Help me here.
Chicago is a city famous for … what, exactly?
Burning to the ground in 1871? Prompting residents to emit a shriek of dismay and give up?
No. Chicago boosters fanned out across the country, raising money in a flurry of civic pride. Chicago rapidly rebuilt itself, better than before.
Maybe Chicago is known for volunteering to host an enormous exposition in 1893, then realizing it had bitten off more than it could chew, tossing up its hands and hiding behind the sofa when the world started rattling the doorknob?
No. The city tapped Daniel Burnham to oversee the quick construction of an enormous, ornate White City. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition boosted Chicago into the modern age.
So how come in 2023 Chicago is in agony over a daily busload of immigrants? Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s quotidian middle finger to tolerance and decency, a jeer of Texan regret that they didn’t die tangled in the miles of razor wire Texas has strung across the Rio Grande.
Their arrival is a logistical nightmare. It has to be, for the city to house refugees in police stations, as if they were public facilities designed to help communities deal with crisis — oh wait, that’s what they are, right? Still, it must be hellish for some cops to be daily confronted with objects of their scorn.
At least judging from FOP head John Catanzara, who last Thursday snidely suggested immigrants be housed at City Hall. (Hmmm … not a bad idea. Have you been to City Hall? Mostly dead space, particularly in the upper floors. You could house 300 immigrants there and never see them).
Both police stations and City Hall are desperate choices. We must do better than this. We have the track record. Assimilating immigrants is Chicago’s brand. No need to trust me. “Immigration from abroad …” The Encyclopedia of Chicago notes, “has been the city’s hallmark characteristic in the public mind.”
We’ve got it light, relatively. In 1890, 68% of people living in Chicago were born abroad, a situation so chaotic that three years later, Chicago threw a fair for 25 million visitors.
Today, 20% of Chicagoans were born outside the United States. We need every one. Chicago’s population in 2023 is 2.7 million. In 2000, Chicago’s population was 2.9 million. In 1980, it was 3 million. Between 2020 and 2022, Chicago lost 3% of its population.
Sure, longtime residents often scorn new immigrants — they are dirty, their literacy rate is “abysmal,” they pick rags, their women bare their breasts in public to feed their howling brats. They are “hard to assimilate,” they form secret criminal societies, “blackmailers and bomb throwers,” and in general are “swarthy, lawless, poverty ridden drones” — oh wait, those are descriptions, not of the present wave, but of Italian immigrants 125 years ago.
So don’t you dare suggest your own beloved forebears were somehow better, cleaner, harder-working, smarter or conducted themselves in some vastly superior fashion. That’s just ignorance and ego talking.
It’s just as legal to show up at America’s southern border tomorrow asking for asylum as it was to arrive at Ellis Island in 1900. And walking across Central America with your kids takes more grit than your great-grandfather displayed by convincing Uncle Bruno to front him a steamship ticket.
The city pays out $30 million a year litigating and settling police misconduct cases. Yet you never see an angry public meeting decrying that expenditure. You could buy a lot of motel rooms and toothbrushes for $30 million a year. So why do Chicagoans line up to gripe about spending city funds on a pillow for a 4-year-old?
It’s a shame Catanzara doesn’t take a fraction of the zeal he spends continually slurring immigrants and use it to keep his cops in line; maybe then the city would have more resources to handle the immigrant crisis.
We shouldn’t let the terrified bleats of some parts of the city drown out the chorus of welcome from the rest. Brandon Johnson, mayor since May, seems to be trying to get it done — he appointed the city’s first deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights.
Squadrons of city workers are surely dancing as fast as they can, and as a self-appointed representative of Chicago, I want to officially thank them for all they’re doing on behalf of the city. Jane Addams is smiling down upon you.