Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Monday he is not attending his administration’s trip to the U.S.-Mexico border later this week, a reversal he said stems from having to address the “urgency” of the growing migrant population in Chicago.
Instead of Johnson heading the group, Chicago deputy mayor of immigration Beatriz Ponce de León will lead a delegation, which is scheduled to leave Tuesday for the Texas cities of El Paso, San Antonio, McAllen and Brownsville, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.
“The Mayor, along with senior aides and key operations personnel, will stay in Chicago to address the immediate urgency of adding shelter space to house thousands of new arrivals sleeping in police stations, airports or outside,” the statement read.
Johnson had said he would visit the border himself during previous remarks to reporters but declined to say when, noting he had a busy schedule as mayor.
“I am going to the border as soon as possible,” he said two weeks ago in a post-City Council news conference. As recently as last week, his deputy chief-of-staff, Cristina Pacione-Zayas said the mayor’s trip was still on, with the No. 1 goal to clinch tighter bus coordination with Texas officials.
“It wouldn’t be right if we did not let folks know the limitations that we have when we do not receive information in advance,” she told reporters in a briefing last Thursday. “That’s our objective, is to say to them: ‘Look, here’s what we’re managing up here.’”
Chicago has so far welcomed more than 18,500 migrants since August 2022, when the first bus of asylum-seekers from Texas arrived in the city after they made the dangerous trek across Central America.
Since then, with the support of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, along with other officials in Texas and southern border states, more than 400 buses of migrants have arrived in Chicago. Chicago police stations are bursting with more than 3,300 of asylum-seekers sleeping inside their lobbies, with another 550 at O’Hare International Airport, as well as many outside.
Johnson is in a race against time before temperatures drop significantly to prop up tents across the city as part of his strategy of establishing giant base camps to house new arrivals instead of the police station and airport floors. One spot on the Southwest Side is now being prepped to as a possible locale. Meanwhile, the city is fast running out of funding to keep up with the escalating crisis while state and federal partners have not provided more quick access to funds.
Besides Ponce de León, a small group of “city, state, faith and philanthropic leaders” will join her to learn more about the sites where migrants are being sent to Chicago and hold talks on how the burden on Chicago can be lifted.
The mayor’s senior aides will stay behind, however. Some facts the delegation plans to share include the extreme housing and weather conditions, as well as the challengers of getting a verified sponsor.
“A point of emphasis will be establishing better lines of communication and collecting migrant data to expedite work authorization processing and the transition to self-sufficiency,” the statement read.
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