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Tensions grow between city, state and federal government over influx of migrants

Tensions grow between city, state and federal government over influx of migrants

Lawmakers begin offering proposals to address recent arrivals

By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
aadams@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – Tensions rose again this week between Gov. JB Pritzker’s office and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson over how to handle the tens of thousands of people who have arrived in the state since August 2022 via buses or planes sent from Texas. 

The most recent back-and-forth between the two came in response to the city’s recent shift in its migrant strategy: away from building new shelters or even increasing capacity of existing shelters, instead focusing on getting migrants out of shelters and into other forms of housing. 

The state had previously committed $65 million to building a shelter in Chicago in November – an effort that has still not come to fruition.

“I’m deeply concerned,” Pritzker said Monday. “We do not have enough shelter as it is in the city of Chicago. The city has not told the state where they would like us to put our resources. We can’t help if they don’t identify those locations.”

Johnson’s administration is gearing up to enforce the city’s 60-day eviction policy at Chicago’s shelters. Enforcement of that policy was initially delayed due to dangerously cold weather but is set to go into effect next week. 

At a news conference on Wednesday, Johnson suggested that the state build shelters outside of his city.

“The state of Illinois can build a shelter anywhere in the state of Illinois, the state does not have to build a shelter in Chicago,” Johnson said. 

Johnson also said Wednesday that he did not think his administration was at odds with Pritzker. 

Read more: Patchwork aid system and uncertain funding leave thousands of migrants in limbo

Within city government, Chicago’s shelter policies have drawn criticism. Thursday, a group of 16 city aldermen penned a letter asking the mayor to walk back the eviction policy. 

“To stand by the decision to impose 60-day limits on shelters without addressing these systemic issues leaves new arrivals without options for housing or shelter,” the aldermen wrote. “This situation simply should not be acceptable.” 

Beyond Chicago, Pritzker joined eight other Democratic governors earlier this week in a letter to President Joe Biden and congressional leadership asking for more federal coordination of resources to help migrants.

“While political motivations continue to delay the negotiations, our economy, states and localities are bearing the brunt of the shortcomings of the existing immigration system,” the governors wrote. “Therefore, as you return to Washington to resume work on critical federal funding measures, we strongly urge Congress and the Administration to quickly negotiate an agreement on a border security legislative package.”  

In addition to Pritzker, the letter was signed by the governors of New York, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico.  

Conflict between the states and the federal government is also coming from the other side of the political aisle. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Texas officials to allow federal agents to access the state’s border with Mexico. Texas sued the federal government last fall after border patrol agents cut razor wire the state had put up, but the court upheld previous decisions that give the federal government sole responsibility for border security.

On Wednesday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has directed the busing program that has brought roughly 35,000 migrants to Illinois, invoked the U.S. Constitution by declaring that the number of migrants at the southern border constitutes an “invasion” of the country and referencing states’ “sovereign interest in protecting their borders.” 

“That authority is the supreme law of the land and supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary,” Abbott said in a statement. “The Texas National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and other Texas personnel are acting on that authority, as well as state law, to secure the Texas border.”

Read more: State opens migrant shelter, Pritzker talks supplemental spending plan

This week also saw several state lawmakers offer possible responses to the influx of migrants. 

Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, penned an op-ed proposing that city and state policymakers use the fact that Chicago is set to host the Democratic National Convention as leverage to force federal action on immigration. 

“If the federal government cannot adequately deal with the housing issue for tenured Chicagoans and our new arrivals, then Chicago and Illinois should be prepared to rescind the offer to host the DNC,” Buckner wrote in a piece for the Chicago Tribune. 

But backing out of hosting the DNC is unlikely, as contacts with vendors have already been signed and federal law enforcement agencies are already setting out their plans for the event. 

“The Democratic National Convention provides an unparalleled opportunity to invest in communities across Chicago,” Natalie Edelstein, a spokesperson for the host committee said in a statement responding to Buckner’s proposal. 

Edelstein also noted that the host committee is working with city, state and local partners to “ensure a safe and successful event.” 

Buckner is a member of the House of Representatives “New Arrivals Working Group,” an informal group of lawmakers recently convened by House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside. That group will likely be an important part of potential funding discussions for the state’s migrant response this spring. While the governor’s office is anticipating a $1.4 billion surplus in the current year which ends June 30, next fiscal year is facing a projected deficit of $891 million.  

The state has so far spent or allocated more than $600 million on programs relating to the recently arrived migrants, according to the governor’s office, including a $160 million package through the state’s Department of Human Services announced in November. 

Earlier this month, Pritzker said he brought up a potential supplemental spending plan to legislative leaders in Springfield, but those conversations have so far yielded no proposals. 

Read more: Pritzker urges ‘careful’ approach as current-year surplus could be followed by deficit

Some Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have asked Welch to hold public hearings on the migrant situation. 

The Illinois Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican state representatives, said they attempted to tour shelters in Chicago but were turned away. 

While the Monday letter to Welch from Freedom Caucus members characterized the influx of migrants as an “ongoing illegal immigration crisis,” many of the people bused to the state from Texas are seeking asylum which generally means they can legally stay in the U.S.

Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he and his colleagues hope to engage downstate Illinoisans on the issue. 

“Transparency in government at any level is important,” Niemerg said. 

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Andrew Adams

Andrew AdamsAndrew Adams

Andrew has experience covering cities and communities throughout Illinois and his stories have appeared in papers from Chicago to Effingham. His unique blend of data-driven and traditional reporting help identify the throughlines of policy and politics.

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