CITY HALL — City funding to help newly arrived migrants passed City Council after a contentious meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The 34-13 vote came after three aldermen blocked a vote on the funding last week — and amid an intense, hour-long debate that saw an alderperson cry and Mayor Brandon Johnson having to call for order be restored.
The $51 million in funds is intended for staffing, food, transportation and legal services at temporary shelters. The measure passed a City Council committee earlier this month, the same day former Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a state of emergency as the city struggled to keep up with the housing needs of migrants.
The push for more funding comes as Chicago faces a “humanitarian crisis” due to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sending Central and South American migrants here, pushing the city’s shelter system to its limit. Hundreds of migrants have been sleeping at police stations in recent weeks while the city has been trying to find large facilities to turn into shelters and respite centers, such as park facilities.
City officials have said nearly 9,000 migrants have arrived since August, with about 700 arriving daily.
The city has only received about $10 million from the federal government, despite requesting much more, officials have said. About $30 million has been granted from the state, including $20 million that was the subject of intense debate at a previous City Council meeting.
Many aldermen with the Latino Caucus — including Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Mike Rodriguez (22nd), Andre Vasquez (40th), Jeylu Gutierrez (14th) and Jessie Fuentes (26th) — spoke strongly in favor of the funding.
One of the city’s temporary respite centers is at Piotrowski Park in Little Village, which is located in Rodriguez’s ward. He said he’s been heartened to see his neighbors providing hot meals and showers to hundreds of migrants in police stations and shelters.
“We have enough, we live in abundance as a city,” he said. “This [funding] will help us continue this work.”
Vasquez, another supporter of the funding, said the city also needs a longterm revenue plan. He said City Council isn’t “pointing the finger at who we need to be pointing the finger at.”
“The federal government hasn’t provided the amount of funds our city needs to deal with the situation, nor has the state,” he said. “When we ask for funding and get a fraction of what we’re asking for, that puts us in a situation where we’re fighting amongst ourselves.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), one of the most outspoken critics of the city’s management of the migrant crisis, said she’s received calls from constituents telling her to support and push back against the ordinance.
Taylor said she was conflicted between standing with Black Chicagoans, who need more support from the city, and migrant families.
“It ain’t our responsibility to take care of everyone else,” she said as she wept. “I know in my heart what’s right … but when the hell are y’all going to help us?”
Taylor ultimately voted for the ordinance, saying, “Hurt people don’t hurt people.”
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), one of the aldermen who delayed the vote on the matter last week, said he’s against the additional funding because he wants to know where the money that’s already been spent has gone and how new money would be spent.
Lopez said the city has used $112 million since migrants began arriving in August
“This is a question every single one of us should be asking,” Lopez said. “Where did the money go? Where is $51 million going that’s going to last us only until the end of next month? And what happens July 1 when we’re broke again?”
Ald. David Moore (17th), another South Side alderman, encouraged his colleagues to vote no on the ordinance, saying the city should prioritize helping current residents.
“People keep saying there’s enough to go around. … So if there’s enough to go around, then let’s pass an ordinance where we see the enough,” he said. “We have to help the residents of this great city.”
Moore was joined by several other alderpeople on the South and Northwest Sides in voting against the funding.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said the emotion shown during the funding debate indicates alderpeople aren’t going to “duck” or “dodge” from the challenging situation the city is in.
“There really is enough for everyone, it’s a matter of how we prioritize that enough,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity to do something righteous, and that’s to make sure that families who want to call the city of Chicago their home, regardless of how they got here, that Chicago is big enough to take care of the residents who have been here and make room for those who wish to call Chicago home.”
Johnson said he’s confident leaders will be able to come to a consensus to build a longterm solution.
“Is anyone going to disagree that Black communities in particular have been disinvested in? No one’s going to disagree with that,” he said. “The tone [of the meeting] really reflects the failures of the past, but today was a demonstration of how we move forward.”
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