people they know in Chicago, most did not have contacts in the area and were picked up by local activists who collaborated with the city to transport them to a shelter.
After hearing from a fellow activist that the migrants had arrived in Chicago, Baltazar Enriquez from the Little Village Community Council rushed to the Union Station to figure out how they could help.
"Little Village is like the door of immigrants, so we are more than happy to help them restart their life, make sure that they are safe and healthy," Enriquez said.
Soon after, several residents from the Little Village community arrived with cars to transport the migrants. But the group was redirected when police at the scene informed them that another bus was on its way to take the group that was left to the same shelter where the others were taken.
After a good Samaritan brought burgers from McDonald's for them, a CTA bus pulled up around 10 p.m. The migrants boarded the bus, which left the station around 10:20 p.m.
Shortly before 11 p.m., the migrants, along with police officers and a handful of apparent officials, disembarked at the Salvation Army Freedom Center at 825 N. Christiana Ave.
Lightfoot visited the shelter and confirmed that a total of 75 migrants arrived to Chicago from Texas on two buses.
"We received families, single men, a mix of folks from Latin America bused here inhumanly from Texas," Lightfoot said outside the Salvation Army shelter.
"Our city is prepared. We're a welcoming city, and what we've seen is a tremendous outpouring, not only from city government, but also a number of different non-for-profits that are part of our network of care," she said, thanking the Salvation Army and the Resurrection Project, among other organizations that are collaborating with the city to assist the migrants.
Lightfoot said that over the next few days, the city and local organizations will work to figure out what the specific needs are for the migrants, adding that what Abbott is doing is "immoral, unpatriotic, and it defies the values of who we are as Americans. We can disagree on policy and politics, but you don't treat people this way."
Late Wednesday, Pritzker said in a statement that "Illinois welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants and we are working with federal and city officials to ensure that these individuals are treated with respect and safety as they look to connect with their family and friends."
"My great-grandfather came to this country as an immigrant fleeing Ukraine in 1881," Pritzker said in the statement. "Immigrants just like my family seeking freedom and opportunity built this country. Illinois is and has always been a welcoming state."
Lightfoot has been an outspoken advocate for immigrants' rights since becoming mayor in 2019 and has not been shy about defending Chicago on the national stage. She clashed with former President Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Illinois Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey.
Months after being elected, Lightfoot crashed a news conference held by the Chicago ICE director, where she appeared with a group of immigration activists and called Director Robert Guadian's criticism of the city's sanctuary ordinance "nonsense."
The mayor later pushed a revision to Chicago's Welcoming City ordinance that prohibited police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities to deport immigrants living in the country without legal permission who have criminal backgrounds. She has also gone on walking tours in Chicago neighborhoods with large immigrant populations where she passed out "know your rights" fliers.
"I hope that this is all worth it," migrant Ramirez Duran said. "But tonight, I just hope we can find a place to sleep."