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Migrants Met with Protests in Chicago’s Woodlawn Community

On Thursday, Feb. 3, approximately 250 migrants moved into Woodlawn’s former Wadsworth Elementary School. The move comes after initially being on Jan. 6, before a second delay to Jan. 23. However, Chicago’s grueling winter necessitated the move to avoid postponement. The move came following the influx of migrants and the need to provide shelter. However, the current shelters provided through the City of Chicago were at overcapacity and led to the geographic shifting of migrants. However, this shift was not met without protests. Despite protesting since the news became public in November, the Woodlawn community has gone ignored. The residents protested the migrants’ moves due to the city’s inability to answer their questions about integrating these migrants into the community. Furthermore, the city failed to provide a comprehensive plan regarding long-term outcomes.


The protests at the sight of the closed school turned shelter included police presence despite a peaceful protest. At the sight of the school, two protestors attempted to block the two CTA buses that carried the migrants. One of the protestors was a candidate for alderman, Andre Smith, who ran previously in 2019. 


For those unfamiliar with Chicago’s aldermanic system, aldermen are representatives of local districts elected by their constituents to a four-year term. They are representatives elected to represent the people and serve within the legislative branch of the City of Chicago. They often work with the mayor to improve infrastructure, pass legislation, and improve their communities. However, the 20th Ward alderman, Jeanette Taylor, explains that she was briefed in October 2022 on the migrants moving in, only for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to claim that the school would not be used. The ambiguity and inconclusive responses confused residents and led them to mobilize in town halls and community hearings in an effort to stop the move. Residents opposed the transportation of migrants due to the lack of resources and the inability to speak Spanish. As a primary focus, they worried about the migrants’ integration rather than excluding them.


The Woodlawn community has experienced redlining and disinvestment from the city since the 1950s. As white residents moved out, so did the city’s commitment to improving the Woodlawn community. At best, when there was an improvement, it often manifested in the form of gentrification. Coupling this history in mind, this is likely the reason for Woodlawn residents’ skepticism towards moving the migrants in. However, the lack of responsiveness on behalf of Mayor Lightfoot’s administration furthers complications.

However, it is not only the Woodlawn residents against the move to Woodlawn. Chicago’s Little Village has previously extended the option for migrants to move into their community. The neighborhood – Little Village – boasts Chicago’s largest Mexican population and has the Little Village community council which has reached out to Mayor Lightfoot. Moreover, this community council also reached out to the Woodlawn community to aid, as well as their local alderman. Their alderman, Michael Rodriguez, also advocates for the migrants to come to the 22nd ward. However, he posits that the closed school – Padrewski Elementary Learning Center–  is not acceptable. The school is not habitable due to no copper piping and inadequate windows.  Nevertheless, Little Village Community Council hopes to facilitate dialogue with those in Woodlawn to make the transition easier.

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