Migrant Surge Lands 500 Kids in Chicago as Nonprofits Struggle to Provide Care

As migrants continue to enter the country through the nation's southern border, more and more people continue to make their way north.

Many of them are children.

The city of Chicago, a transportation hub for individuals looking to connect to other destinations, now holds nearly 500 children in the city's shelters, a number not seen since 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The number of asylum seekers entering the country remains restricted under Title 42, a policy originally implemented by the Trump administration allowing the nation to turn away those seeking asylum on the basis of pandemic control. But legal action by the ACLU and other human rights groups now permits more individuals to make their way through legally.

Migrant family in Brownsville, Texas at border
"They have literally nothing to their names except for their humanity," Colin McCormick, program director of the nonprofit Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance McCormick told Newsweek. "The border is here. The border is in Chicago." In this photo, an immigrant family is pictured awaiting COVID-19 test results on February 25, 2021 after being released by U.S. immigration authorities in Brownsville, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images

Colin McCormick, program director of the nonprofit Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance, described to Newsweek the waves of asylum seekers at the Chicago Greyhound Bus Station, where his organization provides support for those entering the city as a stop along to way to their final destination.

He said many of the people arrive with next to nothing, in need of support.

"They have literally nothing to their names except for their humanity," McCormick said. "The border is here. The border is in Chicago, and I say that because these people literally are border crossers only 48 hours from that point."

He said he has met asylum seekers with "swollen and puny" feet, having been stuck in wet shoes and socks for days after initially entering the country by crossing the Rio Grande river.

Many of them own little more than the clothes on their backs and the documentation in their hands, McCormick said. Some step off the Greyhound bus having not been fed during their entire journey, much less been given a toothbrush and toothpaste or a shower.

Despite asylum seekers facing factors such as extreme heat, lack of food, and long distances on foot during their journey north, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provides little humanitarian relief upon initial processing.

A girl from Central America rests on thermal blankets at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol on September 8, 2014 in McAllen, Texas. The Border Patrol opened the holding center to temporarily house the children after tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed the border illegally into the United States during the spring and summer. JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

A report compiled by the ACLU addressed to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas details incidents of CBP disregarding requests for medical treatment and humanitarian assistance.

The ACLU reported that one woman allegedly incurred a vaginal infection while under CBP custody and did not receive clean undergarments for two weeks, despite making several requests.

Another woman, who was pregnant, allegedly experienced profuse vaginal bleeding and requested medical treatment, only to be told "don't be dramatic." She never received medical attention, the ACLU reported.

For those who make it through CBP processing and into the country, nonprofits serve as a critical means of relief, providing asylum seekers with medical care, physical relief, and shelter. Newsweek previously reported on a nonprofit coalition in Arizona that provided COVID-19 testing and shelter to migrants dropped off in the city of Yuma by CBP.

Shaw Drake, a Texas-based staff attorney and policy counsel for border and immigrants' rights at the ACLU, told Newsweek the reliance on NGOs for humanitarian relief is a fixture of the border.

After being processed by CBP, which generally must take no more than 72 hours, Drake said individuals will sometimes spend a few days living in local shelters. During this time, they generally make contact with their connections in the U.S. and make travel arrangements, if they do not already have arrangements made. For those passing through quickly, these groups may provide a much needed meal before they board a Greyhound bus to Chicago.

"Once (migrants are) released from custody, it's all on the NGOs to provide support," Drake told Newsweek. "CBP facilities are notorious for not providing sufficient medical care."

Drake said a collation of nonprofit partners working with the ACLU's Texas office currently possess the capacity to house additional asylum seekers released from CBP custody.