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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promises to keep busing migrants to Democratic cities

Abbott made the vow in a letter to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The two leaders are feuding as a migrant surge is expected from the coming end of Title 42 border expulsions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference on March 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Abbott and state officials attended a news conference where they discussed the proposed Texas Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act legislation.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been sending migrants to Democratic areas.Brandon Bell / Getty Images file

CHICAGO — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday that he would not stop sending migrants to her city, even though she pleaded with him to halt the action. 

Lightfoot, a Democrat, complained in a letter Sunday that the city does not have the resources to keep up with the flow of people. Some of them are being kept in public spaces like police stations until shelter is available. 

In a response letter Monday, Abbott, a Republican, told Lightfoot to take her complaint to President Joe Biden, laying the responsibility for an ongoing border crisis at his doorstep. 

"To provide much-needed relief to our overrun border communities, Texas began busing migrants to sanctuary cities such as your 'Welcoming City,' along with Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, with more to come. Until Biden secures the border to stop the inflow of mass migration, Texas will continue this necessary program," Abbott wrote.

Lightfoot traveled to the White House in mid-April and specifically brought up the need for federal funding to accommodate an influx of migrants into Chicago, a person familiar with the conversation said. That person added that Lightfoot specifically talked to Julie Chávez Rodriguez, the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, who was just tapped as the campaign manager for Biden’s re-election.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Abbott and Lightfoot both said in a recent letter exchange that an already untenable flow of migrants would only be worsened by the end of a Covid ban on migrants, known as Title 42, on May 11.

The dust-up is just one way the end of the Covid-era rule is expected to affect not just border towns but also cities deep in the heart of the country. Border officials have already warned that they expect a record surge of people across the border. Abbott is among the leaders who has sent border migrants to other cities, saying so-called sanctuary cities should have to grapple with the plight of border towns.

Lightfoot argued that federal resources flow into states like Texas to mitigate the financial impact of immigration but that money is not following those bused or flown to Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks in Chicago on Feb. 1, 2023.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for more support to help deal with migrants bused to the city from Texas.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

“I will continue calling on the federal government for more resources and support, as well as much needed policy changes, just as I will call upon them to withhold all FEMA funding slated for Texas if chartered buses resume coming to our city,” Lightfoot wrote in her letter Sunday. “But I would rather work with you than against you. Governor Abbott, this is not a state v. state or city v. city problem. The immigration crisis is a national challenge that requires national collaboration.”   

Chicago has been grappling with where to house migrants as social service groups complain they are running out of space. The head of the Chicago Police Fraternal Order of Police said he filed a grievance Monday complaining about the city’s housing migrants in police stations. Among the complaints the social service groups — and the city — have made about Abbott’s busing of migrants is that there is a lack of coordination from his office, leaving no time or ability to accommodate the influx.   

“Abbott was going out of his way to be an a--hole about it,” said Joshua Hoyt, a board co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group. Hoyt had also done on-the-ground volunteering to assist with the influx of migrants. 

Abbott's office did not reply to a request for a response to Hoyt's remarks.

Abbott said in his letter that Chicago’s issue is minimal when it is compared to the situation in Texas border towns. 

“With Title 42 expulsions set to end next week, the federal government has estimated that we could have up to 13,000 illegal immigrants cross the U.S.–Mexico border every single day,” he wrote. “Some reports indicate that there are nearly 35,000 waiting to cross into El Paso as soon as Title 42 expulsions are no longer in effect. If Chicago can’t deal with 8,000 in less than a year, how are small Texas border communities supposed to manage 13,000 in just one day?”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said Monday that in all, $200 million in state and federal funding has been committed to help asylum-seekers find housing and other accommodations.

“Resources are stretched,” Pritzker said at a news conference Monday. “I think that Gov. Abbott is doing what he thinks is the most political thing that he can do to cause problems in the country for Democratically controlled states and cities, and that’s why he’s doing it.”

Migrants are led from one bus to another bus after arriving from Texas at Union Station on Sept. 9, 2022, in Chicago.
Migrants are led from one bus to another after having arrived from Texas at Union Station in Chicago on Sept. 9.Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images file