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Chicago seeks central Illinois help with overflow of bused migrants

Migrants wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico.

The City of Chicago is reaching out to other cities across Illinois for help as it deals with an influx of migrants bused in by red state governors. Chicago has received more than 1,000 immigrants bused north from states, including Florida and Texas.

Sending migrants north is meant to highlight what those southern states say is a crushing burden caused by a flood of would-be immigrants. The mayor of Normal, Chris Koos, said, at the most recent meeting of the Illinois Municipal League, city leaders from across the state discussed taking in migrants to ease the burden, in answer to Chicago’s appeal for help.

“Communities in Illinois will probably step up and help as much as they can,” said Koos.

The Town of Normal is exploring how it would cope if a bus of migrants arrived and whether there is room for them. Koos said the town needs to understand the logistics of what would happen.

“The first thing that comes to mind is housing,” said Koos. “Where would we put people? Housing is so tight in this market already. So, we have to have a clear understanding, and this was advice that we shared with each other in that meeting in Chicago. Going into this, be realistic about what you’re getting involved in and make sure you can actually do what you think you want to do.”

Texas and Florida governors have not alerted the leaders of the target cities as they send buses to Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. and other locations. And they’ve criticized Democratic Party leaders in places like Chicago for not adhering to their their philosophy and making room.

Northern mayors say it’s not about their beliefs. It’s about about logistics. Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said, for example, the community also would need to mobilize service providers to deal with an influx.

“I would hope that prior to something like that happening, we would get a head’s up,” said Mwilambwe, adding the city would be hard pressed to quickly absorb any migrants.

“As you know, I am an immigrant myself and I have been welcomed in this area,” he said. “So, there is a culture and a tradition of being compassionate towards individuals who have needs. We’ll do the best we can.”

Koos recalled what he said some years ago when his town passed a welcoming city ordinance.

“If you want to live in Bloomington-Normal and have a productive life for you and your family, we welcome you here,” said Koos.

Mwilambwe said GOP-led state efforts to score political points don’t solve the problem those states face from immigration pressure.

“I think it only makes things more tense, you know, between people who have the opportunity to solve the issue. I’m not one who believes that you bring people to the table by poking them in the eye,” said Mwilambwe.

Red state governors who are sending migrants north, though, have said the policy situation has been deadlocked for decades, and the current federal administration is making it worse through its own practices. Still, Mwilambwe said there are other tools to use.

“Governors have the bully pulpit in press conferences and can do many other things to try to gain leverage in the conversation in this particular situation,” he said.

Koos agreed elected leaders should not play games with people’s lives to pull off political stunts.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the immigrants are in temporary quarters in Salvation Army shelters and Community Center gyms. Leaders there are asking for donations of clothing and other items to help the people live. And, as the meme goes, winter is coming.

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Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Newsroom gets stories from public radio stations from across the state, including WBEZ-Chicago, WCBU-Peoria, WGLT-Normal, WVIK-Rock Island, WIUM-Macomb, WNIJ-DeKalb, WSIU-Carbondale, WUIS-Springfield, and St. Louis Public Radio.

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