DEC 04, 2023
Texas Republican defends state’s shipments of migrants to Chicago to shift burden off border state
Former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) speaks at a news conference in Chicago Thursday with House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna). [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line]
As Chicago and the state step up new efforts to find shelter for migrants as winter settles in, Illinois Republicans enlisted help from former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) as part of new criticism from the party of the state and city’s handling of the crisis.
Flores and House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) held a news conference in Chicago Thursday after spending the afternoon visiting with migrants living outside police stations around the city. Flores won a special election to Congress in summer 2022 before losing the general election later in the year. She’s running for reelection in Texas’ 34th Congressional District, which is south of Corpus Christi and includes areas along the Mexican border such as Brownsville and McAllen.
Progress began on building new winterized tent shelters in Chicago last week to help move migrants off of the streets into shelters safer for Chicago’s winters. The shelters are made possible with $65 million from a $160 million plan announced by Gov. JB Pritzker earlier in November. Pritzker said at that news conference the city’s process of sheltering migrants “isn’t moving fast enough” and the $160 million is the state “stepping in here to try to help and accelerate this process.”
- State announces new $160M plan to assist asylum seekers
- State officials also make trip to southern border to learn about migrant crisis
“Adding to this issue at the state level is the city of Chicago’s disastrous response to this crisis which has further accelerated the problem,” McCombie told reporters. “As a result, Gov. Pritzker decided to come in with his own plan without discussions with Republicans.”
McCombie said she’s frustrated Republicans weren’t consulted on the $160 million plan that digs into the state’s surplus for the fiscal year and that the governor will likely ask the legislature to cover in a supplemental appropriations plan early next year.
“There’s governors in the past that have had conference calls, even not necessarily asking our permission, but we knew what was coming,” McCombie said. “But we don’t know what’s coming anymore.”
At an unrelated news conference on Tuesday, Pritzker said his office has been transparent in releasing details about the funding and noted additional budget appropriations will need General Assembly approval. The Tribune also reported last week Pritzker is banking on $40 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that hasn’t been approved to cover some of the $160 million.
“What we’re trying to do is use all the line items that are necessary at the Department of Human Services in order to fulfill the needs in this humanitarian crisis,” Pritzker said Tuesday.
Pritzker spokesperson Alex Gough told The Daily Line in an email that the governor’s office alerted Democratic leaders about their spending plan.
“As they are our partners in authorizing FY24 spending,” Gough said. “Republicans can either join their Democratic colleagues in voting for budgets and governing or they can continue to put political rhetoric ahead of their constituents.”
The number of migrants arriving in the city has slowed in recent weeks, but expect the buses to keep coming, Flores said Thursday. According to city data, nearly half of the buses that arrived in Chicago in September during the peak of new arrivals originated in Flores’ district.
“We don’t want to bus people here to Illinois,” Flores said. “We don’t want to do that. But what we want for Illinois to understand, and many other states to understand, is that this is not a South Texas problem, it’s an American problem. We deal with thousands and thousands of migrants every single day.”
Flores, who came to Texas as a child from Mexico, blamed Chicago and Illinois’ sanctuary designations saying those laws signaled the city and state were accepting responsibility for immigrants. While Chicago and state officials have complained the Texas government is sending the migrants to Chicago with little notice, Flores pushed back and said Texas doesn’t know when migrants will come to their state either.
“We don’t know how many people are going to be crossing illegally into our country,” Flores said. “We’re also not getting a warning as well. We would love to know… these people come here by choice. They’re not being forced to come here. They want to come here because you are a sanctuary city. So they prefer to come to these cities because they know y’all support these policies and they know that here they’re protected.”
Flores insisted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t isolating Chicago and Illinois for political purposes and added other sanctuary cities and states have received migrants as well. Migrants have been sent by Republican governors, including from Florida, to sanctuary states and cities such as Colorado, New York, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
“Why are they saying that it’s political?” Flores asked. “I just don’t understand why they don’t want these people here. Why don’t they want migrants here?... Aren’t they pro-immigration?”
Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson have reiterated on multiple occasions over the last year they will welcome immigrants to Chicago. They have warned about the city’s winters and struggles to provide resources.
“We can’t stop them, we’re not trying to stop buses at the border,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “We don’t have the legal right to do that. And we want people to make choices.”
But Flores said if Illinois’ leaders want to see the problem addressed by the federal government, they should be calling for President Joe Biden to close the border.
“For politicians like your mayor, Brandon Johnson, to pass the blame on things like right-wing extremism is pathetic,” Flores said. “And we call people like him in South Texas ‘hipocrita’—hypocrite. If he actually cares about the minority, he would demand the Biden Administration secure the border. He wants Texas to stop busing migrants? Then he needs to demand the Biden Administration to secure the border. But he won’t… he’s a coward.”
“Y’all are dealing with a very small amount of people compared to what we have to deal with,” Flores continued. “And like I said, y’all are responsible for this. It’s not just Texas. Y’all also need to take responsibility.”
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
"Everyone knows that the right-wing extremism in this country has targeted democratically run cities, and quite frankly, they have been quite intentional about going after democratically-ran cities that are led by people of color,” Johnson said at a news conference Tuesday. “And their whole motivation is to create disruption and chaos."
Pritzker’s spokesperson Gough said the Pritzker Administration is constantly in contact with the Biden Administration on immigration issues.
“The Governor has also been a consistent advocate for comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system,” Gough said. “As this is something that would require Congressional action, Representative Flores has a tremendous opportunity to align her actions with her words and vote for reform and additional funding to address humanitarian needs.”
McCombie and Flores also said Democrats need to call for encouraging legal immigration.
“I understand why people want to come here to the United States,” Flores said. “This truly is the greatest country in the world. But we want people to come here legally. We don’t want people to come here illegally.”
“If you’re seeking asylum, you don’t cross the border illegally,” McCombie said. “That’s not the process.”
An aid to McCombie clarified to reporters that she does recognize migrants in Chicago are asylum seekers. As Democrats feel heat from Republicans on the national immigration issue, Pritzker has often gone on defense to clarify the difference between types of immigrants.
“Asylum seekers are in this country legally,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “They’re here with papers. They’re not undocumented immigrants.”
Though immigration is a federal issue, McCombie said Illinois has some options. One would be to repeal the TRUST Act that prohibits Illinois law enforcement from working with immigration officials, particularly in cases about a person’s legal status in the United States. McCombie also suggested putting a moratorium on healthcare spending for immigrants. The state’s program that provides undocumented adults ages 42 and up — which are not asylum seekers arriving from Texas — has already blown $300 million over budget for the fiscal year.
Flores also criticized the city and state for not having enough resources to help the migrants. Illinois has only been receiving new arrivals to the United States since last August, however. Asked what works in her district to care for new arrivals, Flores said systems in Texas are more prepared because immigration is a long-standing issue for the state and added the problem was less severe under previous presidential administrations.
“They’re being set for failure because they’re being allowed to stay here, but they’re not able to work, they’re not able to provide for themselves,” Flores said. “I don’t understand why they’re allowing them to come here and stay here and then they’re not [able] to provide for themselves.”
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