The mayors of Chicago, New York City and Denver want the migrant crisis to be classified as a federal emergency, and say that absent immediate federal assistance, their cities are at the breaking point.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston held a joint online press conference Wednesday afternoon in an effort to call attention to the crisis.
For their part, Chicago officials say with 15,000 asylum seekers in the city’s care, the shelter system has “reached capacity,” according to a news release.
“We cannot continue to do the federal government’s job. We have spoken to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other federal officials who have expressed concern about the border surge, but not offered additional help. We need action and we need it now,” Adams said. “We are calling for the federal declaration of emergency, financial support and a national resettlement strategy.”
The coordinated, multi-city ask is an attempt to step up pressure on Congress and President Joe Biden’s administration, even as previous requests for Washington to intervene have been met with a relatively muted response.
In a separate effort, via a press release on Wednesday afternoon, the Johnson administration said that it is also asking for additional assistance from the state and Cook County.
“The City is making additional requests of the State of Illinois and Cook County governments to assist with resources and beds to prevent new arrivals from sleeping outdoors in inclement winter weather,” Johnson’s office said in the release.
New York, meanwhile, is adopting Chicago’s approach of seeking to control the inflow by restricting migrant arrival times and locations, even as Chicago’s ordinance has had the domino effect of migrants being stranded in some suburbs.
The trio of mayors said they’ve taken humane approaches to what Johnson described as the “reckless” behavior of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is intentionally sending busloads of migrants who’ve crossed the Mexico/U.S. border into Texas to Democratic-led cities and states.
But the mayors say their cities soon won’t be able to keep up.
“We need the federal government to lean in and provide more financial assistance,” Chicago’s Johnson said. “All of our cities have reached a point where we are either close to capacity, or nearly out of room. Without significant intervention from the federal government, this mission will not be sustained.”
New York has already seen “the erosion of the quality of life” as its devoting resources to house migrants that could soon lead to reductions library hours, trash pick-up or classes of cadets at the police academy, Adams said.
“For many months, we were able to keep the visualization of this crisis from hitting our streets, but we have reached the breaking point. We’re no longer able to do that because of the volume of numbers,” Adams said.
New York, he said, is seeing anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 people arriving each week.
“All the services, every agency in our city, must go and look at a 5% what we call a peg – 5% finding savings and efficiencies,” Adams said. “It’s going to impact every delivery of services in the city. We now have a hiring freeze that we cannot bring on additional employees to deal with everything from social services to actually cleaning our city. So we’re seeing the fallout of what it looks like.”
Johnson was less specific about potential consequences in Chicago should the volume of migrants continue unabated without more cash from the feds.
“It’s not that much different here in Chicago (than) anywhere else in the country,” Johnson said. “The public good is already stressed, whether it’s our transportation system, our health care system, our education system. All of these systems are already stretched to meet the demands of families who have been here. Over the past seven months, it’s been an incredible, an incredible, strain on every aspect of city services.”
Johnson said Chicago has reached a “critical point” and that it’s “imperative” the federal government act.
“Absent real significant intervention immediately … our local economies are not designed and built to respond to this type of crisis. We are literally building the system as we go along,” he said.
Johnson’s press release issued after the mayors’ video conference reinforced that he considers timing crucial.
“Now is the time to build a system of care beyond Chicago as shelter capacity has reached its maximum within city limits,” the release reads.
In Colorado, Johnston estimated Denver will have to spend $160 million next year on the migrant crisis, which is tantamount to 10% of the city’s budget. He said similar pressures will “crush city budgets around the country.”
The mayors are asking the federal government to intercede in three ways: By providing more money, by fast-tracking migrant work authorization permits and by adopting an improved, coordinated national strategy for asylum-seekers.
Johnston said it shouldn’t be left to the governor of Texas to decide where asylum seekers go just because they arrive at a port of entry in that state.
“Cities and the federal government can work together to coordinate a plan for admitting and serving people across the country to make sure that no one city is overtaxed, but that every newcomer arrives in the neighborhood that has the resources and support to make them successful,” Johnston said. “There is a common sense, practical way to address this crisis.”
None of the mayors addressed the political viability of their requests, beyond Johnston saying he believes there’s an opportunity during ongoing budget negotiations.
Critics say immigration policy should not be part of fiscal talks. It’s also in the interest of Republicans like Abbott to ratchet pain in Chicago, which is set to host the Democratic National Convention as Biden seeks reelection.
Abbott has celebrated his migrant transport moves as a means of border security.
Limiting Arrival Times
As migrants continue to land en masse in Chicago, Denver and New York, the mayors are trying to better control where and when they reach the cities’ public doorsteps.
Adams announced that New York will follow Chicago’s lead, by fining or impounding buses that abandon migrants outside of specified hours at a designated intake facility.
“We cannot allow buses with people needing our help to arrive without warning at any hour of day and night. This only prevents us from providing assistance in an orderly way,” Adams said. “It puts those who have already suffered so much in danger. To be clear: This is not stopping people from coming, but about ensuring the safety of migrants and making sure they can arrive in a coordinated and orderly way.”
Adams’ said his new executive order limits legal drop-offs to 8:30 a.m. until noon, Monday through Friday, and mandates a 32-hour advance notice.
The Chicago ordinance, passed by the City Council in mid-December, requires charters coordinate arrival with a notice of 48 hours, and perform drop-offs at a landing zone between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Outside of those times, buses can be impounded and incur a $3,000 fine.
“If you’re sending buses to Chicago, there has to be coordination,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s administration said as of Wednesday early evening, 95 buses have been cited in Chicago for violating the ordinance, two of which were impounded and three also cited for illegally dumping sewage.
Adams said he’s appreciates learning lessons from Chicago’s approach, even as communities surrounding Chicago, and the city itself, are struggling with the impact of the crackdown.
Since the ordinance, Texas has flown migrants to Chicago on privately chartered planes and has sent increasing numbers of buses to the suburbs and communities as far as Peotone in Will County, an hour drive south of the city.
Johnson said Abbott’s pivot is “quite disturbing” and “unconscionable.”
“Unfortunately, what the governor of Texas has done, is that he has seen our desire to come up with a coordinated effort and he has been provocated to retaliate against us establishing structure and calm,” Johnson said. “The governor of Texas, looking to circumvent law, has sent busses to surrounding villages, towns and cities. It’s created a very chaotic situation.”
Johnson said communities that have the home-rule authority enabling them to establish drop-off limits like Chicago’s are moving to do so, and he anticipates county governments will begin to do the same, “to create the type of structure and calm that’s needed in this crisis.”
In a Dec. 20 post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Abbott said Texas would fly migrants because “sanctuary city Chicago started obstructing and targeting our busing mission.”
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
Note: This article was published Dec. 27, 2023, and updated with video Dec. 28, 2023.