Mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson unveils plan to help migrants, refugees, immigrants

Johnson proposed, among other things, that all residents, regardless of citizenship status, be able to vote for Chicago Board of Education members — a concept also embraced by one of his mayoral rivals, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

SHARE Mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson unveils plan to help migrants, refugees, immigrants
Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson held a news conference at Plaza of the Americas on Feb. 13, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson announces endorsements and other campaign news at Plaza of the Americas on the Magnificient Mile Monday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Defying “forces seeking to divide” Blacks and Hispanics, mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson vowed Monday to give immigrants, migrants and refugees seeking asylum in Chicago a greater voice in their government.

“There’s enough for everyone in this city. No one has to lose at the expense of someone else winning. We are disrupting that mindset,” Johnson said, referring to historic political tensions between Blacks and Hispanics centered on the fight for jobs and contracts.

“It’s not about a single pie. It’s about making multiple pies. Whatever it is, there’s gonna be enough for everybody,” Johnson added.

“This disruption that people are afraid of — you don’t gotta be afraid of the people, because that’s who belongs on the fifth floor in the first place.”

Johnson unveiled what he called his Plan for Sanctuary and Immigrant Justice at the Plaza of the Americas outside the Wrigley Building on North Michigan Avenue, flanked by the leaders of a 100-member group he called “Latinos for Johnson.”

The plan accuses Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration of having “bulldozed its way through difficult decisions about migrant resettlement without care or forethought, failing longtime residents and arriving migrant families.”

“Even worse, welcoming migrants into our city with no real plan has left many stranded across Chicago sleeping on trains and floors,” Johnson’s plan states.

Among his proposals is to work with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation to “allow all parents and taxpayers to vote in school board elections, regardless of citizenship status.”

Another mayoral challenger, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, also embraced that idea in his immigration platform, released Monday afternoon. In that plan, he pledged to make sure “non-citizen taxpayers and undocumented parents can vote in local school board elections as they do in their local school council.”

Among other items, Garcia also said he would “ensure comprehensive language access for all parents in CPS and in all government agencies.”

Johnson’s plan, meanwhile, also would:

• Create a new “Non-Citizen Advisory Board” for the Chicago Board of Education.

• Give migrants and refugees a real “voice in policing policy and public safety” by appointing “non-citizen representation” to the seven-member, Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability,” Chicago’s fledgling civilian police oversight commission.

• Broaden the special status afforded to unhoused Chicago Public School students in “temporary living situations” to include migrant children, making them eligible for benefits such as micro-grants and transcript waivers.

• Draw up a “new city funding formula that accounts for the language needs and the needs of migrant and refugee students.”

• Protect street vendors in Little Village and Pilsen targeted in recent robberies by expanding access to financing and micro-grants and supporting “commercial kitchens and worker-led co-ops that give vendors safe and warm places to work.”

• Turn Lightfoot’s “lackluster” Office of New Americans into an “Office of Migrant Protection and Integration” to support migrant families and develop a “comprehensive city plan for asylum seekers and new arrivals” in partnership with the City Council and community groups.

• Build “permanent housing for all unhoused, including asylum seekers” by raising the real-estate transfer tax on high-end home sales.

• Increase “dedicated funding to immigrant protection and integration” to support immigrants bused to Chicago from Texas and other border states. That funding would be far more than the $5 million in Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget.

“We’re gonna make sure that all protective legal services are fully funded,” Johnson said. “No matter if you are a migrant, an immigrant or an asylum seeker — you will have safety and security and sanctuary in the city of Chicago.”

Johnson didn’t say what his plan would cost, but he cited the tax-the-rich plan he has already announced to bankroll $1 billion in new spending on public schools, transportation, housing, health care and job creation.

“The billionaires and the big corporations — you’re gonna have to pay your fair share in taxes, “ said Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union organizer who has received $970,000 in additional contributions over the last week from the CTU, SEIU Healthcare, SEIU Local 73 and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

During a televised forum last week on Fox32 Chicago, retiring Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), another mayoral challenger, said he’s spoken to several Woodlawn residents about the shelter Lightfoot opened at the shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School at 6420 S. University Ave.

“It’s not that they don’t want to help the migrants. They just feel that they’re being left out, and they’re not being helped. We want to be able to do both,” Sawyer said.

Lightfoot said the “biggest challenge” Chicago faces after receiving 5,140 immigrants from the southern border is that those here legally “have to be able to work.”

“The federal government has to create a pathway for them to be able to transition from the shelter system into gainful employment. ... We must get these folks work permits now,” she said.

“I can put every single one of these able-bodied adults to work today if the federal government would give them the authorization to work. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And frankly, it’s un-American that we invite these folks here. We let them live legally in our cities. But then we don’t allow them to work and take care of themselves and their families.”

Contributing: Ashlee Rezin

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