Brighton Park residents file suit in effort to stop plans to build base camp for migrants in Chicago
CHICAGO (WLS) -- There was some heated debate over the migrant crisis during Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.
In the process, votes on several important issues have been delayed, including the purchase of property for a base camp for migrants.
Despite the cold weather and concerns for migrants sleeping outdoors in tents, city council politics stalled action on Wednesday on that land purchase, and the mayor's team moved to sink the effort by opponents to put the future of Chicago's designation as a sanctuary city before the voters next spring.
Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that he is flying to Washington, D.C. on Thursday, joining four other mayors to press the Biden Administration do more to help cities that are bearing the burden of caring for an ever-growing migrant population.
"We're gonna push the federal government, just like we're gonna push the state of Illinois to do its part. Look, Chicago is leaning in. We have borne the brunt of the responsibility. That's not an equitable distribution to how government should cooperate," Johnson said.
Johnson, along with the mayors of Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City, have sent a joint letter to the White House to get the Biden Administration's attention on the federal void in the fate and future of migrants in the United States.
"You have mayors across the country that are struggling with this international crises, and we need the federal government to do more," Johnson said.
There is also now a special city council meeting scheduled for Thursday morning to decide if there should be a referendum on Chicago's sanctuary city designation on next spring's ballot. Some aldermen want voters to decide if Chicago should remain a sanctuary city.
Chicago's growing migrant crisis raised tensions during the city council meeting as alderpersons were poised to vote on acquiring a piece of property at 115th and Halsted, where the city plans to erect a tent base camp to house 1,000 migrants or more.
"I haven't heard anyone present a better solution. Show me something better," said 26th Ward Alderman Jesse Fuentes.
It's a move strongly opposed by the Brighton Park community, and a federal lawsuit has been filed to stop the plans.
"People said, 'there's a plan. Yea, there's a plan. The plan is to shove it down the 12th Ward's throat. The plan is to shove it down the 21st Ward's throat. That's the plan," said 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale.
According to the lawsuit, the plans don't meet zoning requirements. And, the suit claims, the land may be toxic, posing a danger to anyone living there.
"The anger that we that we are feeling from the community isn't because of the migrants. It's because the community has been shut out from this process completely," said 15th Ward Alderman Ray Lopez.
With support in question, a vote on that property was deferred.
"We desperately need more support from the federal government. We desperately need more support from the state government. But, we're going to continue to do what we can to make sure that we are welcoming people with the best way that we possibly can in this moment," said 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa, who is also the mayor's floor leader.
There has been similar pushback in other wards. The city's search for places to house the migrants is putting another site, on the Near North Side, into play. That building used to be home to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
When asked about it on Wednesday, Mayor Johnson repeatedly danced around the issue.
"We have looked at a variety of locations all over the city of Chicago," Johnson said.
There is one migrant shelter in Streeterville already, at the Inn of Chicago, where 1,600 people are currently being housed over the objection of several downtown aldermen.
Alderman Brendan Reilly issued a statement, saying, in part, "The Administration's careful use of semantics; dishonesty by omission; and total disregard for public transparency around potential sites for migrant housing is not good government, it is wrong."
Also on Wednesday, some aldermen pushed to put a referendum to voters next March about whether Chicago should continue to be a sanctuary city, but mayoral allies sent the issue back to the rules committee, where its future is now in doubt.
"I think that people really want to just have a voice on whether or not we want to continue to be a sanctuary city, whether or not we want to continue to spend $30-$40 million a month on this migrant crisis," Beale said.
"And, it doesn't matter whether we are a sanctuary city or not. Those buses will not stop coming," Fuentes said.
Johnson denied that he was trying to undermine efforts to get that issue before the voters by putting his three of his own referendums, the maximum allowed by law, to voters.
"You are coming to a conclusion that is based on speculation. I never said I was shoving anything out? Did I get up and say, 'I'm shoving something out?' That's a conclusion that you're basing off of something that just doesn't exist," Johnson said.