CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has penned a letter to Illinois legislators, calling on the state to provide funding to support migrants new to the city.
In a letter obtained by WGN News, Lightfoot asks the state for nearly $54 million.
“It’s absolutely mission critical; we cannot function without it,” Lightfoot said. “We have to get additional resources.”
In a one-on-one interview with WGN News, Lightfoot spoke about already-underway efforts to provide resources to the city’s newest arrivals. The assistance of migrants, Lightfoot says, requires a historic level of collaboration between the state, county and community partners.
“It’s been a tremendous effort, but what we now know is that funding is a challenge. It’s a challenge for the state, it’s a challenge for us,” Lightfoot said.
The plea comes as the city has dealt with the arrival of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, various African countries and Nicaragua, many since August.
“We’re a welcoming city and a welcoming state and we have to provide the resources to welcome them into our city,” Lightfoot said.
The Chicago mayor said the money approved for migrant services in the city’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget wouldn’t be enough to provide the needed help. On top of the required financial aid, Lightfoot says communication with the city about arriving migrants has been a significant issue.
“There’s no communication. It is a cruel, inhumane ambush, and I don’t know any way else to put it,” she told WGN News. “We maybe get a heads up that there’s a bus coming, but we don’t know with any degree of precision who’s on the bus, what their specific needs are; we don’t even know half the time what country they’re coming from. Are they singles, men, or women? Are they children? We get basically no information until they get here in Chicago.”
Lighted cited trauma and other factors migrants have faced before arriving as another reason to provide ongoing support. But last week, the Chicago Tribune reported a Venezuelan migrant died by suicide in a suburban hotel run as a shelter.
Asked whether mental health resources are part of the city’s ongoing efforts, Lightfoot responded: “We are providing health support for them through the community partners, so that’s not an issue.”
The city has 11 alternate shelters to provide meals, clothing and showers while also connecting people to legal resources.
Lightfoot wrote that the $53.5 million is what the city believes it will have to spend in the first six months of 2023 for migrant services. The number, Lightfoot adds, is only expected to increase.
WGN News asked, “Does there become a point when the city has to turn people away?”
“Well, I’m hoping that we never get there,” Lightfoot answered. “That’s why we’re trying to head off this financing issue right now so that we don’t get to that point.”
The mayor revealed that the state informed her office it was out of funds and would be unable to support migrant services in just over a month. In addition to her notice to Illinois lawmakers, Lightfoot implored the federal government to step up.
“We’ve got to make sure that this national problem has a national solution,” the mayor said.