Migrant buses: Venezuelans in Chicago saw signs of humanitarian crisis months before political flap

Rafael Briceño Colmenares arrived in the Chicago area in January from Venezuela. He faces a steep legal battle as he tries to seek asylum in the U.S. And his three children, wife and family remain in Venezuela.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

When Rafael Briceño Colmenares arrived in Chicago on a frigid night last January, all he had was a phone number for a woman he had never met.

In his native Venezuela, Colmenares worked as a security guard for the government and later taught music at a college. At one point, he had two homes for his three children and wife.

But by 2018, he had exhausted his savings because of inflation and saw food scarcity worsen. He said he had no choice but to flee in an attempt to help feed his family.

“I can’t imagine not being able to provide food for my children tomorrow,” he said in an interview conducted in Spanish about the long journey that eventually led him to Chicago. “… Many people have died because they didn’t have anything to eat.”

In recent weeks, the state says nearly 900 immigrants — the majority from Venezuela — have been sent to Chicago via buses chartered by Texas authorities.

While they found themselves caught in the middle of a political battle between Republicans in southern states and Democratic leaders elsewhere, thousands of Venezuelans like Colmenares were already fleeing their homeland months before the buses started to arrive here.

Ana Gil Garcia, a longtime leader in Chicago’s Venezuelan community, calls the current situation that has led so many people to leave South America for the U.S. a “crisis” that no one here planned for.

“I’ve been receiving phone calls since January, in the middle of the night, and that was when I realized that something was really going on,” said Garcia. One of those calls was from Colmenares.

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times


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