CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an emergency declaration on Tuesday in response to the significant number of people arriving in Chicago seeking asylum in the United States since last year, what her office has called a “national humanitarian crisis.”
Lightfoot’s office said that since the first group of migrants were brought to Chicago from Texas last August, the city has coordinated with local and state agencies to care for more than 8,000 migrants. The statement said the number “exceeds Council’s ability to handle that influx”.
In practical terms, the declaration allows the city to spend money more dynamically to help migrants.
The move comes as the United States prepares for the expiration of a public health rule, called Title 42, later this week, which allowed the federal government to limit the number of migrants seeking asylum in the country. Officials across the country fear the end of the rule will lead to an even greater influx of people into the country. In anticipation, the White House is sending 1,500 troops to the southern border to deal with the surge in even more migrants.
Lightfoot said Tuesday that the city anticipated another surge of asylum seekers arriving in Chicago after Title 42 expired, but that the surge has likely already begun. Lightfoot said that about two weeks ago, Chicago saw an increase in daily arrivals to the city to about 100 to 200 people on a daily basis.
“It’s getting worse now and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.
In response to the crisis, Republican governors sent busloads of migrants to major cities, including Chicago, a strategy Illinois Governor JB Pritzker called “inhumane.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Lightfoot again criticized Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s approach to the crisis.
“We will always do right by our immigrant and refugee communities, but we have reached a breaking point in our response to this humanitarian crisis produced mostly by him for cynical political purposes,” Lightfoot said.
The number of new arrivals has overwhelmed shelters, forcing families to camp out in police stations. Lightfoot said in the statement that the city’s resources were being pushed “to breaking point.” The mayor’s office said the city will need to bring additional venues online to prepare for the arrival of more individuals and families to relieve CPD districts.
City officials have looked to convert other structures such as former school buildings into possible respite centers or temporary places for people to stay before moving into a shelter. But those plans have received pushback from many residents.
When asked about the possibility of using other large spaces like the McCormick Center to house migrants, Lightfoot dismissed the idea, saying the city cannot shut down such places. Even looking at empty department stores wouldn’t work because those facilities wouldn’t have the infrastructure needed to humanely house people.
Commissioner Brandie Knazze, of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, said Tuesday that the city has seven shelters and three respite centers operating to help accommodate new arrivals.
Also on Tuesday, Lightfoot repeated calls for the federal government to do more to help cities like Chicago respond to the crisis. He specifically called on the federal government to speed up the process of legally allowing migrants to work in the United States. Lightfoot said that if migrants were able to work in Chicago, it would significantly reduce the strain on the city’s resources and help the nationwide shortage of workers.
“I am confident that we could put every able-bodied adult to work if they had work permits and we were able to do it legally,” she said.
Lightfoot also said that between this year and last year, the city received about $9 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a total of which she said she was “disappointed.”