CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has declared a state of emergency in Chicago, hoping to free up resources so the city can better respond to the growing migrant crisis.
The state of emergency, declared Tuesday, will free up funding and make it easier for city departments to respond to the crisis, and it could allow the city to use the National Guard for help, Lightfoot said at a news conference. But the mayor said the city also needs more federal funding and for national officials to make it easier for migrants to get work permits.
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And Chicago needs Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and groups working along the border to stop busing migrants here when they have no family connections, Lightfoot said.
“We’ve reached a breaking point in our response to this humanitarian crisis,” Lightfoot said.
More than 8,000 migrants have come to Chicago since August, many fleeing economically devastated nations like Venezuela and Colombia. Many have been bused to the city from Texas.
The migrant population had largely stabilized for several months — until recently, when many more began coming to Chicago again, Lightfoot said. But the city’s shelters are full and its resources sparse, which has led to migrants having to sleep on police station floors or at the airport.
Forty-eight more migrants arrived Tuesday in Chicago, and the city is seeing 100-200 new migrants per day, Lightfoot said. Chicago’s officials don’t expect the buses from Texas to stop — and the crisis could worsen, with larger groups of migrants expected in the weeks ahead, she said.
“This crisis is not only exhausting our city’s resources, but it’s flat-out dangerous for the individuals and families who have been wrapped up in this political stunt,” Lightfoot said.
The city is trying to create respite centers and temporary shelters for migrants — but it can be challenging to find appropriate housing, Lightfoot said. That’s because the city is looking for buildings where people can comfortably stay and access showers, bathrooms and warm meals, she said, saying it’s not just enough to have a large building.
“We’re not just warehousing people,” she said. “We’re not gonna treat them in the same way that we’ve seen Gov. Abbott do, without any regard for their humanity.”
Another issue is staffing: It’s among the city’s biggest expenses and biggest challenges as officials try to build up shelters and respite centers and provide services to migrants, Lightfoot said.
That’s where the National Guard could help, Lightfoot said. She said she’s been in talks with Gov. JB Pritzker about how the National Guard could be called in for staffing.
Lightfoot said she is reluctant to call on the National Guard, but she won’t “hesitate to do it” if needed.
“The National Guard is not a panacea,” Lightfoot said. “They have limited abilities. They have limited durations of time they can be in place. It’s a resource that is available, but we’ve got to use that resource” wisely.
The federal government must also help Chicago by providing more funding to address the crisis, Lightfoot said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $5.5 million to respond to the issue this fall, while it gave the city $4 million last week — even though things are worse, she said.
“We need more money from the federal government,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor said her office has expressed disappointment in the funding and is working to get more.
National officials could also help by expediting the approval of work permits for migrants, Lightfoot said. Allowing migrants to get jobs would mean they can take care of themselves and pay for their own housing, she said.
But what would be particularly helpful is if Abbott stopped sending people to Chicago, Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot has repeatedly clashed with Abbott over Texas’ treatment of the migrants, saying he is sending people to Chicago while providing the city with little warning and information about their individual needs. Many migrants do not have sponsors or family here, Lightfoot said.
“Our immigration challenges are great as a nation; there’s no doubt about that,” Lightfoot said. “But the burden cannot rest on one city alone.
“We need a national solution to this national challenge. … It’s gotta be comprehensive, and it’s gotta be originated by the federal government to address and solve this challenge.”
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