Updated Dec 21, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Texas governor charters first migrant flight to Chicago

 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference on January 31, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a news conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this year. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had over 100 asylum seekers flown from his state to Chicago by charter plane this week, officials in the Illinois city and from the governor's office said.

Why it matters: It's a major escalation in Abbott's protest of President Biden's immigration policies that's seen tens of thousands of migrants bused from Texas to mostly Democrat-run cities in a year that's been marked by record numbers of families crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. amid a global humanitarian crisis.

Details: A city of Chicago spokesperson said in a Wednesday night email that police were alerted to the group of asylum seekers' arrival aboard a "private plane chartered by the Texas Department of Emergency Management" at O'Hare Airport about 7:15pm local time.

  • The flight from El Paso, Texas, left the group at Signature Flight, a network that supports private aviation, but two "unidentified individuals who flew with the plane reportedly fled Signature Flight and left the scene" in a taxi before police arrived, the spokesperson said.
  • "The City is currently working to find space in the shelter system for all asylum seekers currently staying at O'Hare Airport."
  • Texas officials said more than 120 migrants were on the flight.

State of play: A Chicago migrant dashboard shows 4,252 migrants have arrived by plane, but it has usually been organizations like Catholic Charities sending them from Texas on commercial flights. 

  • Texas' latest action appears to be in direct response to a new Chicago law made official a week ago that allows city officials to impound buses sent from Texas that either have not been coordinated with them 48 hours in advance and/or do not arrive at the official landing zone or in the official hours of 8am-5:30pm Monday-Friday.
  • Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson told the Chicago Tribune last week that "bus companies, contracted by the State of Texas, flagrantly violate all safety measures."

The intrigue: Chicago officials told Axios Texas officials previously provided regular updates on how many buses were being sent to the city, but this communication stopped earlier this week.

What they're saying: "Because Mayor Johnson is failing to live up to his city's 'Welcoming City' ordinance by targeting migrant buses from Texas, we are expanding our operation to include flights to Chicago, like the Biden Administration has been doing across the country," Eduardo Leal, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in an emailed statement Thursday.

  • "Governor Abbott launched the border bus mission in April 2022 to provide support to our overrun and overwhelmed border communities as the Biden Administration leaves thousands of migrants in their towns," he added.
  • "Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis."

Go deeper: What Texas spends on busing migrants

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further details on the flight and comment from Gov. Greg Abbott's office.

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