A day after sending President Joe Biden a letter criticizing the White House effort on migrants, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday called for a stronger show of unity among local Democrats in responding to the swelling influx of asylum-seekers arriving in Chicago from the southern border.
Pritzker’s comments also came just days after he aired concerns about Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to house asylum-seekers in tent encampments around the city, which ignited a barrage of criticism of the state’s migrant response from some of the new mayor’s City Council allies.
The governor on Tuesday once again accused Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of attempting to “cause chaos in the places he’s sending asylum-seekers.”
“The more that people feed into that at the local level, the more likely it is that he will increase the number of buses, and you’re seeing that now,” Pritzker said, neglecting to mention that some of the recent buses arriving in Chicago have been sent by the Democratic mayor of El Paso, Texas.
Pritzker’s plea for a Democratic detente came as the city and state are gearing up for a quicker pace of migrant arrivals from Venezuela and other Latin American countries. The number of buses rolling into the city is expected to reach 20 to 25 per day this week, sources have said, bringing 1,000 to 1,250 people daily and raising the total number of arrivals to more than 20,000 since the crisis began in August 2022.
Pritzker sought to smooth over any lingering tensions with City Hall after last week’s flare-up, which had members of his press team responding on social media to criticism from Johnson’s floor leader, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th.
“We have a good relationship with the mayor and the mayor’s office, and we’re about getting things done and so is the mayor,” Pritzker told reporters at an unrelated event at the University of Chicago.
The orchestrated rollout of the letter to Biden on Monday and news of a Sunday phone call with the mayor’s office and White House officials served to shift some of the focus on the migrant crisis to the federal response, which both Pritzker and the city under Johnson and his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, have made clear they’ve found wanting.
The governor said the letter was not an initial request for help from his political ally in the White House but an effort to reiterate the multiple pleas for assistance the state has made over the past year.
“We wanted to make sure that there was a public statement out there of many of the things that we’ve talked about in the past with the administration, but the things that we need right now,” Pritzker said.
The three-page letter called for the White House to appoint a single person to lead the migrant relief effort on the federal level.
The governor, who is serving as an adviser to the Biden’s reelection campaign, also asked that the federal government take a more active role in coordinating the transportation of asylum-seekers from Texas to other parts of the country, accusing the administration of “abdicating responsibility once (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) releases migrants into the interior of the country.”
Pritzker also requested additional financial support beyond the “modest funding” the state and the city of Chicago have received thus far from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The state has spent about $330 million on the new arrivals, according to Pritzker’s letter, but not all of that money has gone to Chicago, where most of the migrants are staying.
Chicago has allocated $144 million toward the migrant mission and expects costs for the entire response effort since 2022 to grow to as much as $363 million by the end of this year.
Given the political dynamics in a divided Congress facing the specter of another shutdown showdown next month, Pritzker acknowledged that a comprehensive overhaul of the federal immigration system or even more funding for the migrant response are unlikely.
But the governor said there some of what’s outlined in the letter are steps the Biden administration can take without having to go through the Republican-controlled House.
In response to the letter, a White House spokesperson late Monday pointed to the Biden administration’s increased border enforcement efforts and aimed blame at Republicans in Congress for blocking the president’s efforts to do more to help both the new arrivals and cities and states that are taking them in.
“House Republicans continue to block the reform the immigration system needs and the $4 billion we requested to address the immediate needs of (Department of Homeland Security) to safely and humanely manage the southwest border and support communities across the country,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to work closely with Illinois and states and cities across the country.”
The White House described Sunday’s phone call with Pritzker and Johnson, which included Biden chief of staff Jeff Zients, senior adviser Tom Perez and other administration officials, as “a productive conversation.”
“This meeting was part of ongoing, recurrent engagements between White House officials and leaders in Illinois and Chicago regarding federal support for communities welcoming migrants,” the spokesperson said, highlighting the more than $46 million in grant funding the city and state have received for the relief effort. That’s out of a pool of $1 billion nationwide.
Pritzker said he’s spoken with White House officials again since the letter was sent Monday “to make sure that they heard us and that they want to be responsive.”
“And they have said they want to be responsive to those things and they’re kind of working down the list to see what the things are that they can do immediately and what they might be able to do in the near term,” he said.
Still, neither the governor’s office nor City Hall have outlined a plan to absorb the large number of migrants who could arrive in the coming weeks if the expected pace continues.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to take care of the people who are here,” Pritzker said.