As you step into Chicago's third district police station on the city's South Side, the first thing you see is not the typical hustle and bustle of law enforcement, but rather, dozens of Venezuelan migrants, including young children, sheltering outside and inside the station's tiny entryway.
Two families with young kids have been sleeping in the small vestibule for nearly two weeks. "They're in a very small and tight space with heat blowing to hold the building heat in. So there are particularly poor conditions," described Britt Hodgdon, a volunteer and social worker who's been checking in with the migrants every day for the past two weeks.
On a recent morning, Hodgdon was handing out breakfast burritos, coffee, blankets and socks while a friend she brought along was examining migrants with respiratory illnesses and other issues. Hodgdon, who's part of a group of 120 volunteers caring for migrants sleeping in police stations across Chicago, blasted city officials for relying so much on everyday citizens.
"What we're doing essentially is serving as a small local government right now in lieu of the city government and our officials who have been called to action and have not yet taken it," she said. The volunteers, who dubbed themselves the Chicago Police Station Response Team, say over 400 migrants are currently sheltering in nearly every police station across the city. They fear the situation could get a lot worse with a larger influx as pandemic-related asylum restrictions come to an end. On Tuesday, outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a state of emergency, blaming Texas Governor Greg Abbott for "inhumanely" sending migrants to the Windy City as a political stunt.
SEE MORE: Chicago declares state of emergency over migrant arrivals
Gov. Abbott has been busing migrants to Democratic-led cities as a challenge to President Biden's border policies.
Since August, over 8,000 have arrived in Chicago. It's unclear how many are coming on their own or with the help of non-profits rather than via buses coordinated by the Texas governor.
In a tenfold increase from last month, roughly 100 are now arriving daily. Most are sent to police stations until the city can place them in shelters.
Alexander Antonio López Luna, a migrant who's been sleeping at the station for two nights, trekked from his home country of Venezuela to the U.S. to seek asylum.
He told Scripps News that "the conditions aren't very pleasant because we sleep on the floor. But it's been great to receive so much attention and support from volunteers and from the police."
López Luna says he came to Chicago by bus on his own because he heard the city is a good place for migrants to start a new life and find work. Other cities like New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Denver are also dealing with growing migrant crises.
Some volunteers, like Ana Gil-Garcia, are taking matters into their own hands.
The director and founder of the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance has opened her apartment to dozens of migrant families over the past few years. Her organization has put out a call for more established immigrants to do the same.
She worries about how much worse the crisis could get.
"These are humans and these are people with children and these are people with many different needs. They come to Chicago with nothing," she said.
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