Migrants wave as a bus leaves Union Station to take them to a refugee center in August 2022, at the start of the latest migrant crisis.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo
Chicago’s burgeoning migrant crisis will have cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a billion dollars by Dec. 31, Mayor Brandon Johnson told City Council members Friday.
The mayor also wanted Council members to know it is full-speed ahead for his plan to move asylum seekers out of Chicago police stations and into giant tents before temperatures plummet. But he still offered no new details.
One day after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed Johnson’s proposal, the mayor and his top aides held virtual briefings to enlist alderpersons in identifying vacant land where the “winterized base camps” could be built.
Included in the Johnson administration’s presentation were several graphics laying out the costs of a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight.
Between August and December of 2022, the city spent $17.5 million to house, feed, clothe and otherwise care for asylum seekers. As the pace of new arrivals increased exponentially, the city’s spending from January through July 23 ballooned to $115.2 million. Through the rest of the year, top mayoral aides expect the crisis to cost the city another $123 million.
The grand total: $255.7 million.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), chair of the Council’s Committee of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, was alarmed, but not at all surprised by the skyrocketing price tag.
Vasquez said he has no idea where that $255.7 million is going to come from.
“Where it needs to come from is from state and federal funds. This is that kind of an issue. If you’re looking to other cities across the country that are also dealing with it, that’s the scale of the challenge,” Vasquez said.
Other cities in Illinois also could take some migrants, and the federal government could expedite work authorizations, he added.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) later issued a statement saying he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Johnson’s proposal, but that it’s “simply unacceptable that Chicago is forced to shoulder the burden for asylum-seekers” because the federal government won’t “address this crisis decades in the making.”
In the Sun-Times interview, Johnson repeatedly refused to rule out using budget cuts or tax increases to deal with a humanitarian crisis which has brought 13,500 migrants to Chicago since last year. Nearly 1,600 migrants are now staying in and around police stations, while nearly 500 are sleeping on airport floors.
He did say “sacrifices” would be required and the cost of not making those sacrifices would be far greater and would trigger “chaos.”
Vasquez, however, said there are other ways to get the money.
“I think it is really trying to identify what the other funding sources are, whether there’s [federal stimulus] funds that can be used, if there’s grant money, if there’s federal money or more offered by the state.”
Part of Mayor Johnson’s presentation to Chicago City Council members on Friday, during which he outlined the total cost to the city of dealing with the migrant crisis.
During Friday’s presentation, Council members were shown pictures of what the giant, metal-framed tents would look like, with mess halls, rows of cots, attached heating and air-conditioning units and trailer-like portable toilets parked right outside.
Alderpersons were asked to identify potential sites in their wards — preferably on concrete, though grass surfaces are OK.
Vasquez said he has heard of only one specific site: at 115th and Halsted, former location of a Jewel grocery store.
“They’re already looking at different sites to identify what’s possible. Similar to the shelter sites, when they see candidates or opportunities in wards, they’ll be communicating to alders on the ground to let them know that it looks like this is a site they’re gonna be moving forward on,” Vasquez said.
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said that during the virtual briefing he attended, top mayoral aides said five more buses are on the way.
“The floodgates are open. … They mentioned the state, the governor. But nobody ever said a damn word about the president, calling out the president. Let’s secure our borders,” Sposato said.
Sposato was not surprised when the mayor and his lieutenants refused to say how many tent cities they planned to build.
“I really believe they don’t know. They can’t say they’re gonna build three of ’em when, really, we’re gonna need fifty of ’em,” Sposato said.
“My bottom line is, I still don’t know what the hell is goin’ on. Other than they’re just saying, ‘Come on in. We’re gonna house you. We’re gonna feed you. We’re gonna clothe you. We’re gonna do everything for you. They’re digging in on the fact that we’re a sanctuary city. I think, at some point, we have to say, `We can’t do this anymore.’”
Sposato said he had a ton of questions going into the briefings. None were answered — though Johnson was joined by many top aides, including Interim Police Superintendent Fred Waller.
“I have no idea how we can pay for this because, in my opinion, this is just the tip of the iceberg. … We’re gonna have to get this money from somewhere,” Sposato said. “I think it’s unsustainable and it’s gonna be impossible to pay for.”