As Texas Flies 91 Migrants to Chicago on Private Plane, Johnson Says Texas Governor Determined to ‘Create Chaos’

Video: Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson appears on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Dec. 20, 2023. (Produced by Emily Soto)

Texas emergency management officials chartered a private plane and flew at least 91 migrants to Chicago Tuesday evening, the first time a private plane has been used by the state to bring migrants to the city from Texas.

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The flight is also an indication that Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is escalating efforts to damage President Joe Biden’s chances for reelection and divide Democratic voters. A spokesperson for the Texas governor confirmed the state sent the plane to Chicago, and more flights are on their way.

Mayor Brandon Johnson told WTTW News’ “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” that Abbott was determined to “create chaos throughout the entire country.”

“Chicago has been targeted,” Johnson said.

The plane landed at O’Hare International Airport at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday with migrants who crossed the southern border and are now in the country legally after requesting asylum from economic collapse and political instability. Johnson’s office originally told WTTW News 150 people were on the plane, but revised that figure Wednesday afternoon.

After the plane landed without warning to Chicago officials, airport officials called the Chicago Police Department, according to a report shared with WTTW News. The flight originated in El Paso, Texas, and records link the plane’s tail number to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, according to the police log of the incident.

Two people, identified as “handlers” in the police log, fled the plane and “jumped into an Uber” before they could be questioned by officers, according to police.

The migrants are now staying at O’Hare, officials said. In all, nearly 300 people are currently living at O’Hare.

A spokesperson for Abbott told WTTW News 120 people were on board the flight, which he said was just the “first” to Chicago and came as Chicago officials began cracking down on buses that defy city rules requiring passengers to be dropped off at a specific location.

“Because Mayor Johnson is failing to live up to his city’s ‘Welcoming City’ ordinance by targeting migrant buses from Texas, we are expanding our operation to include flights to Chicago,” said Press Secretary Andrew Mahaleris.

A new city law allows officials to impound buses that drop off passengers without a permit or outside of approved hours and locations. Violators can trigger fines of $3,000, in addition to towing and storage fees.

Johnson said Abbott was determined to “circumvent” that law and accused him of “raggedy behavior” by hiring buses that have tried to drop off migrants in the middle of the night without anywhere for them to go. 

Nothing in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance obligates officials to use taxpayer funds to care for immigrants in Chicago. The ordinance focuses on protections for undocumented immigrants, so it does not apply to any of the migrants.

Read more: What Does It Mean That Chicago Is a Sanctuary City? Here’s What to Know

It is unclear how much the flight cost, and whether Texas paid for it with state funds or federal funds designed to care for migrants.

Three buses paid for by Texas officials arrived in Chicago Tuesday, with another five buses expected to arrive Wednesday, officials said.

The driver of a bus impounded on Dec. 13 was not licensed to drive passengers, according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Law.

There are nearly 14,100 migrants in city shelters, with approximately two dozen women and children sleeping at police stations across the city, according to city data.

Johnson said the death of Jean Carlos Martinez Rivero, 5, in a Pilsen shelter “was breaking all of our hearts.”

City officials are working to ensure all of the migrants have a healthy and dignified place to live, and blamed Abbott for creating the conditions that led to the boy’s still-unexplained death, Johnson said. Many migrants arrive in Chicago sick and traumatized, he added.

The number of migrants sent to Chicago surged during Johnson’s first months in office, overwhelming the city’s ability to care for them, breaking the city’s social safety net and exacerbating deep tension between Black, Latino and Asian Chicagoans.

Since August 2022, 607 buses have arrived in Chicago, carrying nearly 26,100 people, nearly all of them who fled economic collapse and political turmoil in Central and South America, according to city data.

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

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