Lightfoot asks Illinois for millions more to help migrants; state says funding will stop by end of January


Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown at a September news conference where she offered an update on migrant arrivals in Chicago, is asking the state for more money to help the city handle the influx.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has told state lawmakers the city needs millions more in funding to provide for hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers.

In a letter dated Thursday, Lightfoot requested $53.5 million from Illinois legislators to help pay for emergency services for the recent arrivals.

Lightfoot said in the letter that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Illinois Department of Human Services would stop sending financial support to Chicago for migrant services in the new year.

“The city is grateful to the state of Illinois for its partnership and collaboration on this mission to date, but we are simply unable to provide migrant services at today’s levels after February 1, 2023 if the state withdraws its financial support,” Lightfoot wrote in the letter.

Chicago has 1,531 migrants in its care, Lightfoot wrote, and is running 11 alternate shelters that provide meals, clothing and showers. Since last summer, the city has seen an increase in migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, as well as from various African countries. It also has also received “an unusually large numbers of migrants who have been compelled to leave Texas by bus transport.”

Lightfoot said the city has already spent millions on helping migrants and made an additional “multi-million dollar investment” for this fiscal year. But those funds without state help won’t be able to meet the ongoing need, she wrote.

The $53.5 million Lightfoot requested is what the city projects it will spend through June 30, 2023, on migrant services, though “this amount will only increase based on the number of new migrants that arrive in Chicago,” she wrote.

“These funds will support the city’s resettling efforts for thousands of new arrivals for emergency shelter; diversion services; necessities like food and mobile showers; legal services; and provide for significant physical and behavioral support needs,” Lightfoot wrote.

A letter to Chicago officials — signed by Alicia Tate-Nadeau, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and Grace Hou, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services — said the partnership between the city and state “has been an important one as we quickly responded and embarked on the Asylum Seeker mission.”

The letter, dated Wednesday, said the state has spent more than $120 million and helped provide shelter and services to 3,700 people. But the state agencies “have exhausted all available fiscal resources for the operation of the asylum seeker mission” and will not support the city’s ongoing costs beyond January 31, 2023. 

Since late August, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent hundreds of asylum seekers to Democrat-led cities like Chicago. As of this week, 3,854 asylum seekers had arrived in chartered buses from Texas, according to city officials.

Cataleya sits atop her father, Elier as he speaks to a police officer while other migrants wait for a bus to take them to a refugee center outside Union Station in August.

Anthony Vazquez /Chicago Sun-Times

In addition, Chicago and state officials are providing services — which includes shelter, food and medical services — to 1,400 individuals seeking asylum who have arrived to the area in recent months. The newly arrived immigrants have spent the past couple of months living in makeshift shelters and in hotel rooms in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

City officials announced this week that the building that once housed the James Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn will be repurposed for a temporary shelter for the asylum seekers, though it could be met with protests from residents.

Contributing: Elvia Malagón

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