Sep 13, 2023 - News

Texas, Denver using federal funds to send migrants to Chicago

Room cluttered with bags, blankets and clothes

Migrant belongings inside an Avondale police station last month. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

As city leaders call on the federal government for more help to care for thousands of migrants, the Brandon Johnson administration is frustrated to learn that some localities are using federal funds to buy migrants tickets to Chicago.

Why it matters: About a third of new arrivals are bused here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but many are also sent by Texas and Denver organizations using federal money without coordinating with Chicago officials.

Between the lines: Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed to Axios last week that the federal funds they provide to local organizations can be — and are — used to buy bus, train and plane tickets for migrants to come to Chicago.

What they're saying: "It feels confusing that they are allowed that flexibility to apply those resources for outmigration without verification on the receiving end that there is a validated sponsor," the city's chief of migration Cristina Pacione-Zayas tells Axios, noting that some migrants give Chicago police station addresses as their destination.

  • "That does not feel like that is a responsible use of dollars," she says, "especially if the city is receiving very minimal resources from the federal government."

Context: Pacione-Zayas first got wind of the issue from migrants arriving at O'Hare this month who told Chicago officials that FEMA had paid for their tickets.

  • The deputy chief of staff says only about one-third of migrant buses that arrive here have manifests — lists of passengers and their respective statuses.

By the numbers: Chicago is expected to spend more than $255 million on the migrant crisis by year-end, Johnson told City Council members Friday, per the Sun-Times.

  • So far, the feds have given $21 million to Chicago for migrant services.

Meanwhile, Pacione-Zayas says the city will soon release its migrant plan. Last week it unveiled a proposal to clear police stations by moving occupants to weatherized "base camps." Other priorities, according to Pacione-Zayas, include:

  • Improving safety and security around shelters.
  • Saving money by replacing the Kansas company the Lightfoot administration hired to run shelters with local organizations, social service agencies, restaurants and caterers. (Chicago has already paid the company more than $60 million.)
  • "Expanding resettlement services and case management" using additional state funding.
  • Taking a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to share information about Chicago's challenges and "the forecasting of a brutal winter."
  • Recruiting nearby towns "to open up their doors."

What we're watching: Vice President Kamala Harris is in town this week to plan for next year's Democratic National Convention. Will Chicago officials use the visit to highlight the need for more federal resources?


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