Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Brandon Johnson praised President Joe Biden for moving late Wednesday to allow thousands of Venezuelan migrants sent to Chicago from the southern border to work in industries facing labor shortages, offering them a path out of city-run shelters and police stations.
More than 14,000 people have made their way to Chicago in the past 13 months, straining the city’s social safety net and at times exacerbating tensions between Chicago’s Black and Latino communities. The cost of caring for the migrants added $200 million to the city’s projected budget deficit in 2024, according to the mayor’s office.
With approximately 7,400 people taking up every available spot in 20 city shelters, more than 2,100 men, women and children are being forced to sleep on the floors of police stations across the city and at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, according to data released by the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Biden’s decision to offer Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans for to those who arrived in the U.S. on or before July 31 means they will not face the threat of deportation and will be allowed to work for 18 months, according to a statement from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. While the migrants are all in the country legally after requesting asylum, they are not permitted to work without special permission.
“This action demonstrates how intergovernmental coordination across national, state and local governments continues to make our city a safe sanctuary to all people,” Johnson said in a statement, noting that the Biden administration’s action came after Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de Leon traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials.
The decision will boost Chicago’s economy, Johnson said.
“But where there are labor shortages in our city, especially in the fields of food processing, clean energy, health care (including nursing and dentistry), transportation and warehousing, it is clear that authorizing new arrivals for work in these sectors would have a significant public benefit — both to our local and regional economies, and to the families and individuals who are new arrivals to our great city,” Johnson said.
Pritzker and Johnson marked the first anniversary of the arrival of the migrants on Aug. 30 by pressing Biden to allow them to work legally, and the governor said in a statement late Wednesday that he was pleased the president heeded his call to act.
“Despite traveling thousands of treacherous miles and then being used as political chess pieces by those who should have welcomed and helped them, they are eager to contribute to their new communities and get to work,” Pritzker said. “Reducing wait times for employment approvals and expanding protection status for those coming from Venezuela will get people working and on a path to building a better future for themselves and their families.”
Many of the migrants were sent to Chicago on buses paid for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, while others traveled to Chicago on their own or on flights paid for by nonprofit organizations.
The action by the Biden administration will allow more than 472,000 Venezuelans who fled economic collapse and violence during the past year to work, officials said.
More than 5,000 Venezuelans were living in Chicago’s shelters or awaiting a bed as of Friday, according to data released by the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights. By comparison, approximately 300 Colombians are in the city’s shelters, the second most frequent country of origin for Chicago’s newest arrivals.
Johnson faced intense criticism Wednesday for his decision to partner with the state of Illinois and agree to pay $29 million to erect large tents to house the migrants now being forced to sleep on the floor of the city’s police stations. The contract was first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.
Aegis Defense Services, doing business as GardaWorld Federal Services, was used by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to move migrants to states led by Democrats, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
That contract did not require City Council approval because of the disaster declaration issued by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot before she left office and kept in place by Johnson.
No sites for the so-called base camps have been selected by the mayor’s office, officials said.
Ald. Andre Vasquez, the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, opposes Johnson’s plans to build those base camps to house the migrants, proposing instead to use existing buildings that can be transformed after the crisis ends into locations for social services.
Vasquez said on X, the social media site once known as Twitter, that he was hopeful Biden’s decision would mean the base camps do not need to be built, avoiding the need for Chicago to do business with “a questionable company to set up tents during a cold Chicago winter! We can find/lease/acquire properties to help in triage and transition, instead of paying those who bus migrants.”