Preckwinkle bends ears, twists arms to help Johnson deliver $70 million in migrant funding (2024)

A divided City Council committee agreed Monday to slap another $70 million Band-Aid on Chicago’s migrant crisis after behind-the-scenes lobbying by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and others.

Preckwinkle was among those calling recalcitrant City Council members in recent days, urging them to support the $70 million in migrant funding Mayor Brandon Johnson promised months ago. Johnson then backed out of an agreement to match $70 million in Cook County funding to go with a $175 million commitment from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Before the lobbying squeeze, key members of the Black Caucus, in closed-door briefings, had strenuously opposed new migrant funding, sources said.

After the frenzied phone calls, it wasn’t even close. The Budget Committee approved $70 million in surplus spending, 20-8, setting the stage for full Council approval on Wednesday.

In his 2024 budget, Johnson set aside just $150 million for the migrant crisis, acknowledging that amount would only be enough to cover expenses through the first quarter.

Preckwinkle bends ears, twists arms to help Johnson deliver $70 million in migrant funding (1)

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The mayor said he deliberately shortchanged the mission to keep the heat on the federal government to step up and bankroll a burden he called “unsustainable” for Chicago and other major cities.

The pressure tactic has largely fallen flat.

That leaves Chicago taxpayers on the hook to shoulder a burden that has exacerbated historic political tensions between Black and Hispanic Chicagoans and fueled a “what about us” debate between migrants and local residents.

“Here we are begging for more money when we don’t have money for the people here,” Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said Monday as he led the charge against the proposal. “We don’t have money for after-school programs. We don’t have money to help our kids get off the streets. Yet, we’re throwing money left and right” at migrants.

Preckwinkle bends ears, twists arms to help Johnson deliver $70 million in migrant funding (2)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Budget Director Annette Guzman said Monday that the $70 million will be drawn from the city’s assigned fund balance from 2022 “which was set aside in the event that additional resources were needed to support the new arrivals mission.”

Beale has failed repeatedly to put an advisory referendum on the ballot that would have allowed Chicagoans to vent their anger by weighing in on the question of whether or not Chicago should remain a sanctuary city. That’s a status that has made Chicago a political target for Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is largely responsible for sending 39,000 migrants to Chicago since August 2022.

“They vote for us, and they send us down here, and then we’re throwing more money out the window on a population of people who are coming here, and they’re living better than the people who are here. They’re getting more resources than the people who are here. That is a huge, fundamental problem for me,” Beale said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) sang a similar tune, pointing specifically to the still devastated West Side victims of last summer’s record flooding.

“Those that experienced millions of dollars in damage in their homes last year — we have not allocated a dime for them. The senior in my ward that has — not three leaks in a roof but three holes in a roof — we can’t help. ... The senior who has a porch falling off the back of her house — all she can get from the city is tickets and more tickets,” Taliaferro said.

“When we have forgotten about the family that lives here, it becomes very difficult or me to support another $70 million going somewhere else. I’m talking residents that are in their 80s and in their 90s who have spent a lifetime giving to this city,” he said.


  • West Side flooding prompts deluge of complaints at budget hearing

South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) said he’s been asked to take a parade of difficult votes — to eliminate the subminimum wage, repeatedly reject an arbitrator’s ruling on police discipline and place on the ballot the now-failed binding referendum to raise the real estate transfer tax to combat homelessness.

“I have yet to see anything for my community. … That has yet to happen in this administration. We can’t keep asking and no one can point to anything. That’s a sign of blatant disrespect. Yet we’re being asked to vote for an additional $70 million. I can’t support this,” Moore said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), the Council’s dean and vice mayor, referred to the frenzied weekend phone calls that salvaged the funding.

“Some of us got calls from the other level of government asking us to support this, which means it’s important to the other entity of government. That we’re all in this together. It’s something that has to be done,” Burnett said.

Preckwinkle said she focused on those she has known for years.

“I talked to people who were my colleagues in the City Council when I served there for almost 20 years and shared with them that the county was prepared to step up, and the state, of course, and, hopefully, they would as well,” Preckinkle said Monday after joining Pritzker at an unrelated news conference about medical debt.

Preckwinkle bends ears, twists arms to help Johnson deliver $70 million in migrant funding (3)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

To help top mayoral aides with the hard sell, Burnett asked Guzman: “If we didn’t do this, then what?”

Guzman said the city projects a certain number of migrants to arrive in Chicago, with a projected uptick in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention.

“You’ll probably see a return to the number of migrants who could be in parks or trying to stay in police stations or, God forbid we will not have them in airports anymore. But you will see an increase in unhoused populations … throughout our neighborhoods based on the modeling that we’ve done. You’ll see more resources being used up at our hospitals. You’ll see more resources than there are currently being called out for our fire and our police,” Guzman said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the $70 million is “real money we’re not gonna have” to cover projected budget shortfalls when federal stimulus funds used to prop up the city budget dry up.

“I have a very difficult time voting for this when I know that situation is coming right around the corner,” Reilly said.

Given the rate of city spending on the migrant crisis, Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) asked Guzman whether $70 million would be enough to carry the city through Dec. 31. She assured him it would.


  • Divided City Council approves $51 million in migrant crisis funding
  • READ: More stories in the Sun-Times about immigration
Preckwinkle bends ears, twists arms to help Johnson deliver $70 million in migrant funding (2024)
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