Gage Park reopens facilities a year after closing to house migrants

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday placing immediate restrictions on those seeking asylum at the southern border. It comes in an effort to ‘gain control’ of the overwhelming flow of migrants into the United States.

Now, migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully will be barred from receiving asylum.

The move raises questions about local implications. Since August 2022, Chicago has welcomed more than 42,000 migrants from the southern border. Currently, more than 7,000 are still living in city and state-run shelters.

Over the last several months, the city has begun to ‘decommission’ many of its temporary shelters. Hours after Biden’s announcement, Mayor Brandon Johnson celebrated the reopening of Gage Park facilities. It’s one of five Chicago Park District facilities to reopen this month, after serving migrants since last year.

The decision to house migrants at the Gage Park fieldhouse was a point of contention for taxpayers.  

While the move got new arrivals off police station floors, it also meant community resources and youth activities were put on pause.

"We showed just how welcoming and open Chicago can be," said Johnson.

Now, roughly one year after migrants moved in, they’ve moved out – and the facilities have been turned back over to neighbors.

To mark the occasion, area families were invited to attend a grand reopening celebration Tuesday. Right on time for summer break, important youth programming – including summer camps and swimming – have returned.

"It will help to engage and give our young people something safe to do," said Johnson.

The move gives Richard Petroski, who attended the reopening ceremony, a positive outlook on the summer.

"Keeping them off the streets is what we’re trying to do," said Petroski, coach with the Gage Park Baseball & Softball Association.

The Gage Park Baseball & Softball Association works with kids as young as five years old all the way through college – building on skills both on and off the field.

"We’re one family," said Petroski. "We’re not out there just to make them better baseball players, we’re out there to make them better young men."

He says re-accessing the park will also provide space to reunite as a team.

"After practices, ‘hey, we’re going to the pool, let’s go have some fun in the pool,’" said Petroski.

Likewise, parents like Sonia Carrizales are exploring summer activities for their children.

"The girls love to swim," said Carrizales. "They have to burn their energy."

Carrizales explains that last summer, she had to take her children to other parks for programming, despite living down the street from Gage Park.

"We want to frequent our own park in our neighborhood, and we couldn’t. I’m excited to hear about the new programs," said Carrizales. "We needed our park back."

The Gage Park pool is set to reopen on Monday, June 17.

Four additional Chicago Park District facilities are also reopening their doors this month.

Leone Beach Park was decommissioned as a migrant shelter on March 30 and is now back open for lifeguarding storage and junior lifeguard training.

Migrants were vacated from Brands Park on April 14, and it reopened on June 3.

At Broadway Armory Park, which was cleared in early April, a grand reopening celebration is set for Saturday, June 8.

Piotrowski Park, which was decommissioned on March 30, will also host a celebration for its reopening on Friday, June 21.