Shouts, tears, boos from crowd force recess of City Council committee meeting during heated migrant debate

By Chicago 7 Min Read

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s allies tried Tuesday to approve their own, softer version of a non-binding referendum on Chicago’s burgeoning migrant crisis but failed after being shouted down by an angry crowd ordered forcibly removed from City Council chambers.

“Sergeant-at-arms, clear the room,” Rules Committee Chairwoman Michelle Harris (8th) shouted after Chicagoans opposed to housing the new arrivals shouted down Council members on both sides of the issue.

Several people in the gallery, including a woman in tears, were escorted out by security after another observer singled them out as supporters of welcoming migrants.

“These are the people who are against us,” a man shouted, pointing at those being escorted out and waving other angry crowd members over.

Loud boos followed and persisted until the sergeant-at-arms restored some semblance of order about 10 minutes later. Amid the chaos, the Rules Committee was recessed until Nov. 16. That’s the day after the Council is scheduled to take a final vote on Johnson’s $16.6 billion budget.

“Do you want a race war?” one woman shouted at the height of the vitriol.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has been trying for weeks to put an advisory referendum on the March ballot asking voters if Chicago should remain a sanctuary city.

Frantic efforts to prevent that from happening at a special City Council meeting last week ultimately resulted in the bullying and manhandling allegations against Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) that forced Ramirez-Rosa to resign as the mayor’s floor leader and Zoning Committee chairman.

  • Ramirez-Rosa narrowly escapes City Council censure

Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting was called to substitute Beale’s simple sanctuary city question for a softer, more innocuous version.

The mayor’s version would say: “Should the city of Chicago impose reasonable limits on the city’s providing resources for migrant sheltering, such as funding caps and shelter occupancy time limits, if necessary to prevent a substantial negative impact on Chicago’s current residents?”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said that lengthy and toothless question is fundamentally flawed.

“Should we limit what we spend? … What happens when you reach the limit? What are you going to do when you say, ‘We’ve spent all the money we’re willing to spend’ and you still have buses arriving here?” Lopez said, raising his voice to be heard above the shouting from the gallery before it was cleared.

“This question does not answer the issue as to why people continue to be shipped to the city of Chicago. And they are shipped here because we remain unabashed in saying a welcoming city, a sanctuary city. Even though Republicans and Democrats are now taking full advantage of that.”

As the shouting continued, Lopez said, “We need to vote this down. We need a clean referendum that simply puts the question to all of Chicago: ‘Shall we remain a sanctuary city?’ Because what we know, and what so many in this room fear, is that the true coalition between the African American and Latino communities does exist around this question because both communities want an end to it.”

Beale noted Chicago spends “up to $40 million a month” on a migrant crisis that has prompted Johnson to race to open winterized base camps in impoverished Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that don’t want those tent camps before temperatures plummet to get migrants off police stations floors.

The intense public anger now on display at every Council and committee meeting is because of efforts to “shut people out from having a voice,” Beale said.

“When you don’t want the people to hear you — when you don’t want the people to have a voice — you have chaos. … That’s why you’re seeing the chaos in this city. Because you’re trying to silence the voice of certain people who just want to be heard,” Beale said.

“Give the people of Chicago a voice, you all. Give the people a chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We don’t want people to be disenfranchised,” he said. “That’s what this is doing. This is really throwing fuel on the fire.”

After the chaos, most public observers for the ensuing full Council meeting were relegated to a balcony viewing area that’s glassed off from the chamber.

Council votes to acquire site for temporary migrant camp

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council voted to accept donated land at 115th and Halsted streets. That site, slated for a retail/residential project, would in the near term become a winterized camp for asylum-seekers.

Last week, the Housing Committee voted to accept the 6.5 acres and 67,797-square-foot building donated by Albertsons Cos., parent firm of Jewel, which had operated the now-vacant grocery store.

But the full Council delayed the deal at its last meeting when local Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st) reiterated his concern it would delay development of the mixed-use project, known as Morgan Park Commons.

The ordinance approved Tuesday includes an amendment that eased Mosley’s concerns. It states the site would be used as a tent city for migrants but “not beyond Nov. 21, 2024.”

“I like it when we work together. That’s exactly is what this is about. I’m looking to the future — a future that includes Morgan Park Commons that is a regional redevelopment project that is going to be a catalyst for my ward,” Mosley said Tuesday.

“I have to first thank my colleagues here who gave me the support to be in this position today. And Mr. President, I have to thank you who met with my community who heard their concerns and made commitments and put them in a place where they are good with this. So, I’m good with it. And I ask my colleagues to support it.”

Ald. Anthony Beale at Nov. 7, 2023 meeting of the Chicago City Council’s Rules Committee

Ald. Anthony Beale at Tuesday’s meeting of the Chicago City Council’s Rules Committee.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

  • READ: More Sun-Times coverage of immigration issues

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