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Are Chicagoans Growing Weary Of The Sanctuary City Crisis?

Are even the most liberal Chicagoans beginning to grow weary of the Windy City becoming the nation’s leading sanctuary city?

While Mayor Brandon Johnson is trying to bail 3,300 immigrants out of police stations and O’Hare International Airport, there are still hundreds of tents perched on sidewalks and parkways in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods. Johnson’s Democratic Socialist political boat is rapidly sinking.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute’s Lincoln Poll, Chicago voters were 2 to 1 in opposition to Mayor Johnson’s plan to house migrants in heated tents.

The 17th district police station is filled with migrant beds, and tents line Pulaski Avenue. Recently, Northwest Side residents were vocally opposed when tents started popping up on the parkway at West Leland & North Harding Avenues near the police station.

“It’s incredible to think that if you live in Chicago, the city would allow people to camp on your parkway,” exclaimed one Albany Park resident. “This is abusive government. Every alderman who supports this should be put in prison.”

(Left) Migrant tents in Albany Park.

With winter coming on, more than 20,000 immigrants currently are planted inside city limits, thanks in part to the more than 500 busloads of immigrants shipped to the Windy City by Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas. City officials said about 10,000 migrants have either been resettled or united with family or sponsors.

While struggling to house, feed, and care for thousands of immigrants, Johnson faces a tsunami of problems that likely will drive up real estate taxes for every Chicagoan and make him a one-term mayor.

Johnson’s new $16.77 billion budget earmarks $150 million for Chicago’s migrants, but the city currently is spending $40 million per month on the problem. Migrant cost in 2023 is projected at $300 million.

Last week, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker offered an infusion of $160 million in state cash to help asylum-seekers this winter. The assistance money is earmarked for establishing a centralized intake center, creating a state-funded tent encampment, and providing legal and employment assistance.

Also, Cook County approved a $100 million fund for “disaster response and recovery.” Some $70 million is set aside for migrant medical care.

Experts say the immigrant issue may really be a $5-10 billion local problem. In early November, Johnson visited with White House staffers in Washinton, D.C., and asked for $5 billion in additional migrant aid.

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration and the federal government currently are trying to push through Congress a $1.4 billion drop-in-the bucket supplemental package for immigrant shelters and services.

Uncle Sam is a deer frozen in headlights. Chicago is just one of several sanctuary cities, along with Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York.

With our southern border leaking like a sieve, the Biden Administration has requested Congress appropriate $14 billion in emergency funding to hire additional border agents, immigration judges, attorneys, and other personnel to secure the border. The request also provides funding for migrant services and housing. This request should have come two years ago.

Although this writer is not a fan of former President Donald Trump’s plan to build a giant border wall, President Biden is beginning to read Trump’s lips, and plans to finish the U.S.-Mexico wall.

(Right) Work on the border fence in El Centro Sector near the Calexico West Port of Entry in California in 2018.

Photo by Mani Albrecht.

A century ago, immigration to the United States from Europe was much more controlled and organized for those who wanted to work hard. When my Bohemian grandparents immigrated here in 1900, they were admitted through Ellis Island, worked as farmers, and mined coal. Joseph Mehok and his wife, Anna, eventually purchased a 40-acre farm in southern Indiana through a government program. They became naturalized U.S. citizens and reared 11 children, including my mother.

(Left) Certificate of Naturalization issued on September 20, 1943, to Joseph Mehok, age 74.

Today, immigration is a different story. Homeland Security’s 2024 Homeland Threat Assessment notes that “record encounters of migrants arriving from a growing number of countries have complicated border and immigration security.”

In fiscal year 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have arrested 35,433 migrants with criminal convictions or outstanding warrants nationwide, including 598 known gang members.

Not all migrants are from Mexico and other South American countries. Chinese migrants also are crossing our southern border in record numbers. According to the Associated Press, the Border Patrol made 22,187 arrests of Chinese people between January and September 2023 for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Sanctuary city history

How did Chicago become a sanctuary city? Most mobile phone-clutching, Facebook-flipping young people under the age of 40 probably don’t have the slightest idea. A fact-filled history lesson researched by Heather Cherone for WTTW follows:

• Chicago has been a self-proclaimed sanctuary city for more than 38 years. On March 7, 1985, Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order that prohibited any city employee from asking about or assisting in an investigation of the “citizenship or residence status of any person” unless ordered to by a court or federal law. In addition, the order prevented city benefits from being denied to anyone because of their citizenship status. Five Chicago mayors followed Washington’s lead, vowing to shield all immigrants in Chicago from federal agents, regardless of if they are citizens, permanent residents, or asylum seekers.

• In 1992, Mayor Richard M. Daley (left) reissued Mayor Washington’s executive order, but said his order did not prohibit city employees from providing immigration information to federal officials if the immigrants were involved in serious crimes.

That opened what many immigration advocates believed was a major loophole in protecting undocumented immigrants in Chicago from deportation that would remain wide open for more than 30 years.

• In 2006, the Chicago City Council ratified executive orders issued by Mayor Washington and Mayor Daley into law via a proposal that came to be known as the “Welcoming City” ordinance.

• In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked the City Council to revise the law. The City Council agreed to change the ordinance to allow Chicago police officers to turn over some undocumented immigrants to federal law enforcement officials. If police brass believed the undocumented immigrant posed a threat to public safety, or had been identified as a gang member, he or she could be turned over to federal officials.

• Ironically, in 2021, Mayor Lori Lightfoot changed the law to ban Chicago police officers from cooperating with federal immigration agents in all cases.

Today, Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city does not require the city to encourage immigrants to move to Chicago, nor does the Welcoming City ordinance obligate officials to use taxpayer funds to care for immigrants in Chicago.

In addition, since 2022, the more than 20,000 migrants sent to Chicago so far are in the country legally following their request for asylum after fleeing persecution and economic collapse. The current ordinance focuses on protections for undocumented immigrants and does not apply to any of the migrants.

Time for a referendum?

9th Ward (South Side) Alderman Anthony Beale and 41st Ward (Northwest Side) Alderman Anthony Napolitano have proposed asking voters in March 2024 to vote to ratify the Welcoming City ordinance.

Alderman Beale has repeatedly objected to efforts to spend taxpayer dollars on plans to care for migrants after decades of disinvestment on the south and west sides.

Regardless, Mayor Johnson has said he will not “flinch” in his support for the new immigrant arrivals.

Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit


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