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Chicago City Council approves $70 million more in migrant funding

Additional $70 million for Chicago's migrant crisis approved
Additional $70 million for Chicago's migrant crisis approved 02:30

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago will dedicate an additional $70 million to its efforts to house, feed, and provide other services to thousands of asylum seekers, after the City Council on Friday approved Mayor Brandon Johnson's request for more funds for the city's migrant crisis.

The 30-18 vote came after more than an hour of at times heated debate.

The council also unanimously approved $48 million in grant money from the state and federal government, much of which will be used to pay outstanding debt the city owes for staffing and shelter costs.

Budget Committee Chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said, despite the political division the migrant crisis has exacerbated within the council, his colleagues need to come together to meet the needs of newly arrived asylum seekers in Chicago.

"Yes, this is a challenge. Do we want to spend this money like this right now? Of course not, but again, we have an obligation and we have a responsibility to move this ball forward," Ervin said.

The city already had budgeted $150 million to care for asylum seekers this year as part of the mayor's 2024 budget plan, but Johnson has acknowledged that won't be enough for the entire year. The mayor had been hoping to pressure the federal government to provide more funding for the city's migrant crisis, but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

In February, Johnson declined to commit to an additional $70 million for migrants as Gov. JB Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged to seek a combined $250 million in state and county funding to help the city with its migrant costs.

But the mayor reversed course earlier this month, briefing aldermen on a plan to use funding from previous city surpluses to pay for the additional $70 million for migrant services.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) noted that many aldermen have criticized the city and state for not doing more to help the city fund its migrant mission, and thanked Pritzker and Preckwinkle for coming through with a commitment to help Chicago with $250 million for the migrant crisis.

The city's efforts to provide shelter and other services for thousands of migrants over the past two years have become a particularly contentious matter for the City Council, with many aldermen criticizing how much the city is spending while still struggling with other longtime problems such as crime, homelessness, and a lack of economic development in many Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) suggested that much of the opposition to additional migrant funding was based on "bigotry and ignorance," prompting Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) to say, "that kind of rhetoric has to stop."

"I really expect the nonsense to stop. I think everybody in this room has had enough. I've had enough of the name-calling. I've had enough of the attacks on our colleagues," Waguespack said.

Ald. James Gardiner (45th) said he's concerned that the Johnson administration will be requesting another $60 to $80 million in funding for migrants in July.

"You know what we're going to do? We'll blame it on the DNC coming, or we'll blame it on that bad man in Texas, Governor Abbott, and we'll try to shine the light away from the reckless spending that we're agreeing on right now," he said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), one of the most vocal critics of the Johnson administration's handling of the city's migrant crisis, said the city can't afford to keep spending millions to care for migrants, especially when only a handful of other cities in Illinois outside of Chicago have agreed to provide shelter to migrants brought here from Texas.

"The rest of the state said thanks but no thanks, but here in the city of Chicago we say, 'Come on to Chicago. We've got health care for you. We've got child care for you. We've got all kinds of housing. We've got education for you. We've got housing vouchers for you. We've got it all.' That's why everybody's coming to Chicago, but if you cut off the funding spigot, they won't come," Beale said.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who chairs the council's Immigrant and Refugee Rights Committee, dismissed Beale's suggestion that halting funding for migrants in Chicago would halt the flow of migrants into Chicago, arguing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is sending migrants to Chicago in an effort to sow division ahead of the Democratic National Convention in August.

"You are kidding yourselves if you think that's going to slow any of the buses down. Whether you call it a sanctuary city or not, you are kidding yourself if you think that's going to slow the buses down. The whole goal has been to disrupt the city, and to break it, and to have us fighting amongst ourselves, and right now everything is going according to plan," he said.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) criticized opponents of the spending plan, such as Beale, who have said the city shouldn't be spending so much money to care for newly arrived migrants who "don't pay taxes."

"When you talk about our migrants not paying taxes, that is truly frustrating. The fact is it's really hard to pay taxes in the city when the federal government will not permit you to work," La Spata said.

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) was among aldermen warning of the potential consequences of voting down additional funding for the migrant crisis.

"We have 3,200 children in our shelter system. Where will they go when we can no longer operate our shelters?" she said. "They didn't charter those buses and ask to come to Chicago, but they are here in our care."

In seeking the additional funding, the Johnson administration has warned that without it, the city could again see migrants ending up sleeping on the floors of police stations, inside Chicago Park District fieldhouses, or on the city's streets. The mayor's aides also has warned that turning down the funding could strain the city's relationships with the county, state, and federal officials they have asked to help with the crisis.

Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) said she shared concerns that the city needs to do a better job of managing the money that it has spent on the migrant crisis, particularly when it comes to the conditions inside shelters.

"The reality is that I'm a person who will call a spade a spade. Look, we are paying Ritz Carlton rates for Super 8 service. I wouldn't want to be a migrant living in the shelter on Halsted," she said, referring to a shelter in Pilsen that has seen an outbreak of measles and cases of tuberculosis.

However, Lee said the $70 million would help the city coordinate with county and state officials to better care for migrants.

The mayor's staff has told aldermen that the combined $321 million in additional city, county, and state funding for migrant services should cover the city's expected costs this year, and they do not plan to ask for any more money for the migrant crisis this year.

The Cook County Board on Thursday unanimously approved spending up to $70 million to reimburse the city for providing food for migrants, but that approval didn't come without debate. Earlier this week, Cook County leaders wanted to make sure the money would go towards its intended use. The county's chief financial officer assured the board the county will require invoices and other documentation before reimbursing the city for expenses.

The Illinois General Assembly has yet to vote on Pritzker's budget plan for the next fiscal year, including the additional $181 million in state funding he is seeking for Chicago's migrant crisis.

More than 39,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago since August 2022. As of Friday morning, a total of 8,971 migrants were staying in 18 city-run shelters, with another 21 newly arrived asylum seekers awaiting placement in a shelter.

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