City Council Votes 34-13 to Spend $51M to Help Care for Migrants After Tension Between Black, Latino Chicagoans Boils Over at Meeting

The Chicago City Council voted 34-13 Wednesday to spend $51 million from the city’s 2021 budget surplus to help care for migrants sent to Chicago from Texas after tension between Black and Latino Chicagoans boiled over, resulting in an intense debate that featured racist abuse.

In all, city officials expect to spend $112 million through the end of June from a combination of state, federal and local funds to feed and shelter the migrants, who are seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing poverty and violence in Central and South America.

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More than 4,000 recent arrivals from Texas are living in city shelters, leaving another 500 people to sleep on the floor of police stations across the city. 

Not only has that humanitarian crisis stretched the city’s social safety net past the breaking point, efforts by city officials to scramble to care for the migrants has infuriated many Black Chicagoans whose pleas for help from the city after decades of disinvestment have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears.

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th Ward) said the strife was a result of “historical generational trauma” and “pain.” Fuentes, along with other progressive alderpeople, promised to ensure long-term solutions to address those disparities are included in the city’s 2024 budget — but pleaded with her colleagues to approve the stop-gap measure.

Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) was one of seven Black alderpeople to vote against the proposal, first introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and endorsed by Mayor Brandon Johnson. Chicago officials must use its tax dollars to take care of Chicagoans, Moore said.

“Make sure you put your mask on first before you help someone else,” said Moore, who was one of three alderpeople to delay the vote for one week. “And so we have to put our mask on first, and we have to help the residents of this city.”

Those alderpeople were joined by five White alderpeople and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), all of whom are the most conservative members of the City Council.

Approximately 10,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago since Aug. 31, when Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent the first bus of migrants to Chicago, officials said.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) said Abbott and his Republican allies were exploiting divisions in Chicago caused by systemic racism and strengthened by residential segregation, which has divided White Chicagoans from Black Chicagoans and both from Latino Chicagoans for decades.

“A conflict is being created in a weak point in our city, and it’s frustrating because this weak point wouldn’t exist if our city hadn’t spent decades not serving Black residents,” Hadden said. “I do care about the new arrivals, and I do care what happens to them, and we can't have people sleeping on the floors of police stations.”

Many of those who used the public comment period to urge City Council members to reject the proposal said the money would be better spent on reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

After demands for racial justice swept the nation in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Chicago officials promised to study whether and how the city should pay reparations to Chicagoans who are the descendants of enslaved African Americans.

But faced with Lightfoot’s implacable opposition, that effort never got off the ground.

Wednesday’s meeting spun out of control several times before and during the 90-minute debate, with those who opposed the proposal yelling at Johnson and members of the City Council. Although Chicago Police officers and members of the council’s security staff are usually quick to remove those who disrupt the meeting, they stood by as alderpeople were repeatedly heckled by the crowd.

After Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward) turned to address those jeering his remarks, one person yelled out, “go back to your own country.” 

After the meeting, Sigcho Lopez said he was disappointed but not surprised to be subjected to a racist attack while speaking as an elected member of the Chicago City Council.

Members of the crowd called Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) a “sellout” and a “traitor” after she said she would vote in favor of the proposal. Taylor vigorously opposed plans crafted by Lightfoot to transform a shuttered school in Woodlawn into a shelter for migrants, saying the former mayor had not consulted with her community and had picked a bad location.

Taylor wept as she spoke about how painful the debate had become.

“Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean that I want to hurt migrant families,” said Taylor, earning a standing ovation from her colleagues. “Voting ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t care about Black Chicagoans. If my yes vote bothers you, then so be it. Because hurt people don’t hurt people.”

In other action, the City Council unanimously voted to allow restaurants, bars and cafes to serve customers outdoors permanently, handing Johnson his first significant legislative victory.

In addition, the City Council ratified Johnson’s plan to use approximately $800,000 in unspent funds set aside for City Council members to make grants to organizations in their wards to boost the budgets for four committees and to create a new committee.

Nearly half of the funds will be used to give Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward) a budget of more than $407,000 for his work as vice mayor. In addition, the newly created Police and Fire Committee, led by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward), now has a budget of $261,000.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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