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Texas governor sends migrants by private plane to Chicago
After landing at O’Hare, officials say two people who flew with the plane fled in an Uber. The Texas governor’s office took credit for the flight, saying they’re expanding efforts to send migrants to the city.
By Tessa Weinberg | WBEZ Dec 20, 2023, 4:58pm MST
Chicago officials say for the first time the Texas Division of Emergency Management sent a private chartered airplane with about 100 asylum-seekers to O’Hare Airport on Tuesday night.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office confirmed the state is responsible for the flight that departed from El Paso, Texas, and said more than 120 passengers were on board. A spokesman for Abbott said the state is “expanding our operation” to include sending migrants by plane to Chicago, in addition to the hundreds of buses they’ve used to transport migrants to the city since last year.
“Because Mayor Johnson is failing to live up to his city’s ‘Welcoming City’ ordinance by targeting migrant buses from Texas, we are expanding our operation to include flights to Chicago,” Abbott press secretary Andrew Mahaleris said in a statement.
Chicago police received a call about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday about the flight’s arrival, and two unidentified individuals who flew with the plane reportedly fled in an Uber before police arrived, according to a city statement. The Office of Emergency Management and the Chicago Police Department referred questions to the mayor’s office.
Abbott’s office declined to answer how the flight was paid for and whether state funds were used and said migrants signed consent waivers “available in multiple languages upon boarding.” The news of the plane’s arrival was first reported by WTTW.
The move is Texas’ latest escalation of its efforts to transport thousands of asylum-seekers from cities along the U.S.-Mexico border to Democrat-led sanctuary cities, like Chicago. Since August of last year, Chicago has received more than 600 buses from Texas cities including Brownsville, Del Rio, El Paso, Laredo and McAllen.
More than 26,000 people have arrived on buses from Texas, with another 4,252 people arriving via plane since this past June, according to city data.
The city has begun to crackdown on buses bringing migrants to the city, while it imposes a 60-day limit on migrants’ shelter stays and increases staff to help migrants reach their final destination. In an effort to regulate where and when buses drop off migrants, the City Council passed new rules that also give officials the ability to tow and impound buses, in addition to imposing $3,000 fines and charge for storage and towing fees. The first bus impounded under the enhanced rules last week came from Eagle Pass, Texas, and tried to drop off 49 passengers at the city’s designated landing zone for new arrivals without a permit.
But the rules have also led to a breakdown in communication from Texas officials, Johnson’s administration has said, with bus companies attempting to drop people off in nearby suburbs to skirt the enhanced regulations.
The city has filed 26 complaints against bus companies as of Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said. Another five buses transporting migrants were expected to arrive Wednesday.
The city has struggled to provide shelter for the more than 26,100 migrants that have arrived to the city since August of last year. After briefly clearing police stations from housing migrants over the weekend, more were back Monday morning. As of Wednesday, 14,094 migrants were housed across 27 city shelters, with another 18 in police stations and 296 at O’Hare Airport waiting for a spot.
The death of a 5-year-old boy living in a Pilsen migrant shelter, and the hospitalization of several shelter residents, has placed renewed scrutiny on shelter conditions and the medical care provided. Earlier this week, Johnson placed the blame on Abbott for putting “families on buses without shoes, cold, wet, tired, hungry, afraid, traumatized” that was leading to migrants “showing up sick.”
The city’s public health department in a bulletin this month said it has seen nearly 400 chickenpox cases this year — the most since it first began doing surveillance in 2005 — and that 81% of cases this year were among migrants living in congregate settings like city shelters.
“It’s disheartening that the governor of Texas is literally invoking chaos, without having a real clear willingness to coordinate,” Johnson said Monday, later adding: “They’re just dropping off people anywhere. Do you understand how raggedy and how evil that is? You’re just going to put people on a bus and just take them somewhere and drop them off in the middle of the night? And then you want to hold us accountable for something that’s happening down at the border. It’s sickening.”
Abbott’s office indicated it will not be stopping its practices of sending migrants to Chicago any time soon.
“Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis,” Mahaleris, Abbott’s press secretary, said in Wednesday’s statement.