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Chicago, IL, USA to Change Migrant Policy Amid Concerns

News Analysis

November 27, 2023

Ainsley King

Chicago, IL to Change Migrant Policy Amid Concerns

Chicago has been dealing with an immigration crisis for several months that has reached a breaking point, leaving vulnerable asylum seekers hopeless and unable to locate safe havens, along with tackling issues with public transit, crime, and the city's pension crisis. Top mayoral aides warned in April 2023 that Chicago is out of money, space, and time to address the "humanitarian crisis" created by asylum-seekers pouring into the city, with 40,000 people waiting at the border and a surge that hasn't peaked yet.

A combined City Council committee was briefed for three hours about such a catastrophic situation that decisions that would have been politically unimaginable otherwise had to be made, including young families sleeping on police station floors. Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze stated, "Knowing that we're receiving over 100 people a day requesting shelter, we're going to need to make hard decisions as a team about are there spaces that we want to take offline — park district, schools."

Chicago has made a point of being a hospitable city to immigrants, and it has done everything in its power to assist these recent refugees, many of whom had experienced persecution back home. Chicago police are prohibited from helping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to several policies. All Chicagoans, regardless of immigration status, are also eligible for all city benefits and services. Since the first bus of migrants arrived in August, the city has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees. It hasn't always been simple, as the mayor's office has been embroiled in contentious debate about its policies, leaving some longstanding citizens feeling shut out of the discourse

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is the architect behind the enormous migration of migrants from the southern border to towns run by Democrats. Initially, the Republican governor claimed that the move was a reaction to the immigration policies of President Joe Biden, which were "overwhelming border communities in Texas."

Abbott's initiative was primarily aimed at sanctuary cities such as Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. According to city officials, they received minimal notification and had to rush to give these new immigrants the essential medical attention they needed. Abbott was running for a third term, and many saw it as a political ploy. Approximately two months before voters cast their ballots for Texas's governor, on August 31, Chicago welcomed its first busload of migrants. 

"They are treating people like inanimate objects," Rev. Sandra Castillo said of Abbott's policy. "They are taking human beings who have suffered persecution in their home countries, who have traveled a dangerous journey and showing zero empathy." 

However, the city's budget director, Susie Park, alerted the municipal council two days after the new arrivals that there would be a $53 million shortage to address the escalating situation. Later, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, asylum seekers were consuming expired meal rations and sleeping on the floors of police stations.

"The City of Chicago is aware that the State of Texas is planning to resume busing individuals and families to cities throughout the United States, including Chicago," Lightfoot said in an open letter to Abbott. "I am, yet again, appealing to your better nature and asking that you stop this inhumane and dangerous action." 

Rent aid will no longer be available to newly arrived migrants in Chicago, and their stays in shelters will be restricted to 60 days. These new, more stringent regulations represent a significant shift from earlier guidelines, emphasizing the needs of present migrants while deterring newcomers from choosing Chicago as their home. A day after Governor JB Pritzker announced further reductions to the state's rental aid program for immigrants, Mayor Brandon Johnson's office announced stricter shelter regulations on Friday, November 17.

The state is cutting rental help for individuals already here to three months despite this week's announcement of $160 million in additional migrant aid for Chicago. No rental assistance is available to those who come on or after November 17. 

A 60-day notice will be given on Friday to around 50 individuals residing in a Chicago migrant shelter since last year. On December 4, approximately 3,000 individuals who sought refuge between January and July of this year will receive their notification. Those who sought shelter between August 16 and November 16 will receive 60-day warnings in February.

With limited funds, the state decided "it would be better to stretch those dollars to reach everyone currently in the shelter system," Kirstin Chernawsky of the Illinois Department of Human Services said during a Friday press briefing.

"This allows folks that are making the choice to come to Chicago versus another location to know exactly the benefits that they will be receiving when they get here. Chicago is still a welcoming city, and we haven't closed our doors," Beatriz Ponce de León, deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, added Friday.


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