CHICAGO — The city is prepared to welcome more migrants if Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sends more from his state to Chicago — but it will need help, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday.
Seventy-five migrants arrived Wednesday night in Chicago after being bused in from Texas. Abbott, a Republican, has said Texas will send undocumented immigrants to Democrat-led cities as part of a protest of federal border policies.
Chicago officials greeted the buses of migrants, providing medical care and connecting them with shelters and resources, Lightfoot and other officials said during a Thursday news conference. Many of the migrants traveled from Venezuela to the United States and have been traumatized by their experiences and need help, local officials said.
The city and local organizations have helped some of the migrants connect with family in Chicago, and they are working with other refugees so they can travel to other cities or seek jobs, housing and other resources in Chicago, Lightfoot said.
But Lightfoot said she takes Abbott’s words as a threat and expects more refugees to be sent here.
“Instead of treating these individuals with respect they deserve, the due process that our laws require, Gov. Abbott chose instead to inhumanely load them onto buses, send them on a more-than-12-hour journey across a country they don’t know and to drop them off without any regard for what the next steps are,” Lightfoot said. “Folks, these are human beings — moms and dads, young children, elders — who deserve our respect and dignity. They are not cargo. They are not chattel. They are human beings just like you and me.
“Gov. Abbott’s racist and xenophobic actions of expulsion have only amplified the challenges many of these migrants have experienced on their journey to find a safe place. The governor’s actions are not only inhumane; they are unpatriotic.”
Migrants had already been sent to other cities, including New York City, so Chicago officials began planning weeks ago about how they’d react if Texas sent immigrants here, said Rich Guidice, who heads the city’s emergency management office.
That allowed officials to coordinate Wednesday so they could greet the migrants after they were dropped off at Union Station, officials said. And the city is prepared to help them with housing and other resources as they rebuild their lives, officials said.
“What we have done and will continue to do is welcome them with open arms and refuse to turn our backs on them in a time when they need support the most,” Lightfoot said.
But Chicago will need financial help from the county, state and federal governments if more refugees are brought here, Lightfoot said.
“This is not something that we budgeted for, but it is something we must do,” Lightfoot said. “We will figure it out, the finances [with the county, state and feds]. … It’s what must be done. This is a humanitarian crisis manufactured by a cheap politician … .”
Cook County has already stepped up to support Chicago, Lightfoot said.
“But ultimately what I’d like to see is an orderly process … supported and coordinated by the federal government so we’re not seeing what we’re seeing now, which is the potential for chaos if cities are not ready. And luckily we were ready,” Lightfoot said.
Later Thursday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the county’s emergency management department will work with city, state and federal officials to help the migrants. Preckwinkle also said the public defender’s office immigration unit is standing by to provide critical legal resources.
“It is clear through yesterday’s actions that we must show other states how to lead with compassion in a time of humanitarian need,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “In the coming days and weeks, Cook County Government will work closely with our partners and our newest residents to ensure that the services and resources we are providing meet their needs. It’s our privilege to continue the County’s long held commitment to immigrants in our community.”
Lightfoot repeatedly took aim at Abbott during the news conference, saying he has no “morals, humanity or shame.”
“It would be nice if they had collaborated with us,” Lightfoot said. “It would be nice if they communicated who they were sending, what numbers, what their circumstances are, whether or not they needed any kind of medical assistance … .
“That’s what a leader would do. That is not who Gov. Abbott is; that’s not what he’s done. What you have seen instead is what we do in Chicago and Illinois — we all collaborate.”
Abbott has previously criticized Chicago, leading to clashes with Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker.
State officials are working with the city and with federal leaders to ensure the immigrants are kept safe and treated with respect, Pritzker said in a Wednesday night statement.
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