Chicago Migrants

Chicago delegation tours Texas migrant camps; calls for feds to declare Chicago ‘disaster zone'

Since August 2022, more than 18,500 migrants have been bussed to Chicago from Texas

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A group of Chicago City Council members this week traveled to Texas to visit El Paso, San Antonio, McAllen and Brownsville as part of an effort from Mayor Brandon Johnson to gain a better understanding of the migrant crisis as the border.

"With the weather growing colder and hundreds of migrants arriving each day, it is more important than ever that every stakeholder at the state, federal and local level work diligently to address this challenge, while continuing to meet the needs of Chicago and Illinois residents," Johnson's office said in a statement.

"The purpose of this trip is to review operations at federal processing centers, and municipal and NGO-led transit sites, and begin discussions with local stakeholders about ways to alleviate the financial and operations challenges in both Chicago and at the border," the statement added.

MORE: Invoices show how millions of dollars flowed to Favorite Healthcare Staffing to staff Chicago migrant shelters

Johnson previously announced he would travel to the southern border, but his office later said Beatriz Ponce de Leon, deputy mayor of immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, will lead a small delegation there, along with 25th Ward Al. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 4th Ward Ald. Lamont Robinson and 6th Ward Ald. William Hall.

"This is a federal crisis lacking federal funds," Hall told NBC Chicago from Texas. "That’s why we need the President of the United States to level the playing field and allow our city to be seen as a disaster zone."

According to Hall, that declaration could bring more federal assistance to Chicago to help with the migrant crisis.

“If Chicago is a destination, we need the federal government to see this as a housing crisis, an infrastructure crisis, a border crisis," Hall said.

Alderman Sigcho-Lopez spoke with NBC Chicago from his San Antonio Hotel Wednesday night, agreeing in calling for the federal government to declare Chicago as a disaster zone for help.

"We want to make sure we ask the federal government for support so that we can welcome new residents and also address the current needs we have in the city of Chicago," Sigcho-Lopez said.

The City Council members spent much of Wednesday touring base camps and shelters in El Paso. They discovered that the area is not typically a spot migrants stay at for long.

"El Paso now has a different role," Hall said. "Only 1% of those who cross the border stay, and they want to settle in Chicago."

Despite hearing Chicago is overcrowded and getting colder, the delegation was told those crossing the border are determined to go to larger cities.

“They told us flat-out that no matter what, those who are crossing the border are determined," Hall said. "You can tell them whatever you want, but they are focused on getting to Chicago, New York and the lands of other opportunities."

Sigcho-Lopez said he believes the trip will be a launching point for more coordination at the border, especially after meeting with nonprofits and local leaders in El Paso.

"That coordination will prevent tragedies when people arrive in Chicago without knowing what the weather is even," he said.

The delegation will report back to the Mayor Johnson's office once they return.

Close to 19,000 migrants in Chicago

Earlier this month, the mayor's office said the city has opened new shelters every six days to keep up with the increasing demand. Over the last 15 months, close to 19,000 migrants have been sent to Chicago from Texas.

Wednesday, Illinois Rep. Jonathan Jackson has called for a federal investigation into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s program of busing migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it amounts to “human smuggling.”

The letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, says the current situation is untenable, and that Abbott’s actions should be examined.    

“(This is a) man-made crisis manufactured by the illegal actions of Governor Abbott,” Jackson said.

According to the latest city figures, 18,500 migrants have been bussed to Chicago since Aug. 2022. Currently, 11,307 residents are in city-run shelters, with another 3,739 awaiting placement. A total of 433 buses have arrived in the city since last August, with three buses per day reported this week.

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