CHICAGO — People are arriving here now, too, by the busload.
Hundreds of refugees, rejected by Texas and plopped on buses under the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott, have arrived in recent days in Chicago, as Illinois’ largest city becomes the latest front in a northern migrant crisis.
A round of scared, masked arrivals, toting children and dreams, trundled off buses at downtown Chicago’s Union Station on Friday, meeting food and clothing — a sight familiar to New Yorkers who have watched near-identical images beam from Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal for months.
Abbott, a Republican, is protesting President Biden’s border policies in a ploy that critics see as cruel. Some of the rattled asylum seekers have made multiday trips from the border against their will, or arrived needing medical treatment and without food.
In so-called sanctuary cities like Chicago and New York — which has taken in thousands of migrants and opened 20 emergency shelter sites — leaders have attempted to offer open arms to the newcomers even as their support systems buckle.
There is no indication that the stream of buses will end. Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, the third city taking in the Texas asylum seekers, declared a public emergency Thursday that created an office tasked with meeting the migrants’ needs.
In the north, the Democratic mayors of Chicago and New York, Lori Lightfoot and Eric Adams, have communicated about the challenge. They spoke Friday, said Adams, the latest in a running dialogue between the mayors of America’s largest and third-largest city.
“We talk often. Chicago and New York are facing similar problems,” Adams told the Daily News. “We share ideas from crime to homelessness to what we’re facing now.”
The pair have taken similar rhetorical approaches to the crisis, each attempting to shame Abbott.
“He is an anti-American governor that is really going against everything we stand for,” Adams said at a news conference last month. “He is a global embarrassment. Because this is not what we do as Americans.”
This month, Lightfoot accused Abbott of “racist and xenophobic practices of expulsion,” excoriating him as a “man without any morals, humanity or shame.”
“The governor’s actions are not just inhumane — they are unpatriotic,” Lightfoot said at a news conference. “This cannot be who we are as Americans.”
But beyond blasting Abbott, New York and Chicago have so far taken somewhat different policy approaches, each with their own advantages and pitfalls.
In Chicago, the city is working in partnership with its surrounding suburbs and the state to spread the impact. Going into the weekend, the authorities were looking to identify more municipalities that could house migrants.
The tactic could help the city from growing overwhelmed. Chicago had received about 450 migrants from Texas through Friday, based on an official count, a number that could balloon quickly.
Abbott’s office said in an Aug. 31 statement that Texas was adding Chicago as a “dropoff location for the busing strategy.”
In his own statement, Abbott said, “Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status, and I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action.”
In action, Chicago’s approach has had its bumps. The small suburban village of Burr Ridge, west of the city, said Thursday that 64 refugees had been transported to the town without any prior notice from Chicago or the state.
On Saturday, the village’s Republican mayor, Gary Grasso, decried “poor communication by the state and the city of Chicago,” and suggested that Lightfoot’s criticism of Abbott was hypocritical.
He said he still had not heard from Chicago officials. Lightfoot’s office did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Still, Grasso said his town would have approved the transfer if Chicago had asked, and that the group of migrants — families that arrived legally in the U.S. — are welcome in Burr Ridge.
“I’m proud of them,” Grasso said in an interview. “But I’m disappointed in our governor and the mayor of Chicago.”
New York City has largely shouldered its burden alone, working to meet its obligation to provide housing to those in need under a statewide right to shelter provision. (The state, which runs the Port Authority, has played a role offering assistance at the point of entry.)
As of Thursday, the city reported that it had welcomed 9,800 asylum seekers through its shelter intake system during the crisis, and that 7,300 remained in city shelters. That amounts to a major strain on the shelters, where some 50,000 homeless people sleep nightly.
In July, the challenge led to an embarrassing disclosure for the city: A group of families slept one night on the floor of a temporary housing intake center in the Bronx.
Adams has acknowledged the city “dropped the ball” that night. But he has touted his administration’s overall response, arguing the city has managed to “fuel while we’re flying” since the buses began to roll up.
The number of arrivals continues to rise steadily, and about 1,400 migrant children started in city schools Thursday. Citing a fact-finding mission he sent to the border, Adams said he has received reports that the wave of migrants is only beginning.
“This number is going to increase substantially,” Adams said in the interview. “We have not begun to see the impact of this.”
Adams said his office has established direct communication with city officials in El Paso and other border cities, and that he intends to take a phone call with Lightfoot and Bowser “early this week.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a huge strain on our social safety net,” Adams said. “What we’ve received now is really the first letter of this paragraph.”
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