CHICAGO (CBS) – City of Chicago officials have failed to turn over records detailing how they spent more than $100 million to care for new migrants arriving here. The Chicago Office of Budget & Management denied CBS 2's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for spending records. The city also ignored requests from the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said she has also yet to receive any requested financial records.
"Heads need to roll," said Taylor.
At an, Adl. Ariel Reboyras (30th) testified, "One of the estimates I'm seeing is we average about $7,000 a month for each migrant seeking asylum."
CBS 2 has been trying to get what should be public spending records from the city to see what companies and organizations are being paid and how much they are getting paid for various services. Is each new arrival really getting $7,000 worth of care every month?
Women with children have been selling candy along downtown streets to survive.
So many asylum seekers have been forced to camp outside police stations. CBS 2 wanted to get to the truth of where all the cash is going - at least $120 million in taxpayer funds.
Migrants started getting bussed to Chicago in August 2022. Nearly 12,000 asylum seekers have made the journey. The City of Chicago has been providing food, housing, beds, medical care, and more.
In February, CBS 2 filed a request for records under FOIA with the city's Office of Budget & Management. FOIA requires the city to turn over public records. After months of delay, the city denied the request saying there were no records.
"Y'all know some of that is some shady dealings. That's what that is. Somebody's lying," said Taylor. "There are, they're just hiding them."
This isn't the first time the city has been accused of trying to hide the truth about its handling of migrants. Last Fall, the mayor's office said Wadsworth Elementary, a shuttered school, was staying vacant. Chicago Public Schools said construction CBS 2 found being done on the vacant school was "routine maintenance." Both offices sent statements saying there wereto turn the school into a migrant shelter.
But CBS 2 obtained photos, e-mails, and work orders - all showing the building was getting fixed up for "new arrivals."
This happened in the Ald. Taylor's 20th ward. She has been frustrated by the city's.
"I was told this was not going to be a shelter. I was told they weren't moving people in. Then I was told they were moving 200 people in. And now there's 583," said Taylor.
Not giving up, CBS 2 sent a FOIA request to the Chicago Department of Finance. An official there told CBS 2 to request records from other city departments. Only one responded with any sort of records.
"Just say you ain't gonna give it to us," said Taylor. "Be honest, 'We ain't gonna give it to you because we (expletive) up the money,' say that."
CBS 2 took the battle to the Illinois Attorney General's Office. That is the recourse when a government agency denies your request for public records. They asked the city multiple times to provide records. The city never responded. They ignored three separate letters from the state's top prosecuting office.
"This is plainly illegal," said Matt Topic a government transparency attorney who has sued the city hundreds of times for not turning over public records. "The statute says that a public body has to respond to a request for a review like this."
Topic said this about the city ignoring three requests from the Illinois Attorney General's Office, "It's saying that the city thinks it's above the law and the city doesn't have much respect for the taxpayers who are paying for their salaries and paying for their record systems."
Failing to follow FOIA has been a systemic problem through the years. It was Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration that initially claimed they didn't have the migrant spending records requested. Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration said the same. And it is Johnson's administration that ignored the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
"I would take their (expletive) to federal court," said Taylor. "And get whoever fired who made that decision. Because somebody told them not to share those documents, and that's (expletive)."
Back in February, CBS 2 filed a second FOIA request for records showing how much money the city asked the federal government to cover these enormous expenses. The city has failed to turn over those records too.
CBS 2 has reached out to the mayor's office and has not heard back.
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