Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot used a Thursday press conference to welcome a group of migrants to the city after they were put on buses and driven north from Texas this week, but she also took the opportunity to blast Gov. Greg Abbott’s immigration as “racist and xenophobic.”
On Wednesday night, a bus of approximately 75 migrants arrived at Chicago’s Union Station after departing from Texas.
According to Abbott’s administration, the bussing strategy is being implemented because of the burden placed on Texas taxpayers due to the flow of asylum-seekers and migrants into the country at the southern border, but Lightfoot had much-harsher words for what she argues is occurring.
“This is about a cheap political point. It’s not about sharing the load,” she said. “To Greg Abbott and his enablers in Texas: with these continued political stunts, (he) has confirmed what many of us had already known: he’s a man without any morals, humanity, or shame.”
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Abbott and his administration have also sent buses to Washington, D.C. and New York in recent months, and he has indicated that he will continue the program until President Joe Biden’s administration addresses what he calls a “crisis” at the southern border.
“President Biden’s inaction at our southern border continues putting the lives of Texans – and Americans – at risk and is overwhelming our communities,” he said in a statement.
While Abbott’s administration insists that they receive written permission before bussing asylum-seekers to northern cities, Lightfoot says the program smacks of being a political stunt designed to appeal to Republican voters at the expense of the dignity of those impacted.
“They’re not cargo. They’re not chattel. They’re human beings, just like you and me,” she said. “Governor Abbott’s racist and xenophobic practices of expulsion, have only amplified the challenges many of these migrants have experienced on their journey to find a safe place. This cannot be who we are as Americans."
NBC 5’s J.C. Navarrete spoke to several individuals who were on the bus, including one Venezuela citizen who said that the journey through Nicaragua and Mexico was harrowing.
“The toughest part of this journey was making it through the jungle we had planned to trek through the jungle for two days it took us four we had to tend to our kids our women and we ran out of food, Nicaragua and Mexico were also really tough,” he said.
More than 2,700 miles separate Venezuela from Chicago, and those who made the journey said that it is hard to imagine the hardships that they faced.
“The fear is dying in the jungle,” one individual said. “The biggest fear is you’d lose a child. You’re judged when you put your kids in danger, but there was no alternative.”
Numerous Chicago organizations, including the Salvation Army, have banded together to help the migrant families, and Lightfoot says the moment is an opportunity for Chicago to show the world what it is made of.
“We are going to look back on this chapter with great pride because of what all of us, the collective we, have and will continue to do to stand tall in this moment, and make sure that we live our values as a welcoming city,” she said.
It is unclear whether additional buses will arrive in coming days and weeks in Chicago, but Lightfoot says that efforts will continue to find food, shelter and supplies for those that do make their way to the city.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were among the officials who pledged their support to the efforts, and Lightfoot said she will likely seek federal assistance as well in coming weeks.