Dozens of migrants are waking up in Chicago Thursday for the first time after they arrived in the city Wednesday as part of a program from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, designed to bus asylum-seekers from Texas to northern, Democrat-led "sanctuary cities."
"We are very happy to be in Chicago, which was our destined city," one man said in Spanish, after arriving in the Windy City. "We are going to follow legal protocols, my wife is a professional and we are trying to see if we can create a future here.”
And while both Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker have greeted those arriving with open arms, the program doesn't come without its fair share of controversy, with Lightfoot blasting the plan as "racist."
Here's a breakdown of how the program came about, what state officials are saying and where things stand now.
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What Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Says
Gov. Abbott released a statement Wednesday about the "drop-off," saying "President Biden's inaction at our southern border continues putting the lives of Texans—and Americans—at risk and is overwhelming our communities. To continue providing much-needed relief to our small, overrun border towns, Chicago will join fellow sanctuary cities Washington, D.C. and New York City as an additional drop-off location."
"Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status," the statement continued, "and I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action as these migrants receive resources from a sanctuary city with the capacity to serve them."
The statement goes on to say that in April, Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses to transport migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C. Recently, however, Abbott announced that the asylum-seekers would also be bused to New York City, as well as Chicago’s Union Station as part of the program's "drop-off" policy.
What Chicago Officials Are Saying
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says her administration was aware of the plan, and that they are working to find shelter and other services for individuals bused to the city.
"This is such an important moment for Chicago as our city has been a sanctuary for thousands of newcomers. We are welcoming them and we will not turn our backs on those who need our help the most," Lightfoot said Wednesday in a statement.
"We understand that many are fleeing violent, traumatic, or otherwise unstable environments. We will respond with essential services while these individuals navigate the next steps of their journey and our community partners have been working diligently to provide a safety net."
A statement from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker echoed this sentiment, saying “Illinois welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants and we are working with federal and city officials to ensure that these individuals are treated with respect and safety as they look to connect with their family and friends."
"My great-grandfather came to this country as an immigrant fleeing Ukraine in 1881," the statement continued. "Immigrants just like my family seeking freedom and opportunity built this country. Illinois is and has always been a welcoming state.”
And while Lightfoot says her administration is supportive of those arriving here, she blasted Abbott's administration for lacking "shame or humanity" because of the program.
"This is not new; Chicago welcomes hundreds of migrants every year to our city and provides much-needed assistance," Lightfoot said. "Unfortunately, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is without any shame or humanity. But ever since he put these racist practices of expulsion in place, we have been working with our community partners to ready the city to receive these individuals."
Under Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance,” officials will not ask about immigration status, nor will it disclose that information to federal authorities. Services will not be denied based on immigration status, according to a document published by the city.
Where in Chicago Migrants Were Taken
According to Lightfoot, approximately 60 migrants arrived at Chicago's Union Station around 8 p.m. Wednesday night.
"City agencies have been hard at work developing temporary shelter and support solutions to ensure families who are seeking a better future away from harm and violence in their home countries can find support in our communities and ultimately reach their destination."
City officials say migrants were brought Wednesday to the Salvation Army Freedom Center in Humboldt Park to be fed, and get showers and sleep before they are moved to different programs run by Lightfoot's administration.
The majority of migrants are from Venezuela who have been traveling for months.
"The most difficult part of our trek was being in the jungle," one man said in Spanish. "We planned to be there for two days, we ended up being there for four, and then ran out of food. It was psychological torture but it was all worth it.”
Aside from the Salvation Army, officials with Chicago's Resurrection Project, which provides services that stabilize and protect families, is also stepping up to help.
"The Resurrection Project is coordinating with our partners to provide assistance to the City of Chicago in welcoming asylum seekers," a statement from the organization said. "The United States and Chicago have been a long place of hope where people can see freedom, safety, and protection from persecution."
What to Know About the Operation
The operation stemmed from Abbott’s criticism of the Biden Administration’s attempts to lift a Title 42 order that had allowed the U.S. to deny asylum-seekers entry into the country during the COVID pandemic.
According to CNN, the program has cost Texas approximately $12.7 million. Abbott’s office says that the asylum-seekers are only transported after giving written permission, but the network says it is “unclear” what options are presented to those individuals.
Estimates vary on how many individuals have been transported through the program, with most putting the number between 8,000 and 9.000.
New York’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Manuel Castro blasted the program, saying that it is stoking “anti-Latino hatred” in Texas and the rest of the country.
“The treatment they are receiving in Texas is to be condemned,” he told Yahoo! News. “(He is) using human beings to create anti-immigrant and anti-Latino hatred.”
The Biden Administration has not commented directly on the program, but officials in both Washington and New York have called on the federal government to provide assistance and to help coordinate efforts to help those being bused from Texas.