'Our city is prepared': Chicago welcomes Texas migrants after Gov. Abbott sends busloads of people

Migrants in DC, New York after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to bus them across country

ByMichelle Gallardo, Craig Wall, Eric Horng, and Maher Kawash via WLS logo
Friday, September 2, 2022
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A group of Texas migrants want to start new lives after Governor Abbott sent them on a bus to Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border woke up in Chicago Thursday morning.

They reached Union Station Wednesday night after being bused from Texas.

The city is working with numerous community agencies and the governor's office to take care of the basic needs of the migrants who are now here in Chicago, but the issue has also become very political -- with the migrants caught in the middle.

"This is a very important moment for a city to stand up and unite and help these individuals start the next chapter of their lives on solid ground, solid footing," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

This is a day the city and immigration advocates have been preparing for, for a while now. While they say the Texas governor did not give Mayor Lori Lightfoot a heads up that the migrants were being bused to the Midwest city, others on the ground did.

Dozens of those migrants are now receiving clothing, legal advice, medical screenings and temporary shelter while it's determined if any of them have family and friends that will give them a home while their legal processes go forward.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office has said migrants are transported out of state only with their written permission, however, it is not clear what other options have been offered to the migrants.

WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot gives update on migrants bussed in from Texas

The 75 migrants who arrived in Chicago have all received food and new clothes and will undergo assessments in the days ahead to find out what needs they have as they begin their new life far from home.

However, what these men, women and children may not realize is the political firestorm that swirls around them.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican whose state has been overwhelmed with migrants, blames the border crisis on the Biden Administration. Abbott is responding by busing migrants to Democrat run cities including New York, Washington D.C. and now Chicago.

Lightfoot, once again, blasted Abbott's latest immigration strategy of busing migrants to cities with Democratic mayors.

"These are human beings -- moms, dads, elders -- who deserve our respect and dignity. They are not cattle. They are not cargo," Lightfoot said. "Governor Abbott has confirmed what many of us already knew. He's a man without any morals, humanity or shame."

Mayor Lightfoot called Abbott's actions a manufactured humanitarian crisis, adding that what's happened to the migrants inhumane and a political stunt.

"His point is to try to humiliate the President, to humiliate democratic cities, led by Democratic mayors. His point is not to do the right thing in any shape or fashion," Lightfoot added.

WATCH: Texas migrants caught in middle of political firestorm

"Governor Abbott is playing politics with the lives of people who have endured a two month a perilous journey to the border and is using it for political benefit," said Rep. Jesus "Chüy" Garcia, (D) Chicago.

Lightfoot said Chicago has been anticipating the buses for several weeks and was ready, all while Abbott suggests more may be coming.

"Well I got news for New York, I've got news for Washington DC, as well as the rest of the country: We are not done yet," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey released a statement Thursday that said, "The crisis at the border has a terrible human cost and we in Illinois are about to get a close up look. No city or state has the resources to handle this. Pritzker should get his buddy Biden to fix the border. Biden also owes us the resources to vet and take care of these people."

Cheers and applause greeted two busloads of migrants arriving at a North Park facility Thursday. Having spent the night at a Salvation Army shelter in Humboldt Park, the next step in their journey was here.

They arrived in waves. First the families, then single adults.

"First we had seven families with kids. We had one woman pregnant. She's going to have the baby in two weeks," said Luciana Díaz, an activist with Panas En Chicago.

A volunteer with a local Venezuelan group, Diaz was called in by the city to provide translators and a familiar voice. A large number of those arriving at Chicago's Union Station last night from Texas began their journeys in Venezuela.

One mother and father trekked from Venezuela with their two small children, looking to find family in Chicago and a better life.

WATCH: Migrant mother describes journey after bussed from Texas to Chicago

They were among the nearly 60 migrants who arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to the mayor's office.

Abbott said over 95 people were on the bus originally.

They were from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

"This is, as I said, an important moment in our city's history," Lightfoot said. "We're going to look back on this chapter, I am confident, with great pride."

Jose Gregorio Ropero, his wife Maria and two kids are celebrating their first full day in the Chicago area at McDonald's.

The couple said they are "super grateful" to the United States and everyone who helped them get from Texas to Chicago.

Another man among the arrivals said their journey was harrowing.

"We just left Venezuela, went to Colombia, going through the jungle in Panama," William Mijares said. "We were not treated like humans. We were treated like the worst kind of people in the world and we don't understand why, but that's the way they consider us."

Abbott announced Wednesday afternoon that he'd sent the first bus of migrants to Chicago.

For the migrants' safety, ABC7 Chicago blurred the faces of those who arrived in Chicago, unless they gave permission to show them.

In a statement, Abbott took a swipe at both President Joe Biden and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saying in part, "President Biden's inaction at our southern border continues putting the lives of Texans-and Americans-at risk and is overwhelming our communities. To continue to provide much-needed relief to our small, overrun border towns, Chicago will join fellow sanctuary cities...as an additional drop off location. Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status, and I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action as these migrants receive resources from a sanctuary city with the capacity to serve them."

The mayor's office said the city is happy to welcome the migrants and to provide them with food, shelter and protection, but added, "This is not new; Chicago welcomes hundreds of migrants every year to our city and provides much-needed assistance. Unfortunately, Texas Governor Greg Abbot is without any shame or humanity. But ever since he put these racist practices of expulsion in place, we have been working with our community partners to ready the city to receive these individuals."

Lightfoot also said the migrants are safe in Chicago and will have a chance at freedom.

She welcomed the migrants to the shelter Wednesday night, saying, "Our city is prepared. We're a welcoming city, and what we've seen is a tremendous outpouring not only from city gov, but a number of different nonprofits that are part of our network of care. But, let me also say, shame on Governor Abbot. What he's doing is immoral, unpatriotic, and it defies the values of who we are as Americans."

One woman said she's a civil engineer, in search of a better life in the U.S.

Speaking in Spanish, she said, "It took two months to get here. All of my family is still there. The dictatorship and there is no food. You can't live on a salary of $2 a month."

For others, what comes next is a little less certain.

WATCH: Migrant family shares harrowing journey, celebrates first day in Chicago area

"We just arrived to Texas and they got us onto our bus and they said someone was going to be waiting for us here, but that was not true," Mijares said. "I cannot say it was a nice trip, but it was better than what we had during our passing in South America."

Another man who said his name is William said he hopes to start a new life.

"I want to find a job, just to progress in a very safe country. That's what we want," he said.

Like so many people on these buses, he has six children and a family to provide for.

RELATED: July border arrests decrease but expected to total a record 2 million by next month

For the Roperos, their arrival in Chicago caps weeks of tortuous travel through South and Central America. Three of Jose's brothers made a similar journey just weeks ago through raging rivers and dangerous mud covered trails, especially difficult for the children.

Jose's brother, Deibi, said in the jungle, he saw death. One family from Haiti even begged him to carry their daughter, which he did for more than a day.

The Roperos said they have come to work and contribute to the growth of Chicago.

In a statement, Gov. JB Pritzker welcomed the migrants, citing that his great-grandfather came to this country as an immigrant fleeing Ukraine in 1881.

After their arrival, the migrants were taken to a shelter in Chicago via CTA buses, where, on Thursday morning, they said they are very happy to be in the city.

Some of them were taking in the fresh air outside the shelter, as they wait to find out what's next.

In all 75 migrants are being screened Thursday. Catholic Charities and Resurrection Project are among those helping the city in this process, as well as the National Immigrant Justice Center, whose focus is educating migrants on what their legal rights are and determining what comes next for each of them.

"We are, today, providing legal screenings to assess what people's legal status is. How they entered? What legal documents they received when they came in? Are they in court proceedings? Do they have to check in with immigration authorities," said Mary Meg Mccarthy, with the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Not all will remain in Chicago. Some may have family or friends elsewhere, which is another thing being figured out while at the same time providing them temporary shelter.

The state of Texas has spent more than $12 million busing migrants to Washington, D.C., and New York, who crossed into the state from Mexico, according to figures from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Why is Texas Governor Greg Abbot sending migrants to Chicago?

A state government spreadsheet, obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act, request shows that as of Aug. 9, Texas has paid $12,707,720.92 to Wynne Transportation, the charter service that is taking migrants to the two cities.

In a news release Friday, Abbott's office said that "the busing mission is providing much-needed relief to our overwhelmed border communities."

It is usually the responsibility of released migrants to cover the cost of their travel throughout the U.S. as their asylum cases are pending in court. However, the state-chartered border buses have been providing free rides to the north-bound asylum-seekers for months.

Texas has solicited private donations to help pay for the cost of the bus trips, but the state had only received $167,828 as of Aug. 17. At a news conference in April announcing the program, Abbott acknowledged taxpayers were likely to end up with part of the bill.

State agencies have provided conflicting figures for the exact number of migrants that Texas has bused out of state, ranging from 8,051 to 9,033. That amounts to a cost of at least $1,400 per migrant to transport.

Chicago passed a "Welcoming City" ordinance, making it a sanctuary city for migrants regardless of legal status. The city does not require local police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities

The CNN Wire contributed to this report