Chicago, IL

In Controversial Move Chicago City Council Allocates $51 Million for Migrants Despite Opposition from Some Aldermen

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Several aldermen want to know where the $112 million already expended to support migrants since last August went before allocating another $51 million that will only cover the next month

In a controversial vote, the Chicago City Council passed a measure on Wednesday to allocate $51 million in funding to support migrants from Central and South America who have been sent to the city The decision aims to provide essential resources, including staffing, food, transportation, health care, housing and legal services, to address the pressing needs of these individuals.

According to city officials, approximately 9,000 migrants have arrived in the city since August, with around 700 new arrivals per day. Despite the significant influx, the city has received only $10 million in funding from the federal government, falling far of their initial requests for additional support. The state has granted approximately $30 million, including $20 million that sparked heated discussions during a previous City Council meeting. The official estimate of the amount the city has spent on the migrant crises so far just this year from January until the end of May is about $102 million.

The debate about the additional funds grew contentious, as some aldermen pointed out the need to first help residents in the city who are living in poverty or homeless before the new arrivals. Yet Mayor Johnson continues to insist that the city has enough for everyone.

“There really is enough for everyone, it’s a matter of how we prioritize that enough,” said the mayor. “We have an opportunity to do something righteous, and that’s to make sure that families who want to call the city of Chicago their home, regardless of how they got here, that Chicago is big enough to take care of the residents who have been here and make room for those who wish to call Chicago home.”

The argument among council members highlights the underlying tension between the urgent needs of migrants and the struggling neighborhoods that have been negatively impacted by disinvestment over many years. Moore, who represents the 17th ward, emphasized this growing pressure urging a "no" vote. The majority-Black ward that Moore represents has experienced various challenges, including the deterioration of public facilities such as field houses and seniors facing homelessness due to lengthy public housing waitlists.

“The soul of Chicago is somewhat on trial today regarding this ordinance. … People keep saying there’s enough to go around,” Moore said, quoting a common theme from Johnson’s inaugural address and mayoral campaign. “I heard that over and over. So let’s pass an ordinance where we see enough.”

Former mayoral candidate Ja'Mal Green agreed with Moore, saying, "I'm asking the City Council to halt their vote. To vote no on the $51 million until we can have a tangible plan of resources for our neighborhoods for investment into these neighborhoods that are suffering the most."

Ald. Sposato said that he was also unable to support the measure, although he did say if they changed it slightly so that the money was earmarked for people who are homeless instead of strictly migrants, he would support it.

The most emotional comments during the meeting were made by Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose ward encompasses the respite center located at the closed Wadsworth Elementary School. She cried as she shouted about the racial tensions that have been ignited by this emergency request. Taylor's outburst conveyed her concerns about the ongoing neglect of the needs of African Americans while significant funds were being designated for addressing the migrant crisis. Her impassioned remarks reflect the frustrations of residents who feel disrespected by the city's actions, particularly in a community that has endured years of racist disinvestment.

As she spoke, she was shouted down by members of the public who accused her of being a "sell out" and a "traitor" when after an impassioned statement about Black people not getting the help they need but being expected to help everyone else, she still elected to vote yes.

"it's right to want to help other people, because as Black people, that's what we do, but when the hell are y'all gonna help us? When?" Taylor asked. "Saying no doesn't mean that I want to hurt migrant families. Voting yes does not mean I don't care about Black Chicago, and don't give me that if I vote yes, because I'm the same woman that went on a hunger strike when they closed schools, and half of the people here didn't say s***, My yes vote, if that bothers you, so be it. If you take away my vote, so be it, but you need to look at yourself in the mirror."

Ald. Taylor emphasized her support for offering assistance to asylum seekers who had no choice but to seek refuge in Chicago. However, she expressed her weariness regarding the Black community consistently being asked to bear the burden of the migrant crisis while their own needs have been neglected. Taylor reiterated the phrase "hurt people don't hurt people," which resulted in a rarely seen standing ovation.

The emotional and at times combative debate among aldermen followed the public comment portion of the meeting during which disorderly speakers opposing the funding were escorted from the building by police.

Even with the additional funding Mayor Johnson is still left scrambling for additional money since it will only cover a month of support for temporary migrant shelters.

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Chicago, IL

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