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Chicago church helping migrants in need of shelter, food, community

One pastor shared how his congregation and community are helping welcome the influx migrants to Chicago and trying to meet their needs.
Chicago church helping migrants in need of shelter, food, community
Posted at 6:48 AM, May 16, 2023

If migrants are successful in securing a court date for an asylum case, they are released and many will leave the border city where they entered the U.S. for another city, or to be reunited with family. We've also seen Republican governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, bus migrants from border cities to larger cities run by Democrats, including most notably, New York and Chicago.  

This weekend, dozens of migrants were bused to Washington, D.C., and dropped off outside of Vice President Kamala Harris' home. Meanwhile, New York Mayor Eric Adams says the city is overwhelmed by migrants arriving daily and wants to temporarily send some to northern counties and in Chicago, a state of emergency has been declared because of the ongoing influx. Chris Ophus is the pastor of Chicago's New Life Community Church and the assistant director of New Life Centers. He joined Scripps News' "Morning Rush" to share what his congregation and community have been doing to help migrants as the city started seeing a surge. 

Migrants in need

"Normally, when someone needs shelter, they would call 3-1-1 and then wait at a police station to be taken into a shelter. But all of the city shelters were really overwhelmed, so there were hundreds and hundreds of people who are sleeping at police stations waiting sometimes up to a week to get into city shelters as space was trying to be opened," Ophus said. "We've been helping those who are in the police station, sending food to them, trying to do wellness visits. It really has been a situation that sort of overwhelms our normal shelter system in Chicago."

SEE MORE: The end of Title 42 leaves many migrants looking for answers

Ophus says most of the migrants he's interacted with are grateful to be in the country and just want to get settled into the city. He said after they've gone through such an ordeal to get to the U.S., they're sleeping on the floors in police stations while they wait for space in a shelter. New Life Centers helps migrants get placed into apartments after they've stayed in a shelter. But beyond physical needs, Ophus says they need community.

"Even as people are on the floor, they're really grateful just to be here. They're grateful that they have a chance to be in this city, to be in this country and they feel like they're heading towards that final lap to integrating into a new home," he said. "And so, I think for a lot of them, it's a need for community, a need for connection, other people who can help them to settle and make the city and make this country a home."

Communities coming together

There's a question of whether there's a strain on the system or there are adequate resources in these bigger cities to help make this transition and arrival as smooth as possible for migrants. Ophus says he thinks both are true — that there are resources and the system is also strained — as Chicago has probably not experienced this many people needing a shelter at one time, that he can recall. He also spoke to the organizations, government officials, churches and volunteers who are helping support the incoming migrants.

"It's amazing to see how organically groups have sprung up around different stations to support people. Chicago is a welcoming city and it's been pretty cool to see how many have stepped up," Ophus said. "People have rolled up their sleeves and wanted to get to work and are supporting those who are coming, despite the fact the system was not designed to handle this amount of people at one time."

SEE MORE: Title 42 Ended. So what laws take effect now?

The politics

In regard to Republican governors busing migrants out of their border towns and into major cities, Ophus says he spoke with migrants who have been bused to get their opinion on the politics of immigration here in the U.S.

"I was surprised. They were honestly just happy to be in Chicago and excited to be in the United States," he said. "Most of the people I've interacted with, they aren't really feeling the weight of our, sort of, political game that we're having over here. I think they’re honestly just happy to be here, whether here means New York or Chicago or Denver or Dallas — they're happy. They went through a pretty heroic journey to get from their homeland to the United States and they're grateful to be here."

Some Republicans argue migrants coming over the border are drug lords, gang members, terrorists, rapists and hardened criminals. When asked whether Ophus is encountering these kinds of people, he strongly disagreed.

"No, we are not seeing that," he said. "We're seeing a lot of moms. We're seeing a lot of dads. We're seeing a lot of people who are fighting, like my relatives did, to get to this country and start a new life. And we're happy to welcome them to Chicago."

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