A group of West Side and Cook County residents from suburban Berkeley and Hillside slammed Mayor Brandon Johnson Wednesday about the city’s management of the migrant crisis.
Standing outside the 15th Chicago Police District, organizers urged city and county leaders to demand $300 million in federal funding for asylum seekers.
The group, led by Zerlina Smith-Members, said local taxpayers should not bear the costs of the migrant crisis, a federal issue caused by what they called Biden’s failed border policies. Smith-Members, who has run for several local offices, said she is speaking up as an Austin resident and block club president, Cook County constituent and community advocate.
They questioned why Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle did not demand funding for the city’s crisis during their visit to the White House for Biden’s gun safety office launch last week. City estimates show aid for new arrivals will cost the city nearly $300 million this year.
“The citizens of Cook County and Chicago cannot just suck up another tax increase on our property,” Smith-Members, who also is an Austin block club president and community organizer, told Austin Weekly News.
The group, called Chicago-Cook County Coalition for Humane Migration Management, criticized the use of city funds for the migration crisis instead of addressing existing residents’ needs, especially on the West Side. They also questioned the mayor’s lack of coordination with county leaders and other city officials.
Organizers said West Side communities have long lacked the funding to address some of the issues that affect its residents, including homelessness, substance use and violence.
“They couldn’t find the money for the people that have been homeless for so long but have found $52 million that they can’t even account for,” Smith-Members, who leads the coalition, said.
Last May, City Council approved $51 million in financial aid for migrants. At the time, 13 alderpersons, including Austin’s Emma Mitts, opposed the move, city records show. The city has failed to transparently disclose how the money was spent, Smith-Members added.
Smith-Members strongly criticized the use of hundreds of dollars from FEMA funds for the migrant crisis nationwide. West Siders have not received all the help to restore their homes and possessions lost due to flooding this summer, she said.
“Nobody talks about the flooding of our homes on the West Side,” she said.
The group also urged Johnson to move asylum-seekers out of police stations, strongly opposing the city’s “inhumane” proposal to set up base camps with winterized tents.
“It’s ridiculous to put anybody in tents over the winter,” said Roger Romanelli, who leads a neighbor volunteer group in suburban Hillside.
Several members said they are not against migrants, but the city does not have resources or plans to handle new arrivals.
“We can’t afford anyone at this moment to come to Chicago without any real clear solutions,” Smith-Members said.
City and county leaders should limit the number of new arrivals and urge the federal administration to “shut the border,” the group said.
“I have nothing against the migrants, but what we’re saying is why don’t we spend money to take care of people that were here first,” said Tio Hardiman, executive director of the nonprofit Violence Interrupters and member of the newly formed coalition.
The group also urged Johnson’s administration to shelter new arrivals in vacant buildings downtown near governmental buildings and services. They proposed the city lease the former Thompson Center building, now owned by Google, to house asylum-seekers.
Smith-Members, who supported Johnson on the mayoral trail, said the group will continue to demand action.
“I watch a man do profound speeches with no work, which is what he’s doing now…” she said. “If they don’t get this [federal] money, they need to resign.”