Gov. Pritzker, Mayor Johnson ask Biden for more help on migrants


With the number of migrant-filled buses arriving in Chicago set to hit unprecedented levels this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Brandon Johnson have ramped up pressure on President Joe Biden to do more to help local officials cope with the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

During a call Sunday with Biden’s chief of staff, Jeff Zients, senior adviser Tom Perez and Department of Homeland Security officials, the mayor and governor underscored how the accelerating rate of asylum-seekers will spell a new era for Chicago’s migrant situation, according to sources briefed on the conversation. The total number of arrivals since the first bus from Texas arrived in August 2022 is expected to jump from 15,000 as of last week to 20,000 this week, the sources said.

That total could double within three weeks. The projection is based on information from people along the southern border that indicates 20 to 25 additional buses a day will be arriving in Chicago, at least five days a week, each with about 50 migrants aboard. That means about 1,000 to 1,250 new arrivals daily.

Following up on the weekend call, Pritzker on Monday sent a letter to Biden knocking the federal response to the crisis and pleading for more support. The criticism of the White House came after the governor himself faced heat from some progressive Chicago aldermen over the level of state assistance in caring for the asylum-seekers, who mostly hail from Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

“Today, Illinois stands mostly unsupported against this enormous strain on our state resources,” Pritzker wrote to Biden.

It was the latest sign of increased tension among Democrats at all levels of government as Chicago prepares to host the party’s national convention in August, when Biden is expected to accept his party’s nomination to a second term.

“As the numbers being transported to Chicago are accelerating, the humanitarian crisis is overwhelming our ability to provide aid to the refugee population,” Pritzker wrote. “Unfortunately, the welcome and aid Illinois has been providing to these asylum-seekers has not been matched with support by the federal government. Most critically, the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.”

A group of migrants and members of the public wait in line outside an Illinois Department of Human Services office on Sept. 25, 2023, in Chicago.

The three-page letter calls for the White House to appoint a single person to lead the migrant relief effort on the federal level.

“Right now, we have too many different federal department contacts — who are uncoordinated with one another — that handle various programs related to this humanitarian crisis,” Pritzker wrote.

The governor, who is serving as an adviser to the Biden’s reelection campaign, also asked that the federal government take a more active role in coordinating the transportation of asylum-seekers from Texas to other parts of the country, accusing the administration of “abdicating responsibility once (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) releases migrants into the interior of the country.”

Pritzker also requested additional financial support beyond the “modest funding” the state and the city of Chicago have received thus far from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which totals a little more than $34 million.

On Friday, the state announced it would send the city another $30.3 million dedicated to the effort.

Pritzker’s criticisms in some ways mirror the blowback he received last week from some of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s City Council allies after the governor voiced concerns about Johnson’s plan to house migrants in tent encampments spread throughout the city.

Johnson’s floor leader, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, shot back at the governor by asking why the state hasn’t opened its own shelters to alleviate the city’s burden. Pritzker’s press aides noted the state’s spending on migrant relief to date.

The state has spent about $330 million on the new arrivals, according to Pritzker’s letter to Biden, but not all of that money has gone to Chicago, where most of the migrants are staying.

Chicago has allocated $144 million toward the migrant mission and expects costs for the entire response effort since 2022 to grow to as much as $363 million by the end of this year.

Johnson’s base camp strategy consists of erecting a collection of tent encampments around the city as a landing zone for new arrivals instead of housing them at police stations, where more than 1,800 migrants are waiting, often in squalid conditions, for placement at a brick-and-mortar shelter. Another 450 migrants are staying inside the city’s airports.

The mayor’s administration has said the plan is needed to move asylum-seekers from settings that are often unhygienic and inhumane, even as a new city contract with GardaWorld, a private defense company tasked with setting up the camps, has ignited controversy.

On Friday, the state announced it would send the city another $30.3 million dedicated to the migrant effort, but questions remain over how the city can plug a $538 million budget shortfall stemming from the migrant crisis and other fiscal issues as the number of new arrivals does not appear to be abating anytime soon.


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