Pritzker presses Biden for more help as migrant buses double: ‘Illinois stands mostly unsupported against this enormous strain’

On a call with the White House on Sunday, the governor and Mayor Brandon Johnson warned that Chicago could receive as many as 1,250 migrants a day.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a podium with his hands in the air.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is stepping up criticism of President Joe Biden’s response to the growing migrant crisis that is straining resources in Chicago and Springfield.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times (file)

With asylum-seekers expected to arrive in Chicago at a rate of 25 busloads a day, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is stepping up criticism of the federal government’s response to the crisis, writing in a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday that Illinois is in an “untenable situation.”

“Today, Illinois stands mostly unsupported against this enormous strain on our state resources,” Pritzker wrote.

“Mr. President, I urge you, [U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security] Mayorkas, and the rest of your administration to take swift action and intervene on our behalf and on behalf of the other affected states and their residents,” Pritzker continued, “as well as on behalf of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who undertook a dangerous and difficult journey in hopes of attaining public safety and forging a better life for themselves and their families.”

It followed a phone call both Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson had Sunday with White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, senior adviser Tom Perez and agency staffers from the Department of Homeland Security.

On the call, Pritzker and Johnson warned that Chicago is expected to see 25 buses a day from Texas beginning this week, potentially bringing in 1,250 migrants a day, according to a source with knowledge of the call. The city is receiving about 10 buses a day, with 40 to 50 people on board each.

Pritzker and Johnson outlined the need for the federal government to better manage the arrival process with improved coordination and communication. On the call, Pritzker said that, for example, logistics with the federal government ran far smoother when Afghan refugees were housed in military bases.

The White House in turn responded, “we hear you,” and offered to set up regular communications to keep discussions moving forward. Biden administration officials also asked to check in this week to see how Illinois is handling the increased influx of migrants.

Last week, the White House sent DHS staffers to help the state with processing of temporary protected status, or TPS, applications.  DHS on Sept. 20 announced it would expedite work visas for Venezuelans seeking asylum in the United States.

In the letter, Pritzker offered suggestions to the president that were also echoed in the Sunday call. Those included the recommendation that the White House appoint a point person who can lead oversight of the country’s efforts at the border.

“A single office with an identified leader must be assigned to work for the cities and states across the silos of government to manage the challenges we all face,” Pritzker wrote.

The governor also asked that TPS application fees be waived and that the timeline for employment authorizations for Venezuelans be expedited. Pritzker wrote that newly eligible TPS individuals will potentially have to wait up to six months to have their authorizations processed and confirmed.

“We ask that the White House and the Administration continue to look for ways to ‘cut the red tape’ and speed up the work authorization process by all means necessary,” the governor wrote.

Pritzker asked Biden to find more federal dollars for state and local governments handling migrant-related response efforts, to use for temporary housing, food and social services. He warned that funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency food and shelter program and the shelter and services program is appreciated, but “is not nearly enough to close the gap between what the state is able to provide and what is needed to address concerns.”

Pritzker wrote: “There is much more that can and must be done on a federal level to address a national humanitarian crisis that is currently being shouldered by state and local governments without support.”

The state has spent more than $330 million to aid incoming migrants. At a heated hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights last week, city officials said Chicago is expected to spend $345 million on the migrant crisis through the end of the year.

The governor also asked Biden for Medicaid waivers, housing vouchers, and federal coordination and support, writing that the state’s requests have been “largely ignored” by DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House responded Monday night to Pritzker’s letter in a statement to the Sun-Times, writing that Biden has repeatedly called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform since his first day in office. A spokesperson pinned the blame on House Republicans for blocking immigration reform and the $4 billion requested to address DHS’ needs to manage the border.

“Without the help of Congress, the Administration has been taking action: since May 12, we have removed or returned over a quarter-million individuals. We have moved to accelerate the processing of work permits — working to decrease the median processing time for many from 90 days to 30 days,” the spokesperson said. “We have sent more than 1.4 million emails and text messages to migrants that are eligible to work, reminding them to apply for work permits. And we have provided communities across the country who are supporting recently arrived migrants with all of the $1 billion in grant funding that Congress appropriated.”

The White House also noted the administration has provided Chicago and Illinois $46 million in grant funding to support migrants.

Pritzker’s letter follows criticisms from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Hochul in late August wrote in a letter to the White House that the state has handled the migrant crisis “without substantive support from Washington.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the increased busloads of asylum-seekers.

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