President Joe Biden has said he wouldn’t call the situation at the southern border a crisis, but officials in Chicago—host to this summer’s Democratic National Convention—appear to differ.
Chicago city officials, as well as Cabinet secretaries and senior staffers for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, routinely refer to a “crisis” in emails and other communications related to the border, according to more than 1,200 pages of documents obtained by The Daily Signal.
One example is an October 2022 email from a member of the Democrat-run Chicago City Council to Grace Hou, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, as revealed by documents released by the governor’s office through a public records request.
“Thank you for reaching out today to discuss the situation with migrants and refugees in the city and state,” Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez wrote Hou. “This is a humanitarian crisis that must be addressed in collaboration and putting all our resources and energy to find ways to mitigate this crisis.”
In the email, Sigcho-Lopez, one of 47 Democrats on the 50-member council, criticized the administration of then-Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a fellow Democrat, for a lack of transparency.
“For months the city, state and federal representatives have not heard, intentionally or not, the 25th ward stakeholders’ urgent calls for long term shelters and the creation of more housing units and safety nets for Chicagoans and refugees,” wrote Sigcho-Lopez, who has represented that ward since 2019.
“In fact, the city and state have privatized many services and allowed special interest groups to dictate funding towards politically connected delegate agencies and nonprofits that do not provide reports of their work in the community and therefore are unaccountable,” the Democrat said, adding:
On repeated occasions, I have asked the mayor’s office, who is taking the lead on these efforts in the city, to consider repurposing empty public buildings and empty churches to provide shelter to vulnerable residents, independently of their immigration status. …
We also think it is our responsibility as public officials to identify other alternatives and partnerships given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis, which projects [to be] between 10-15,000 refugees in the next months.
In the email, Sigcho-Lopez told the city’s human services secretary that Chicago has a “white supremacist” problem.
“I am also concerned about the constant harassment by white supremacist groups, paid political consultants and politically connected nonprofits who have found it uncomfortable that our office asks questions and demands accountability from all our elected officials and publicly funded institutions,” Sigcho-Lopez wrote.
The documents obtained by The Daily Signal span August 2022 through October 2023.
Paul W. Goodrich, the city’s chief operating officer under Lightfoot, sent an email to Deputy Gov. Sol Flores on Oct. 11, 2022, linking to an El Paso city government landing page about the “migrant crisis.”
Flores, a top Pritzker aide who founded the nonprofit La Casa Norte in 2002 to fight homelessness, wrote back with this reply to Goodrich and Hou: “Holy CRAP == we are on their dashboard!!”
At least one federal official also counted the southern border as a crisis in correspondence with the Illinois governor’s office.
“The video intent was to be utilized showing the combined efforts by all during this humanitarian crisis and a show of solidarity and understanding between the U.S. Border Patrol and not only the city of Chicago but the state of Illinois as we are all being impacted by this crisis,” Eric Salazar, special operations supervisor in Del Rio strategic communications for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, wrote in a November 2022 email to Isabella Hurtado, an aide to Pritzker on health and human services issues.
After taking office Jan. 20, 2021, Biden scrapped most of the Trump administration’s border security measures, sparking a surge of illegal immigrants.
In 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 2.4 million encounters with illegal aliens at the U.S.-Mexico border, up from 1.7 million in 2021.
A reporter asked Biden Jan. 13 whether what is happening on the southern border is a crisis. The president responded, “No,” and blamed Republicans in Congress for the situation there.
“No, but I wish they would react,” Biden said. “I’ve been pushing them—my Republican colleagues— since I got into office. I think we have to make major changes at the border. I’ve been pushing it. I’m prepared to make significant alterations at the border. And there are negotiations going on for the last five weeks, so I’m hopeful we’ll get there.”
The emails obtained by The Daily Signal included those of interest groups and private companies that communicated with Chicago and Illinois officials.
Allison Arwady, then Chicago’s public health commissioner, sent an email last Aug. 10 to Mayor Brandon Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, Cristina Pacione-Zayas, and other officials about buses of illegal aliens heading to Chicago. In the email, Arwady refers to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“Partners at IDPH will also make contact with Indiana health department, given destination of family, to ensure awareness,” Arwady wrote about the influx of migrants. “Child’s family (as closest contacts, they would be at highest risk of any communicable disease) had obvious mental health crisis and a medical evaluation in that context, but no reports of physical illness, based on info currently available. This is reassuring.”
In an email exchange Sept. 16, Giulio Bruni, owner of the GBIT Solutions information technology consulting company, told Brandie Knazze, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, that his company could be effective in the crisis. Bruni referenced its partnership with Nebraska-based Lockwood Development.
“I have spoken to the partners at Lockwood Development and they are willing to delay redevelopment plans in order to assist with the current crisis and use redevelopment funds to make necessary building improvements if a fair lease agreement with the state/city were negotiated,” Bruni wrote to Knazze.
Bruni added: “The initial assessment of the property happened last October. As we are coming up on a year since then, it seems Chicago and the state still have not found enough suitable locations to house the incoming displaced migrant population.”
Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg helped launch in 2013 to advocate immigration and prison reform, sent a detailed proposal Oct. 10 to Flores, deputy governor under Pritzker.
“Nicaraguans and Cubans crossing between ports of entry [at the southern border] has plummeted by over 90%, these pathways do not exist for other countries to discourage unauthorized crossings and are not sufficient given the scope of the refugee crisis of 7.3 million Venezuelans having fled their country in recent years,” Schulte told Flores.
Schulte went on to blame Republicans for the problem.
“While it remains disappointing that Republicans in Congress continue to block immigration reform and Republican attorneys general are suing in court to eliminate the administration’s legal pathways approach, the Biden administration can take additional action to address the challenges created by the refugee crisis in Venezuela, the increasing number of displaced people in the Western Hemisphere coming to our southern border, and the related challenges facing cities trying to resettle large numbers of asylum-seekers,” Schulte wrote.
In an email Oct. 18, Josh Dembowitz, the Chicago-based project leader for Boston Consulting Group, wrote Knazze and numerous other Chicago officials.
“All, Thank you again for meeting today in the midst of last-minute budget prep and the broader crisis,” Dembowitz wrote. “We appreciate your partnership on this work, and your commitment to expediting the data requests to unlock insights we believe will benefit the state, the city, and our new arrival population.”
Although several state and city officials adopted the term “crisis” to describe the surge of illegal aliens, they pushed policies for “welcoming” and effectively subsidizing what became a staggering problem.
A year earlier, on Aug. 31, 2022, Hou, the state’s human services secretary, wrote of incoming illegal immigrants: “IDHS staff are at currently at the reception center and have engaged state-funded Welcoming Centers staff to be present for interpretation and other support services.”
On Sept. 2, 2022, Erendira Rendon, vice president of immigrant justice for the Resurrection Project, wrote to Lightfoot’s chief of staff, Sybil Madison, saying: “we ask that after the city’s rapid response, that the new arrivals be connected with the state Welcoming Centers who can continue case management and who can assist immigrants with vouchers to hotels.”
Kirstin Chernawsky, Illinois’ associate secretary of early childhood, family, and community for the Department of Human Services, wrote to Chicago city officials on May 4, 2023.
Among other things, Chernawsky sought to inform them that the “Asylum Seeker Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ASERAP), which provides six months emergency rental assistance (and is separate from resettlement case management), has been confirmed for asylum seekers in city shelter Aug. 31st-April 1st.”
After state and city officials touted welcoming centers, rental assistance, and hotel vouchers for Chicago’s growing population of illegal immigrants, however, the homelessness problem wasn’t improving.
The documents include Johnson’s announcement Oct. 3 of a chief homelessness officer for Chicago. A press release said the new mayor had “signed an executive order to establish a Chief Homelessness Officer for the City of Chicago to address the current homelessness crisis in Chicago.”
The release included a quote from Johnson.
“It’s long overdue to provide solutions for stable, permanent and affordable housing for more than 68,000 of our unhoused neighbors,” the mayor said.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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