Mayor Lori Lightfoot issues a state of emergency amid surge in migrant arrivals

Chicago’s Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, issued an emergency declaration on Tuesday in response to the significant number of people arriving in Chicago seeking asylum in the United States since last year, which her office has called a “national humanitarian crisis.” The statement said the number “exceeds Council’s ability to handle that influx” since the first group of migrants arrived in Chicago from Texas. Lightfoot’s office has coordinated with local and state agencies to care for over 8,000 migrants since August of last year, prompting her to declare a state of emergency.

In practical terms, the declaration allows the city to spend money more dynamically to help migrants. The move comes as the United States prepares for the expiration of a public health rule, called Title 42, later this week, which allowed the federal government to limit the number of migrants seeking asylum in the country. Officials across the country fear the termination of the said rule demands an even greater influx of people into the country. The White House is sending 1,500 troops to the southern border to deal with the expected surge in more migrants as the expiration of the rule draws near.

Mayor Lightfoot stated that the city expected another surge of asylum seekers arriving in Chicago after Title 42 expired, but the surge has likely already begun. A couple of weeks ago, Chicago saw an increase in daily arrivals to the city of about 100 to 200 people per day. “It’s getting worse now, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” the Mayor stated in a news conference on Tuesday.

In response to the crisis, Republican governors sent busloads of migrants to major cities, including Chicago, a strategy Governor JB Pritzker called “inhumane.” At a press conference, Mayor Lightfoot criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s attitude toward the crisis. “We will always do right by our immigrant and refugee communities, but we have reached a breaking point in our response to this humanitarian crisis produced mostly by him for cynical political purposes,” Lightfoot said.

The number of new arrivals has overwhelmed shelters, forcing families to camp out in police stations. The Mayor’s office has stated that the city’s resources were being pushed “to breaking point.” City officials have looked to convert other structures, such as former school buildings, into possible respite centers or temporary places for people to stay before moving into a shelter. However, those plans have received pushback from many residents. Although the city has seven shelters and three respite centers operating to help accommodate new arrivals, city officials are exploring alternative venues.

Lightfoot repeated calls for the federal government to do more to help cities like Chicago respond to the crisis. She called on the federal government to speed up the process of legally allowing migrants to work in the United States. This action would significantly reduce the strain on the city’s resources and help the nationwide shortage of workers; she confidently stated that the city could put every able-bodied adult to work if they had work permits and the ability to do it legally. In conclusion, Mayor Lightfoot emphasized that between this year and last year, the city received about $9 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which she said she was disappointed with.

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