Governor signs disaster declaration, calls up National Guard to assist with migrants bused from Texas

Governor signs disaster declaration, calls up National Guard to assist with migrants bused from Texas
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed 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, Gov. 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.”

An Abbott representative, in a statement to the Tribune, denied that the migrants were being sent to Chicago against their will, saying they’d signed voluntary consent waivers upon boarding the buses, agreeing to their destination.

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,” 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 recommitted 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.

Shortly after the news conference began, Abbott tweeted a segment of a recent Fox News interview he did in which he said he’s “just helping out our local communities who are located on the border.”

Abbott vowed the waves of asylum-seekers will continue arriving at cities like Chicago.

“Sanctuary city mayors complain they are overwhelmed by a few dozen migrants arriving on buses from Texas,” Abbott wrote. “It’s a fraction of what Texas faces on a daily basis. We will continue (busing) migrants until Biden secures the border.”

Local 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 Abbott’s practice to bus migrants who arrive at the Texas-Mexico border to northern cities, including New York and Washington, D.C.

Chicago Public Schools said in a statement Wednesday that it isn’t aware of an influx of new students resulting from the groups of migrants bused from Texas, but the district is ready for them if they enroll.

“We are well equipped and committed to serving every new student, including those students who have arrived in recent weeks with their families from Central and South America. CPS has enrolled Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in the past year and has established systems in place to welcome any family,” CPS said in its statement.

The first group of migrants sent from Texas 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.

Many 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.

The city of Countryside said in a Monday statement on its website that 40 Venezuelan migrants, mostly women and children, have arrived in the southwest suburb — but “neither the Mayor nor any City Official were notified beforehand,” and no city resources will be used to house them. Still, its mayor, Sean McDermott, got a shoutout from Pritzker Wednesday for having “welcomed families seeking refuge into his community.”

Northwest 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.

The governor’s office said the disaster proclamation enables coordination among state, city and county governments to provide assistance the migrants need, including transportation, emergency shelter, food, health screenings and medical treatment.

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.”

In a statement later Wednesday, Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, called Illinois officials hypocrites.

“So much for Chicago’s ‘Welcoming City Ordinance.’ These Democrat elites are absolute hypocrites, and now their hypocrisy is on full display for the entire nation,” Eze said. “Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot have been complaining about a few hundred migrants being bused into self-declared sanctuary city Chicago, then turn around and dump them in the suburbs for Republican mayors to deal with.

“These migrants willingly chose to go to Chicago, having signed a voluntary consent waiver available in multiple languages upon boarding that they agreed on the destination,” the statement continued. “Instead of complaining about fulfilling their ‘welcoming city’ promises, these Democrat hypocrites should call on President Biden to do his job and secure the border — something the President continues failing to do.”

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.”