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Chicago city official explains why migrant shelter stay limit is being enforced, despite enough space for all

CBS 2 asks Chicago city official why migrants are being evicted from shelters
CBS 2 asks Chicago city official why migrants are being evicted from shelters 03:08

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The City of Chicago this week started telling some migrant families with children they had to leave city-run shelters—despite fewer than half of the beds in city shelters currently being used.

CBS 2 on Friday talked with City Deputy Mayor for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce De León about why this is happening, and what happens next.

The State of Illinois and the City of Chicago have secured 15,000 beds for asylum seekers at least until the Democratic National Convention comes around in August. But people are being asked to leave regardless of beds being available.

Ponce De León said there is a reason for this.

"It makes sense for us," she said, "because we have that shared plan of 15,000 beds collectively, and we know and anticipate that there will be a higher number of people coming this summer."

Back in January, Mayor Brandon Johnson said he wanted to see migrants through to the point when they might receive their work permits—but now, people are being told to leave shelters regardless of being able to work and be self-sufficient.

To that, Ponce De León said, "I think it's the reality of the federal policy around who is eligible for work permits and who is not."

Chicago deputy mayor explains enforcement of 60-day shelter stay limits for migrants 02:49

Ponce De León that migrant families are not just on their own to figure out what's next after their 60-day shelter stay limit is up.

"We have families that will begin to exit, or began exiting, due to their 60 days being over. But they, like everyone else, can request an extension," she said, "and if they're not eligible for a particular extension, they can go back to the landing zone, where if there's space available, they will be returned to the shelter that that they were in originally—if they choose to want to stay there and there's room for them."

But some asylum seekers have told CBS 2 they have been told to go to a shelter half an hour away, or even an hour and a half away. Instead of doing so, some families have decided to go off on their own—leaving the shelters behind without a work permit, and deciding to figure it out for themselves and to risk ending up being out in the street.

These families say they do not trust the city to do the right thing, and they refuse to go back into the shelter system.

"We have not seen major reports of people living outdoors at this point," Ponce De León said. "I know that that has been kind of swirling around, but I want to reassure you that the city is aware and is really being proactive and trying to understand if that's happening."

The city extended shelter deadlines for families with children in the Chicago Public Schools system. These evictions started on Tuesday.

Singles were not allowed the same exemption.

CBS 2 is told almost 1,000 people have been told to leave city shelters because of the stay limit, and only 55% have returned and asked for shelter placement again.

The shelter stay policy leaves space, the city says, for migrants they anticipate coming from Texas during the DNC in August.

"So we need to have a cushion of beds available for when people arrive," Ponce De León said.

But has Texas said anything about an influx to Illinois of migrants this summer?

"We have gotten some information previously from folks that do see this coming, and have heard that it is going to come," Ponce De León said. "Texas has not called us and told us that they're going to do it, but that is—I think those are those are things that have been discussed and have been flagged."

As of Friday, only 6,649 people were staying in city shelters. Capacity is more than double that.    

City officials said they do not know how many migrants will come around the time of the DNC, or when. They anticipate keeping the 17 shelters the city and state are currently operating at least until after the convention, and have others they say they can open quickly if there are too many people.

The city admits it is not asking migrants where they will go next if they leave the shelter system.

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