Arctic blast threatens migrants in New York, Chicago and Denver

Officials in major cities are struggling to manage tens of thousands of asylum seekers amid dangerously cold temperatures.

A group of migrants wait outside in line to receive food in Chicago.
A group of migrants wait outside in line to receive food in Chicago on Jan. 12. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

The arctic blast that has sent temperatures plunging across the country is threatening the safety of thousands of migrants who have been transported from the U.S. border to places like New York, Chicago and Denver, officials in those cities say.


Mayor Brandon Johnson announced last week that he temporarily suspended the city’s 60-day limit on shelter stays for asylum seekers sent to the Windy City on buses paid for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott due to dangerous subzero wind chills and near-blizzard conditions.

“We’re not evicting new arrivals out into the cold,” Johnson said Friday.

Approximately 650 migrants were set to be evicted on Tuesday, according to city officials. More than 14,000 are currently living in 28 city shelters. Since 2022, Abbott has sent tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Democratic-led cities like Chicago in an effort to divide voters and damage President Biden’s chances for reelection.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker sent a letter to Abbott pleading with him to stop sending migrants to Chicago during the dead of winter.

“The next few days are a threat to the families and children you are sending here,” Pritzker wrote.

“We refuse to play your political game of exploiting the most vulnerable for the sake of culture wars and talking points,” the governor added. “You seem to have no interest in working on bipartisan solutions to the border crisis because that would put an end to your cruel political game, but I am writing to you today hoping to appeal to your humanity.”


Migrants sit outside their tents in an encampment.
Migrants sit outside their tents in an encampment in Denver on Jan. 3. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

In Denver, city officials suspended the 14-day shelter limit for migrant adults due to dangerously cold temperatures, and have opened supplemental cold weather shelters because the existing ones are near or over capacity.

"We're getting by day to day at this point," Denver Human Services spokesperson Jon Ewing told Axios.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to press federal leaders to do more to help the city manage the migrant crisis.

"These are folks that will show up in Denver in shorts and a T-shirt, we're talking about 5-degree weather here," Johnston said on CNN last week. "It is incredibly dangerous, where we will have record low temperatures, but this is a part of the challenge that the country is facing right now — not to have a system where they decide every migrant in the country gets sent."

New York

Migrants in thermal blankets wait outside a shelter in the East Village in New York City.
Migrants in thermal blankets wait outside a shelter in the East Village in New York City on Tuesday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Hundreds of asylum seekers — many dressed for warmer weather — stood out in the snow, sleet and freezing temperatures Tuesday in hopes of getting assigned a place to stay. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has said that no family that applies to remain in a shelter beyond the city’s current 60-day limit will be rejected, but that cities like his need help.

"This is a national problem. The national government needs to resolve this, not New Yorkers," Adams told ABC News last week. "We have been humane. We've led from the front. But you don't want a child to have a permanent shelter residency. That is unacceptable and we're not going to tolerate that."

City and state officials are asking the Biden administration for help with keeping the 68,000 migrants currently in city shelters safe amid the deep freeze.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she too is traveling to Washington, D.C., later this week to support federal legislation to manage the migrant crisis and “push for more funding” to help the city.

But the situation is increasingly dire. The New York Times reported that about three dozen migrants, including two families with children, left a shelter in Brooklyn on Tuesday night and “huddled on the sidewalk under thin blankets outside a city office” in 20-degree wind chills hoping to obtain an NYC-issued identification card that they were told they needed in order to legally find work.

According to the Times, it’s unclear whether such an ID card is necessary.

Record number of migrants crossed in December

Asylum seekers bundle up as they wait to check into a processing center in Manhattan
Asylum seekers bundle up as they wait to check into a processing center at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan on Jan. 9. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Border crossings typically slow down during the winter months. But according to the preliminary Department of Homeland Security statistics published by CBS News last month, the U.S. Border Patrol processed more migrants who entered the country illegally in December than in any other month in the agency's history.

More than 300,000 migrants who crossed the southern border illegally were processed by the Border Patrol in December, CBS News reported — a record figure that does not include the roughly 50,000 migrants who entered through legal entries at ports of entry.

The previous monthly record high was recorded in May 2022, when Border Patrol processed 224,000 migrants at and in between ports of entry.