Neighbors sue Chicago over planned migrant encampment amid lease agreement

Tensions are escalating in Brighton Park, where another group of neighbors has filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago over a planned migrant encampment. The legal action comes amid new revelations that the city has already signed a lease for the land.

"Us as voters never had the right to decide or to choose what was happening here," said Ricardo Palacios, community member. "All the sudden, 1-2-3, there’s a contract, it’s signed, you don’t got no say so."

The city, last week, entered into a lease agreement, committing to pay $91,400 per month to utilize land located at the corner of 38th Street and California Avenue. According to officials with the Office of Mayor Brandon Johnson, both parties can terminate the agreement if the site is not used for its intended purpose.

The city's proposal to build one of its first migrant encampments there has sparked controversy and raised concerns among neighboring residents. Officials say they have not yet made a final decision on the encampment, but neighbors want the idea nixed altogether.

Since learning of the proposal, community members have been staging protests outside the vacant lot in opposition to the project. Now, they have taken a more formal step by filing a lawsuit against the city, also naming Mayor Brandon Johnson in their complaint.

"Let’s make one thing clear first, the local residents are not against the migrants," said Jun Wang, attorney for the group of Brighton Park residents. "We’re against the city of Chicago for their actions."

Neighbors say they only found out about the plan in recent weeks when they saw construction crews working at the site.

If the encampment moves forward, a temperature-controlled facility would be built by GardaWorld Federal Services, and could house up to 2,000 new arrivals, according to city officials.

While the city says it's still in the process of environmental assessments to rule out any issues with the land, neighbors are calling the safety of the site into question.

"This place behind me was contaminated from years back. They tried to put a school, they tried to put a park – they never could have," said Palacios.

Some are also voicing concern over a possible uptick in crime with so many new neighbors living in one place.

"The police have already said, even though there were initially commitments to other communities where there would be 24-hour policing, that they are understaffed," said Frank Avila, attorney representing the Brighton Park residents who are taking legal action.

However, city officials says they are at a critical point in their mission of getting people into shelter before winter strikes.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mayor Johnson said, in part: "The City is currently in the process of determining if there are any environmental issues affecting this potential location. The City will analyze the results and determine next steps. We will then notify residents of the final site determination, and if viable, share further operational details on the plan."

Meanwhile, a court hearing was held on Friday afternoon in connection with another lawsuit involving West Town residents who are in opposition of a shelter located at 526 North Western Avenue. Those community members sought an emergency temporary restraining order, but a judge denied their request, citing a lack of substantial evidence to support their claim.

FOX 32 Chicago has been informed that the attorneys representing the West Town residents plan to file an amended complaint in their pursuit of legal action.