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Chicago City Council committee discusses migrant crisis amid disputes over tent camps

City Council committee meets on migrant crisis as Brighton Park tents come down
City Council committee meets on migrant crisis as Brighton Park tents come down 02:56

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The tents at 38th Street and California Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood were coming down Thursday – after the State of Illinois shut down the plan to open a base camp for migrants there.

Meanwhile, the City Council Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights met Thursday to talk about the migrant crisis.

As CBS 2's Sabrina Franza reported, the tents that were taken down in Brighton Park will move, our sources say, to another planned base camp site at 115th and Halsted streets in Morgan Park.

That location is still awaiting its own environmental review.

On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced the state would not proceed with plans to build that migrant tent camp in Brighton Park, saying there are too many environmental concerns at the proposed site to proceed.

Last week, a nearly 800-page report by contractor Terracon Consultants revealed high levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals were found at the site and were being removed, and the city deemed the site safe to house migrants.

But Pritzker paused work on the site over the weekend, and canceled construction altogether on Tuesday after he said an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency review of the city's report found "insufficient soil sampling and remediation."

Tents coming down after Brighton Park migrant tent camp is rejected 02:09

As of Thursday, there were a lot of unanswered questions about the tent camp issue.

CBS 2 is trying to find out the price tag for the whole process – how much it cost for the city to put tents up at the Brighton Park site, only to take them back down.

"We're seeing an administration trying to do its best to solve a crisis that is unprecedented," said Vasquez. "That's going to lead to good and bad calls."

It turns out that not even Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), the chairman of the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, has that answer yet.

Questions also remain about what is going to happen to the nearly $30 million contract with GardaWorld to put up the tents.

Further, it is not clear what happens to the almost $20,000-per-month lease at 38th Street and California Avenue, now that the plan to house migrants there is toast.

City leaders meeting to discuss handling of migrants, asylum seekers 01:55

The Brighton Park tent debacle has prompted pressure inside city government, as three aldermen call on seven city officials to resign over their handling of the migrant crisis.

Alds. Anthony Beale (9th), Raymond Lopez (15th), and Anthony Napolitano (41st) sent the mayor a letter on Wednesday demanding seven of his top advisers resign – including First Deputy Chief of Staff Cristina Pcione-Zayas and Deputy Mayor of Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de León.

"They should not be employed and being paid for spending and wasting tens of millions of dollars," Beale said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson's office said Wednesday that they stand behind the city employees adding they are doing "very serious work in addressing the urgency of a humanitarian crisis."

Meanwhile, members of the City Council committee voted Thursday on a resolution to urge President Joe Biden to secure work permits for all undocumented people in Chicago – not just new arrivals.

"This resolution calls on Biden to use his executive powers to be able to provide payroll for the millions of undocumented families that have been here in the city," said Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th).

The resolution passed, and it now heads to a full City Council meeting.

All this comes as 580 people still await placement in city shelters – one of the lowest numbers in recent weeks.

"I struggle to realize why we need tents that have thousands of people in them," said Vasquez said.

At the proposed tent site in Morgan Park, our sources say the environmental review is supposed to be finished on Friday.

"Easier to use places with hard top, not dirt - we made that recommendation," Gov. JB Pritzker said at an event Thursday.

The Morgan Park site has a concrete surface.

Gov. Pritzker on Thursday also addressed his relationship with Mayor Brandon Johnson.

"I have a good relationship with mayor - friendly communication," Pritzker said, "and if we have a difference of opinion, we work it through."

The two had opposing views on whether the Brighton Park tents should stay up despite a concerning environmental review.

"This is hard work, and a lot was left for him to do," said the governor. "I don't want you all to portray this as work is being done separately from one another."

We did ask the mayor for a response to all this. Late Thursday, we were waiting to hear back.

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