A young migrant who traveled from Texas to Union Station in Chicago waves as his family waits to depart to temporary housing on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.

A young migrant who traveled from Texas to Union Station in Chicago waves as his family waits to depart to temporary housing on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is signing a disaster proclamation to secure resources for the asylum-seekers bused to Illinois from Texas and has deployed 75 National Guard members to assist with the logistics of receiving the migrants, he announced Wednesday.

Speaking at a news conference, Pritzker again criticized his Texas counterpart, Greg Abbott, for failing to coordinate or communicate with Illinois and Chicago officials and derided his actions as a “stunt.”

”I’m not going to mince words here: The governor of Texas is forcing on New York and (Washington) D.C. and Chicago and potentially other places a needlessly last-minute and complex process that is a heartless display of politics over people,” Pritzker said. “Why not give reasonable notice? Why send these folks only to blue cities or blue states? Why isn’t Abbott sending refugees to Mississippi or Oklahoma or Idaho? This is about politics for him.”

Pritzker said the migrants are in the country legally as asylum-seekers and that many trekked for months to make it to the U.S. border to escape oppression and persecution. But upon arrival, Pritzker said, they were herded into buses and dumped in the “dead of night” at Chicago’s Union Station.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot characterized the situation as a “manufactured crisis by ambush” and accused the Abbott administration of tricking the migrants into boarding the buses.

“Frankly, I believe that they have been misled and the only option for them that they’ve been presented to by the folks in Texas is a free bus ride, because they’re not providing any other option to them to go elsewhere into the country where many of them would prefer to go,” Lightfoot said. “This is again an orchestrated plan to create chaos in Democratic-controlled cities. Make no mistake about it.”

Lightfoot said since Aug. 31, when the first busload of asylum-seekers arrived, about 500 migrants have arrived in Chicago. She expects that number to grow.

Pritzker said he will seek all available federal assistance, while Lightfoot suggested federal assistance should be diverted from Texas to other places that are welcoming the migrants.

“Any dollar that goes to the state of Texas … every single one of those dollars needs to be re-committed to cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.,” Lightfoot said. “We should not and taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for this kind of callous, inhumane treatment on the part of someone who is racing to the bottom for a political stunt. Those monies need to be reprogrammed and come to us.”

Meanwhile, Pritzker said that the Illinois attorney general and Chicago city attorneys, among other agencies, are investigating whether there is “criminal liability” for Abbott’s actions.

“We are still examining and interviewing the folks who have come to Illinois and listening to their stories about whether or not they willingly got on these buses, knew where they were going, were given the information,” Pritzker said, stressing the word “willingly.”

He added that though it appeared the migrants signed waivers before boarding the buses, they may not have understood what they were doing and that the papers were not an “appropriate way” for Abbott’s administration to release itself from liability.

Officials said an 11th bus from Texas arrived Tuesday night. Prior to that, more than 100 people in two buses arrived from Texas to Chicago’s Union Station Friday.

Some members of the group said they were from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Most got onto a couple of CTA buses that were waiting for their arrival, while a few others waited at Union Station for other accommodations.

Friday’s group was at least the fourth round of asylum-seeking migrants in the past two weeks to arrive from Texas, part of a practice by Abbott to bus migrants who arrive at the Texas-Mexico border to northern cities that have also included New York and Washington, D.C.

The first group arrived at Union Station on Aug. 31 in two buses carrying approximately 75 people seeking asylum. Another bus of migrants arrived in Chicago over the holiday weekend with more than 50 people looking for new beginnings. And more than 150 asylum-seekers arrived in three more buses earlier last week.

Most all of the people who get off the buses from Texas carry the same clear plastic bags that have their paperwork and small personal items.

Lightfoot’s office said Friday’s group was being taken on the CTA buses to a religious organization for next steps. The city has taken previous groups to shelter at Salvation Army Shield of Hope and even sent some to the suburbs for temporary housing, for which the city has gotten some backlash.

Suburban Elk Grove Village had two buses carrying 90 migrants arrive Saturday, and Mayor Craig Johnson said he was notified of their arrival Friday afternoon but had several questions about the logistics. He asked that the city and state work with suburban mayors to arrange for a more organized transition for the people arriving in the area.

Last week, 64 migrants were placed in temporary hotel housing in southwest suburban Burr Ridge, and the village was not consulted or contacted ahead of time about their arrival, according to a statement from Mayor Gary Grasso.

On Wednesday, Pritzker and Lightfoot vowed frequent and open communication with all local governments, though Pritzker did characterize some of the complaints as “grumbling.”

“I know that there are some who are grumbling and upset that hotels or motels in their communities are opening their doors to strangers in need, arguing that they received short notice,” Pritzker said. “So let’s talk about the challenges presented to the city of Chicago and to the state. Remember, the governor of the state of Texas is choosing not to notify the city or the state when he is sending busloads of families.”

Pritzker also raised the idea of suing the Texas government in federal court.

“We’re absolutely looking into all of those options. But let’s be clear: We’re going to take care of the people who are on the buses when they arrive in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “What consequence comes to the governor of Texas or to the state of Texas is another question.”

©2022 Chicago Tribune.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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