your connection to The Boston Globe

Fewer Poles flock to Chicago

EU now claiming more immigrants

Restaurateur Anna Hebal now serves many Polish tourists.

CHICAGO -- Anna Hebal says pierogi dumplings don't sell like they used to at her Czerwone Jabluszko Polish eatery in Chicago. She blames a lack of Poles immigrating to the city, the largest Polish community outside Warsaw.

"There's no point in coming to the United States now that there's a united Europe," said Hebal, 54, who received refugee status in the United States in 1981 after Poland, then led by a Communist regime, declared martial law while she was visiting Chicago. "Poles have more freedom than ever, so less people are coming. It's kind of hard."

As Chicago celebrated Pulaski Day yesterday to honor General Casimir Pulaski's heroism in the American Revolution, local Poles say their culture, influence, and businesses are declining in the third-largest US city. Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004 is leading Poles who once considered moving to Chicago to choose cities such as Dublin and London, where they can earn good wages just a two-hour flight from home.

Metropolitan Chicago, with a population of 9.16 million in the 2000 Census, has 820,000 residents of Polish descent. That ranks the city second in the world behind Warsaw's 1.67 million residents.

The number of Chicago-area Poles granted permanent resident status in 2005 fell 5.3 percent to 5,575 from 2004, when Poland joined the EU, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Homeland Security.

"It's been a very distinctive decline," said Wanda Kudrycka, a Pole who works at her country's embassy in Washington. "They are going to England, and then Ireland and Germany."

Poles are making immigration decisions based more on economics than politics after Communism's fall in Poland in 1989. Damian Magierski, who used to work at a television-assembly company in Warsaw, rejected his sister's suggestions that he move to Chicago to boost his pay. He leaves Warsaw next month for a construction job in Glasgow.

"I already know that a month later I will see my family, paying only 100 zloty [$30] for a cheap plane," said Magierski, 32. "A few years ago, I probably would have flown to Chicago immediately after receiving a visa. These days, I wasn't even considering that."

Chicago's Polish residents still wield political and cultural clout as immigration slows. The city publishes voter guides in English, Spanish, Polish, and Chinese.

"Polish and Spanish are neck and neck," said Vern Apke, a Board of Elections researcher.

"So many of my customers now are Poles on tours, who come not to work, but to see Chicago," said Hebal. "When I came here 26 years ago, there was no such thing as a Polish tourist. Nobody in Poland had any money."