After another racially-charged debate on the migrant crisis signaling likely defeat, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s allies on Wednesday delayed a City Council vote that would have paved the way for donated land at 115th and Halsted streets to be turned into a winterized base camp for asylum-seekers.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the mayor’s floor leader, and Housing Committee Chair Byron Sigcho-Lopze (25th) used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the measure for one meeting.
The abrupt move came at the end of an emotional debate during which it became clear the measure may not get the required 26 votes.
Earlier this week, the Housing Committee — over the objections of local Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st) — 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.
Mosley said he had not been consulted about using the site for Chicago’s second tent city for migrants, and feared it might hinder groundbreaking for Morgan Park Commons, the mixed-use project already planned for that site.
When the land acquisition came up again Wednesday, Mosley reiterated his opposition, while acknowledging the Johnson administration is committed to Morgan Park Commons and has said the camp will be gone by next November.
“I understand that, despite this vote today, it doesn’t change if this is coming or not. But … I cannot change my pledge to my community … I promised we will make these decisions together.”
With that, the floodgates opened on yet another divisive debate on the migrant crisis.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said he volunteered to use Gage Park fieldhouse in his ward to house migrants back when only 160 asylum-seekers were sleeping on police station floors. Now, almost 3,000 migrants are in those stations or in tents outside, yet Chicago remains” a city without a plan,” Lopez added.
“It was 33 degrees yesterday and we still have people outside in tents. … We have to come up with a plan. The problem is, none of us has heard an articulated plan on how we’re going to move forward on this months, two months, six months from now, where the funding is going to come through, who is going to pay for it and who we’re going to hold responsible at the federal level,” Lopez said.
Johnson said he understands that public “patience is running short,” but his goal remains to have the base camps up and running before winter.
“It snowed, but winter is not here yet,” the mayor said. “No one is caught off-guard or by surprise. … I know there are individuals who wish we had more time. But we live in Chicago. We’ve got to get people out of police stations. People cannot sleep outside. They can’t be on the floors at airports.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said it would be a “travesty” for the Council to override the wishes of the local alderperson.
“People said there’s a plan. Yeah, there’s a plan. The plan is to shove it down the 12th Ward’s throat. The plan is to shove it down the 21st Ward’s throat. That’s the plan,” Beale said.
Noting that the donated land has been vacant for more than a decade, Beale asked: “What reassurance do we have that it’s going to be redeveloped? Is it in writing or is it verbal? … Don’t fall for the okey-doke. We’ve seen the smoke-and-mirrors before. Good luck developing that land.”
Ramirez-Rosa reiterated the Johnson administration’s commitment to Morgan Park Commons.
“This is a free piece of land. You don’t turn down a free piece of land. And this free piece of land will sooner rather than later be the Morgan Commons Development, which will be a development for the people of the Morgan Park community to make sure that there’s mixed-use, multi-family development there,” he said.
Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) warned her colleagues they were “wasting time fighting each other.”
“It’s super easy to point fingers. … But I haven’t heard anyone propose a real solution. Show me something better. When 30,000 Ukrainians came to the city of Chicago, did we ask the public, ‘Should we remain a sanctuary city?’ We didn’t ask those questions. We needed to do everything possible to help re-settle them,” Fuentes said.
“It doesn’t matter whether we are a sanctuary city or not. Those buses will not stop coming. … There will still be children who are malnourished, who spent months in the desert who are sleeping on cold floors in the city of Chicago because asking the question doesn’t provide a solution.”
Beale has tried for weeks to put an advisory referendum on the March ballot asking voters if Chicago should remain a sanctuary city.
But he suffered another setback Wednesday when the Johnson-controlled Rules Committee added two innocuous advisory questions to the ballot.
That will fulfill the three-question limit when combined with a binding referendum asking Chicagoans to authorize the City Council to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end property sales to generate $100 million a year to combat homelessness.
Mayoral allies preemptively deferred consideration of all three referenda until the full Council meets again on Tuesday.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) sided with Beale.
“It just seems a shame that we’re employing tactics that date back to the old Machine days of Daley to push off questions that the people of Chicago should be asked and allowed to answer,” Reilly said.
“This is a hot-button issue that all of our constituents are talking about. Let’s hear them out.”
More coverage of migrants in Chicago
Where to house migrants
- Chicago signs $29.3 million contract to build ‘winterized base camps’ for migrants
- Plans for migrant shelter at Amundsen Park field house on hold as city seeks alternate site
- As migrant crisis grows will faith groups step up and offer unused buildings?
- Lawsuit seeks to stop Chicago from using public buildings to house migrants
Long waits for work visas
- Asylum-seekers’ long wait for work permits: ‘It feels terrible, especially because I’m used to working’
- Chicago Democrats are pushing Biden to speed up work permits for migrants. Will they succeed?
- A year since the first buses of migrants arrived in Chicago, the journey to asylum for Vannessa Olivera, others is just beginning
How to pay
- City Council OKs spending another $34.5 million on burgeoning migrant crisis
- Preckwinkle pitches 2024 budget with more money for asylum-seeker health care
- Worst-case scenario: Chicago budget gap could reach $1.9 billion by 2026
- Chicago faces 2024 budget shortfall of $538 million — more than a third of it tied to migrant crisis