Preckwinkle calls for U.S. help as county faces ‘considerable’ health costs for asylum seekers bused from Texas, Florida

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle condemns “cynical, disgraceful tactic” of Southern Republican governors busing asylum seekers to Chicago.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks at the Union Club of Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivers her State of the County speech Thursday at the Union Club of Chicago. She called on the federal government to help meet the challenge of providing services for immigrants bused from the southern border.

Dave Struett/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday condemned the “cynical, disgraceful tactic” of Southern Republican governors busing asylum seekers to Chicago, adding that resources are needed to offset the “considerable” costs to the county’s health care system.

Preckwinkle, who is up for reelection next month, called on the federal government to address the influx of migrants at the southern border. She said the governors of Texas and Florida have used the busing tactic as a preelection stunt.

At first, migrants were sent to Chicago on one or two buses per day, she said. Now they are arriving on five or six buses per day.

More than 3,000 asylum-seeking immigrants have arrived in Chicago since the first bus arrived at Union Station on Aug. 31, according to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.

“This is a cynical, disgraceful tactic by fellow Americans in Texas and Florida who are sending us asylum seekers,” Preckwinkle said after giving a State of the County address at the Union League Club of Chicago.

The county health system supports the migrants with healthcare screenings, treatment and vaccinations. Diapers, formula, clothes and shoes are being provided by the Cook County Health Foundation, Preckwinkle said. After saying the aid costs a couple hundred thousand dollars per week, Preckwinkle added: “I can’t tell you how much it’s costing us. It’s a considerable amount of money.”

Services are provided at Stroger Hospital and the county’s Belmont Cragin clinic, which offers bilingual services for the Hispanic population on the Northwest Side.

“We need the help of the federal government to meet this challenge,” Preckwinkle said. “I just wish the elected officials in Texas and Florida would be approaching the Biden administration, trying to work through some of these challenges rather than putting these people on buses to come here.”

Since the end of August, buses of asylum-seeking immigrants have arrived in Chicago, part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to send people arriving at the southern border into Democrat-led cities such as New York and Washington, D.C.

The Treasury Department is probing whether DeSantis improperly used federal pandemic aid to fly migrants to Massachusetts as part of his effort to transport immigrants to sanctuary cities, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a disaster proclamation last month allowing the state to speed up procurement of resources for migrants sent to Illinois.

“How long this will go on, I can’t tell you. ... I anticipate this will be an ongoing challenge,” Preckwinkle said, adding that the busing was probably a political stunt by Abbott and DeSantis for the upcoming midterm election. “There’s a chance when we get to Nov. 9, they’ll decide it’s not in their interest to do it anymore,” Preckwinkle said.

“But we’re a welcoming city and a welcoming county and we’re going to do our best to serve the folks who come to us, as we have,” Preckwinkle said.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would begin returning Venezuelans seeking asylum at the border. The Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. and Mexico would create a new parole program requiring Venezuelans entering the country to have a sponsor living in the U.S.

Chicago-based Resurrection Project said it was “perturbed” by the move to expand the use of Title 42, an enforcement technique that started as a health measure during the coronavirus pandemic, to expel migrants at the border and called for a “humanitarian parole program” that would allow asylum seekers to enter the U.S. without a sponsor.

“Seeking asylum is a fundamental right that the United States should guard,” Resurrection Project said in a statement.

Also Thursday during her State of the County address, Preckwinkle said she plans to continue funding the county’s guaranteed income pilot program after federal COVID-19 relief funding runs out. She said she hoped the pilot proves successful and becomes a national model.

Contributing: Elvia Malagón

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