On Wednesday afternoon, a room inside of the Revive Center, the nonprofit arm of Grace and Peace Church, 1856 N. Leclaire Ave. in Austin, hummed with activity. Volunteers organized large boxes food and coordinated showers, among other duties.
Since August, the church and its nonprofit have welcomed dozens of asylum-seekers who have been bused from Republican-led states like Texas, Florida and Arizona.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, more than 1,600 asylum-seeking migrants have been bused to Chicago from Texas alone since the first bus rolled into the city on Aug. 31. Last month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a disaster proclamation to unlock resources for the asylum-seekers. He also activated approximately 75 members of the Illinois National Guard to “ensure all state resources are available to support asylum seekers.”
John Zayas, the senior pastor of Grace and Peace, said the church is doing its part to help the asylum-seekers, most of whom come from Latin American countries like Venezuela.
Last month, a group of asylum-seekers who were flown into Boston by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a federal class action lawsuit against accusing the governor of “orchestrating a ‘premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme’” that misled them, according to a Politico report.
“We are working tightly with the city to continue to show that Chicago is a sanctuary city that helps the most marginalized in our community and the people of Austin,” Zayas said. “We have shown love to the folks on the road to Chicago having been mistreated and mishandled and used as a pawn politically.”
Zayas said the city has used the church’s roughly 60,000-square-foot facility as a welcoming center due to its spaciousness and resources. In addition to operating the Revive Center, the church also holds Spanish services in the facility. The church holds food drives in the facility on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We’ve averaged maybe two to three buses a week and what we do here is we establish a sense of humanity,” Zayas said. “We take care of them, feed them and bathe them. They receive showers here. They stay for the night and then the city takes them to other sites and begins to find housing for them.”
Zayas said the number of asylum-seekers per bus has ranged from a low of 30 to a high of around 72. The pastor said the church and nonprofit are coordinating their efforts with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed a $5 million contingency fund in the 2023 budget she and the City Council are working on. The fund would help with future costs associated with assisting the asylum-seekers.
In a statement last month, Mayor Lightfoot said that the city is working hard to provide a floor of relief for the asylum-seekers.
“We understand that many are fleeing violent, traumatic, or otherwise unstable environments,” the mayor said. “We will respond with essential services while these individuals navigate the next steps of their journey and our community partners have been working diligently to provide a safety net.”
Pastor Zayas echoed the mayor’s sentiment.
“If [states like Texas and Arizona] keeps sending them, we’re going to continue doing this work,” he said. “We’re doing exactly what the city is asking us to do. We’re serving our city.”