CHICAGO - Bused from Texas, a group of migrants shipped out to sanctuary cities arrived in Chicago Wednesday night as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to send undocumented immigrants into Democrat-led cities.
The Republican governor announced Wednesday that Chicago — along with Washington D.C. and New York City — will become destination cities to send migrants who cross in the United States in Texas, calling out President Joe Biden’s border protection efforts and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s promises to keep the city a safe haven for undocumented immigrants.
"Biden’s inaction at our border puts Texans at risk and is overwhelming our communities," Abbott said in a statement Wednesday night.
The governor chose Chicago as a drop-off location to provide relief to "overrun border towns" in Texas.
"Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status," he said. "I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action as these migrants receive resources from a sanctuary city with the capacity to serve them."
According to city officials, the migrants were dropped off at Union Station Wednesday night. About 8 p.m., close to 60 migrants arrived and around 20 remained at the drop-off location later that night before being taken to a shelter around 10:15 p.m. The others had been taken to a separate shelter.
"As a city, we are doing everything we can to ensure these immigrants and their families can receive shelter, food, and most importantly protection," said a spokesperson in a statement from the mayor’s office Wednesday night. "This is not new: Chicago welcomes hundreds of migrants every year to our city and provides much-needed assistance."
Gov. JB Pritzker touted Illinois as a "welcoming state" and pointed to his great-grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1881 after fleeing Ukraine.
"Illinois welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants, and we are working with federal and city officials to ensure that these individuals are treated with respect and safety as they look to connect with their family and friends," Pritzker said in a statement.
The migrants, mostly from Venezuela, faced long, treacherous journeys trying to reach the United States. Some migrants said they traveled for nearly 30 days, others almost 40 days, to reach Texas, crossing jungles, deserts and small towns, meeting up with other migrants along the way.
"We crossed the jungle, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and then got here," said Cesar Rodriguez, 21, adding that he originally wanted to go to New York but was told that they wouldn’t be able to send him there. So when they offered Chicago instead, he immediately accepted.
Despite not having any family or friends to greet him upon his arrival, Rodriguez said he is ready to work and willing to fight for his place within the United States.
Other migrants said they faced harsh treatment along the way. Jesus, another migrant from Venezuela seeking better health care, said passing through Mexico was especially difficult. Local police stole money from him and many others, he said. Jesus only spent a week in Mexico, he said, "but it was a week of terror."
"People told us no one is going to help you, you aren’t worth anything here. You can’t eat at a restaurant here, you have to eat in the streets. They treated us horribly. I told many of them, why are you like this, we’re just hungry and want to eat," he said.
Jesus is hoping to reach a friend waiting for him in Louisville, Kentucky, with a job at a restaurant, and space for him at a shelter. Now he hopes he can somehow make his way down there from Chicago.
Among the migrants is a family of three, Elier, his wife, Ana, and their 3-year-old daughter Cataleya. The family is soon to be four. Ana is also pregnant.
The journey for them was longer, Elier said. It took them two months to get to the United States from Venezuela. They walked most of the way here, Elier said. Spending days in some countries when they didn’t want to, and walking as much as 25 miles in a day.
"We wanted to get to New York because we heard more people speak Spanish there. But we couldn’t get there, so they gave us this option. Now I just have to work and bring a better future for her, and for him," Elier said, pointing to his wife’s belly.
As city officials welcome incoming immigrants, various city agencies are working to provide social services in response to Abbott’s actions.
"We understand that many are fleeing violent, traumatic or otherwise unstable environments," said a spokesperson from Lightfoot’s office. "We will respond with essential services while these individuals navigate the next steps of their journey, and our community partners have been working diligently to provide a safety net."
Seventy-nine asylum seekers who arrived by bus to Chicago from Texas were being evaluated Thursday morning by city agencies and community organizations to determine their needs.
After spending the night at Chicago shelters, they were taken to a facility where the city’s Department of Family and Support Services conducted intake interviews to determine services needed.
The 79 people who arrived included seven infants, five other children and eight "youths," according to information provided by City Hall on a Thursday afternoon call with those assisting the efforts.
There is also an expectation that there will be more buses of migrants arriving in Chicago from Texas, officials said on the call. In addition to the 79 arriving by bus at Union Station, 16 migrants, or four families, flew to O’Hare and have received assistance from a nonprofit group.
Most of the migrants who arrived Wednesday will not be staying in Chicago, and many hope to reunite with their families in other parts of the country, city officials said.
"We are going to stand by our values as a welcoming city," said Joseph Dutra, spokesman for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. "We are going to ensure they have the services that they need."
The group bused to Chicago is part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to send people arriving at the southern border into Democrat-led cities. Under Abbott, a Republican, Texas has spent $12 million to send migrants from Texas to East Coast cities, according to the Texas Tribune.
In July, the Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported that the Justice Department was investigating Abbott’s border initiatives for possible civil rights violations.
U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, D-Ill., said Texas officials promised the migrants — all from Venezuela — they would have access to lawyers, housing and other forms of assistance to lure them on the bus. When they arrived Wednesday, they told officials they had not eaten all day, he said.
"We need to ask the question of whether Gov. Abbott may be involved in trafficking of migrants for political gain," García said.
Garcia said he will be asking President Joseph Biden’s administration to extend the designation of temporary protected status to allow the newly arrived Venezuelans to remain lawfully in the U
Many of the migrants had traveled for 30 to 40 days until reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.
Eréndira Rendón, from the Chicago-based Resurrection Project, said they learned about two weeks ago Texas could start sending migrants to Chicago. They got a 24-hour notice about the arriving group from a nonprofit organization in Texas, she said.
She said the Resurrection Project, which provides assistance to immigrants, is among the organizations trying to help those who arrived Wednesday.
Some people will stay in Chicago only for a short time and are waiting for relatives or friends to pick them up, she said. Others will likely stay a few more nights in shelters in Chicago, Rendón said.
"Immigrants are being welcomed — for many of them, given their first meal," Rendón said. "Chicago will continue to be a welcoming city, and we really need to fix our federal immigration system to make sure folks can seek asylum and have family reunification."
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said it’s "tragic" that immigrants are once again being "bused around across the country" and "used and misused for political agendas."
All the more reason Chicago must go "beyond platitudes" and live up to its claims of being a "welcoming city" — by providing a "safety net" for those refugees who choose to make their homes in Chicago, he said.
"Employment opportunities. Housing opportunities. Providing not only space, but providing the critical safety nets so that every human being is welcome and has dignified conditions to work and live in the city of Chicago," Sigcho-Lopez said.
"For every bus of immigrants and refugees that are coming to the city of Chicago, we should be welcoming every single immigrant and providing them with resources so that they can restart their lives in their new city. I also think that the city of Chicago ought to invest in immigrant communities. … Investment and opportunities, like Invest South/West, have not reached immigrant communities like ours in the levels that we need to see. … There is federal funding. We need to see this funding coming to our immigrant neighborhoods that are still starving for resources."
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) was the driving force behind the most recent changes that strengthened Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance. He said he’s happy that the city is setting up a receiving center and working with the Resurrection Project and volunteers to "greet people and begin connecting them with resources, housing and employment."
But if Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services is offering to help Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot should take it, Ramirez-Rosa said.
"They have a dedicated team of caseworkers. They have the immigrant welcoming centers. They have expertise and staff that are ready to help process people," the alderperson said.
"For some individuals, Chicago will not be their last stop. Some of these immigrants are looking to connect with family in Minneapolis, in cities in Indiana, all throughout the Midwest. If they need help getting there, we should help cover their bus, their plane, their train tickets so they could reunite with family."
After any of the immigrants establish local residency, City Clerk Anna Valencia said she plans to reach out to them and help them apply for the CityKey municipal ID she championed.
That could open all kinds of doors and ease what will undoubtedly be a difficult transition, the clerk said.
"It allows them to register their kids in CPS schools. It allows them to try to start building a normal life here in Chicago. Once you have a government ID, it’s also a library card. They can use the internet and their computers to look for jobs. They can sign up for any city programs they need for their kids. They can use it when attempting housing. It’s a CTA transit card. If they need to go Walgreens or CVS to get a prescription, they can get a discount with the card," the clerk said.
"You need a government ID to get into a lot of buildings here in Chicago as well. … They can get even access to banking to set up an account. That CityKey card helps access a lot of things. We will be working with our community organizations and partners that we typically do and we’ll definitely be helping them get their documentation—whatever they need—to get them their CityKey. And it’s free, too. No one has to pay for it. So, it’s very accessible to communities such as those refugees coming in."
Lightfoot was addressing the situation at a news conference Thursday afternoon.