The City Council voted 34-13 for $51 million in emergency services and housing for asylum seekers in Chicago. But the passage of this ordinance was not without controversy and tension.
Before the ordinance was even voted upon, there was opposition. Speakers from the gallery and key alderpersons expressed their frustration at the measure, noting that existing city residents, particularly Black Chicagoans and homeless people, have not received the aid, attention or compassion that the asylum seekers have.
“The soul of Chicago is somewhat on trial,” said Ald. David Moore, who opposed the ordinance. “Make sure you put your mask on first before you help someone else. And so we have to put our mask on first, and we have to help the residents of this city.”
There were others like Ald. Maria Hadden, who voted yes to the ordinance, but expressed her frustration over the treatment of Black people in the city and America.
“I’m going to support this because it’s the right thing to do in this moment,” Ald. Hadden said. “Everybody that’s been working hard for this, you’ve got to show up for Black Chicagoans with the same energy.”
Chicago Faces a Humanitarian Crisis
Since last August, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has overseen the shipping of asylum seekers from Southern border towns to cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Since the first bus arrived from Texas last August, more than 8,000 women, men and children from Central and South America have come to the city seeking refuge. The presence has triggered a humanitarian crisis, as hundreds of asylum seekers have taken shelter on police station floors throughout Chicago.
Furious debates among city residents have flared up over housing them in their communities.
In early May, a group of South Shore residents vehemently opposed a plan to open up the first floor of a former high school in their neighborhood to house them. Yet, last week, the city opened Wilbur Wright College on the Northwest side to house 300 asylum seekers.
Some Latino City Council members have also proposed opening four unused buildings at Daley College as temporary shelters.
Nevertheless, Chicago is a sanctuary city, meaning city officials cannot inquire about immigration status or disclose that information to authorities. It also mandates that asylum seekers and immigrants shall not be denied City services.
As it stands, the $51 million is only a temporary fix. It will only be enough to cover new arrivals through June 30. Moreover, no plans have been released on how the city will assist asylum seekers in the long term.
Mayor Johnson issued this statement in the aftermath of the ordinance’s passage:
“Chicago is facing a humanitarian crisis as individuals and families continue to be sent here and other Democratic-led cities across the country without regard for their well-being,” said Mayor Brandon Johnson. “My administration will do everything in our power to support these new arrivals as they work to rebuild their lives in the U.S. while still upholding our commitments to the residents of Chicago. This appropriation is critical to support our efforts to provide housing and services in the immediate future, and I will continue to advocate for additional state and federal funding for as long as needed.”