Amid frigid temperatures, plans to warm unhoused migrants in Chicago criticized

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(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker says the state is spending more taxpayer money to keep non-citizen arrivals comfortable during the winter months, but some say their plan is inhumane.

Chicago and other regions of Illinois have seen about 20,000 non-citizens arrive from the southern border over the past 13 months and have faced financial issues in caring for them.

On Wednesday, Pritzker said the state had spent more taxpayer money on migrant care than the city of Chicago and that as the winter approaches, it is his humanitarian duty to provide resources.

“It is an obligation, I think, in a humanitarian crisis for us to step up and make sure that people are not starving and that they have a place to stay and that they get the basic healthcare that they need,” Pritzker said.

Illinois is already set to suspend new enrollment Nov. 6 for a program intended to provide taxpayer-subsidized health care to the influx of non-citizen arrivals over the age of 65. The program is already up to $831.6 million in projected taxpayer costs.

As the temperatures drop, Chicago announced it would be utilizing 16 warming buses to keep the non-citizens warm during the winter and have set aside $29 million for military-grade tents.

Maggie Rivera of the Illinois Migrant Council said the idea of basecamp “tent cities” is not the solution.

“For me, it’s like building a concentration camp, and I am totally against that,” Rivera told The Center Square.

The 2024 budget for Chicago is $16.6 billion and projects a budget gap of $538 million. According to NBC Chicago, $200 million of the gap comes from care for the non-citizen arrivals. The city also projects another $250 million to cover costs until the end of the year.

However, Pritzker said it is the state that is spending a lot of taxpayer money to support the new arrivals.

“We also have spent two to three times as much as they [Chicago] have on all the wrap-around services, including immigration lawyers, because it is important to get them the authorization so they can go to work,” Pritzker said.

The Illinois Department of Human Services didn’t respond to multiple questions about whether agency staff are being asked to volunteer while getting paid to work with Venezuelan migrants who have recently been granted temporary protective status.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration released a statement regarding their plan for the coming months and said the city is looking at all possible solutions.

“We will continue exploring all options to provide temporary shelter, which includes working with aldermen, the State of Illinois, and communities across the city in supporting efforts to move new arrivals indoors and off the floors of O’Hare Airport and police district stations,” Johnson said. “The city will also continue efforts to provide immediate short-term shelter and resources and move anyone sleeping outdoors into shelters that are equitably distributed across the city.”

However, as more migrants are expected to arrive over the next few months, Rivera said more needs to be done.

“I guess the buses will be there from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., so at least overnight when the temperature drops, they’re able to shelter in those buses,” Rivera said. “That is not an adequate way of keeping them warm.”

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