Migrant funding hits roadblock in City Council

Three alderpersons delay vote on $51 million transfer of funds, say Chicago needs more than a Band-Aid to deal with its migrant crisis.

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Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) speaks during a City Council meeting in May.

“We need to come up with a better plan” than “asking for more money every two months,” Ald. Ray Lopez said Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

A controversial plan to use $51 million in surplus funds to put a financial Band-Aid on a migrant crisis that has stretched Chicago to the limit hit a legislative roadblock on Wednesday.

With Mayor Brandon Johnson presiding over his first City Council meeting, Alderpersons Anthony Beale (9th), Ray Lopez (15th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) used a parliamentary maneuver to postpone a final vote on the fund transfer.

Any two Council members have the right to defer any matter for at least one meeting. They don’t need to declare a reason.

The delay will require the Council to return to session sooner than late June, as originally planned. Chicago is literally out of money, space and time to solve the migrant crisis and the influx of about 10,000 migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

That next meeting was scheduled for May 31. Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the mayor’s floor leader, assured reporters that the “votes will be there” to approve the $51 million transfer on that day.

Beale said he forced the weeklong delay to make a statement — that it’s a slap in the face to paper over the migrant crisis instead of addressing long-standing concerns.

“You have people starving for resources every day, and they’ve spent their entire life looking for those resources and can’t get ’em,” Beale said.

“This money will be gone in 45 days. But if you put that $51 million in our communities, it can help people for generations and generations to come,” he added. “You might as well take that $51 million and set a match to it, because it’s gonna be burnt up.”

Napolitano said his biggest beef is that “none of this $51 million is going to any of our own homeless around here.”

If Chicago really is the sanctuary city it proclaims itself to be, Napolitano said, “we should have started putting money toward this happening. And we did nothing. We patted ourselves on the back, but we have no sanctuary for anybody.”

Lopez accused the city of “playing Whack-a-Mole” with the migrant crisis, instead of developing a long-range funding plan.

“Neither the outgoing or incoming administrations gave me any answers as to the line-by-line expenditures of what we spent and what we are going to spend for the next two months,” Lopez said.

“I can’t keep giving money down this rabbit hole without a solution. We know we’re gonna keep being inundated by the migrants being shipped here from across the country. We need to come up with a better plan ... instead of asking for more money every two months.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets migrants staying at the 12th Police District station, 1412 S. Blue Island Ave., in May.

Mayor Brandon Johnson meets migrants staying at the Near West Police District station, at 1412 S. Blue Island Ave., on May 16 — his first full day in office.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

During a wide-ranging news conference that followed Wednesday’s meeting, Johnson described the $51 million in surplus funding as an “urgent matter” and the steady surge of migrants as “this crisis that my administration inherited.”

“Next week, the hope is that we get the peoples’ business completed,” he said.

Pressed to describe his “long-term plan,” Johnson once again referred to his predecessor without mentioning Lori Lightfoot by name.

“It’s unfortunate that it took such a long reaction from the previous administration. But as you know, I work very hard. We’re gonna get this matter under control, and we’ll put forth a more comprehensive approach as we continue to assess the situation that we inherited,” he said.

Hundreds of migrants, including many families with young children, are sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations. South Shore residents have filed a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the city from using their shuttered South Shore High School as a respite center.

A proposal to house 400 migrants at Wilbur Wright College for at least two summer months got a mixed reception this week at a community meeting that got heated at times.

Against that backdrop, the City Council was asked to transfer $51 million in surplus funds toward the migrant crisis — enough to carry Chicago only through June 30. After that, difficult decisions will have to be made.

The migrant crisis had dominated discussion during the public comment session before Wednesday’s meeting.

One woman, in tears, urged the Council not to spend “any of our tax dollars to fund migrants” before shuttered schools on the South and West sides are rejuvenated and an “Office of Black Americans” is created to confront violent crime, homelessness, drug addiction, home foreclosures and entrenched poverty in the African American community.

“I’m middle class, and I feel like low-class. I cry every morning,” the woman said. “I watch migrants go up and down my street.”

Another woman said she is a mother who is “scared for my children’s lives” because of rampant crime.

“We are in crisis. … We feel it every day,” the woman said. “You better vote ‘no’ because we voted for you — and we will vote you out.”

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