Mayor Brandon Johnson joins New York and Denver mayors in call for federal help with migrants

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Amid a recent uptick in asylum-seekers from the southern border arriving in Chicago, New York and Denver, the mayors of the three cities Wednesday renewed their collective call for the federal government to step up resources as the cities near a “breaking point” in coping with the crisis.

In a first-time joint appearance, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston repeated a set of requests all three have been making for months. They asked the U.S. government to boost funding to cities and states receiving newcomers and to expedite their permits. They said border states needed to increase communication with receiving cities and called for a “coordinated entry system” among destination municipalities and states.

The repeated requests from the mayors, directed in part at President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, have so far been met with minimal success. But the mayors re-upped their request as 2023 was coming to a close and the number of migrants arriving in the three cities has increased in recent weeks, so much so that Johnson said Chicago is once again near capacity.

“We have to approach it as a team, not divided,” Johnson said.

“We have reached a critical point in this mission that, absent real significant intervention immediately, our local economies are not designed and built to respond to this kind of crisis,” Chicago’s mayor added. “We are literally building the system as we go along.”

Johnston, the Denver mayor, said their requests were a “commonsense path” to reduce the strain on cities as migrants continue to arrive.

“If all three of those fail — if there is no federal support, there’s no coordinated entry, there’s no work authorization — I think cities would have to look at dramatically reducing the amount of services we offer,” he said.

The three mayors also took aim at Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has helped spearhead the recent increase in asylum-seekers headed north without coordinating with officials in the cities, the mayors said. Abbott just last week had more than 120 migrants flown to Chicago from Texas on a chartered flight after buses carrying migrants to Chicago were being penalized.

Describing Abbott as a “reckless, rogue elected official,” Johnson said the Texas governor was using the migrants as political tools. Johnson said the “lack of care that has been on display during the last year and a half has caused an incredible amount of chaos.”

“This is the United States of America, for crying out loud,” he said. “We have experienced tremendous challenges in the course of our history. This is not something that should break our country, especially if we stand and work together. Unfortunately you have individuals that their only currency is chaos.”

Johnson echoed Adams’ statement that his city was at a “breaking point” absent more federal assistance to respond the migrants who have arrived in need of food, shelter, health care and work permits since August 2022. The three mayors also are seeking a declaration of emergency from the federal government in response to the waves of new arrivals, and they called on Abbott to stop what Johnson called “quite frankly, unsafe behavior.”

Following more than a month of shrinking figures of newly arriving migrants, Chicago saw an increase in recent weeks as the holidays approached. Adams and Johnston said their cities have also seen a spike in migrant arrivals.

Johnson pointed out that more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees are living in Chicago. The number of new arrivals from the southern border has yet to reach that height, but “the difference was (Ukrainian refugees) had federal resources attached to each of those individuals for them to integrate into our local economy.”

He said he and his counterparts in New York and Denver were “asking for what has already occurred” for this population of asylum-seekers, many but not all of whom are from Venezuela.

Chicago has received more than 26,585 migrants to date, according to a bulletin from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication.

On Wednesday, Chicago officials said they expecting at least 10 buses to arrive. They said they knew of three buses that had arrived in elsewhere in the Chicago area Tuesday.

City officials have scrambled to stand up a network of makeshift shelters for new arrivals, many of whom spent time sleeping in the city’s police stations while they waited to be placed in more permanent shelters. Johnson has had his own difficulties trying to house migrants in a large tent encampment before winter arrived, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker stopped plans for the first such camp amid environmental concerns.

As of Wednesday, nearly 300 migrants were awaiting placement in police stations, O’Hare or Midway airports, city officials said.

Advocates and the migrants themselves also have sounded alarm bells about conditions in city shelters, which intensified after a 5-year-old boy died in a shelter in the Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side.

As Chicago has attempted to cope with the new influx, confusion has also reigned within Illinois’ boundaries as buses have dropped off migrants coming from Texas outside Chicago’s city limits.

Chicago began cracking down on bus companies that aren’t following rules the city implemented in mid-November seeking to stop chaotic bus arrivals. The rules required drop-offs to occur on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., limited bus arrivals to two per hour, and designated 800 S. Desplaines St. in the West Loop as the location to unload passengers.

In the last week, two buses dropped off asylum-seekers at Naperville’s downtown Metra station. A city spokesperson said the new arrivals then took a Metra train to downtown Chicago. Officials in Kane County on Wednesday afternoon said in a statement that bus passengers who arrived in Aurora and Elburn were being sent via Metra to Chicago.

Johnson last month also announced that families staying in city shelters would be able to remain there for only 60 days.

Praising Johnson’s bus rules, Adams announced he was signing an executive order for New York City that mirrored many of Chicago’s rules. The New York order requires buses transporting migrants to announce their arrival 32 hours before dropping off migrants, and it also establishes new requirements for where and when buses can drop off migrants.

“To be clear, this is not about stopping people from coming, but about ensuring the safety of migrants,” Adams said.