Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a disaster declaration and mobilized 75 members of the Illinois Natural Guard on Wednesday to care for the more than 500 immigrants who have been bused to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The disaster declaration will allow the Illinois Emergency Management Agency as well as Chicago and Cook County officials to provide transportation, housing, food, health screenings and medical treatment to the immigrants.
Since Aug. 31, 11 buses have arrived in Illinois, Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said.
The 75 members of the Illinois National Guard will help coordinate services, Pritzker said.
Standing alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Pritzker again blasted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for not notifying Chicago and Illinois officials that the immigrants are on their way, what their needs are and for refusing to send them to welcoming centers designed to serve immigrants, rather than Union Station.
Pritzker said Abbott’s actions are a clear “stunt,” since the immigrants are only being sent to cities where the leaders are Democrats and has refused to give cities and states advance notice of the immigrants’ arrival or what they will need when they get to Chicago.
Thousands of immigrants have been sent in recent weeks from Texas to New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Lightfoot said Chicago was experiencing a “manufactured crisis by ambush,” adding that Abbott was working to “reignite anti-immigrant sentiment.”
The decision by Abbott, a Republican who is running for re-election, to send the immigrants to Chicago and other cities was a “heartless display of politics over people" and said Illinois “will not stoop to his level” and will care for the immigrants, Pritzker said.
All of the immigrants entered the United States legally after requesting asylum from oppression, as permitted under national and international law, Pritzker said.
Many of the people sent to Chicago “literally walked from Venezuela to flee oppression,” Pritzker said.
“This is not a time to demonize human beings,” said Pritzker, who will face Republican Darren Bailey, a state senator from Xenia.
Pritzker also criticized “local officials who want to play politics” with the arrival of the immigrants. While Pritzker did not mention them by name, he was referring to Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson and Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, who have objected to having the immigrants stay at hotels in their suburbs.
The governor praised Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott for welcoming the immigrants to hotel in his suburb.
Lightfoot said it was “right and fair” that suburban mayors and village presidents get advance notice that immigrants are being sent to their towns, and said “good conversations” have taken place in recent days.
Illinois law enforcement officials are examining whether the immigrants “willingly got on these buses, knew where they were going or given the information appropriate,” Pritzker said.
Lightfoot said she did not believe many of the immigrants wanted to come to Chicago.
“I believe that they have been misled and the only option for them that they’ve been presented to by the folks in Texas is a free bus ride, because they’re not providing any other option to them to go elsewhere into the country where many of them would prefer to go,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot called on the federal government “to step up” with support, resources and collaboration “in short order.”
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]