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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Illinois governor tells Biden migrant influx is ‘untenable’

By Mitch Smith

J.B. Pritzker, the influential Democratic governor of Illinois, called out President Joe Biden earlier this week for a federal response to the migrant crisis that he said was suffering from “red tape,” disorganization and a lack of funding.

“Unfortunately, the welcome and aid Illinois has been providing to these asylum seekers has not been matched with support by the federal government,” Pritzker said in a three-page letter to the president that described how his state’s largest city, Chicago, had been overwhelmed as more than 15,000 migrants arrived in Illinois over 13 months.

“Most critically,” added the governor, whose state will host the Democratic National Convention next summer, “the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.”

The letter from Pritzker, usually a staunch ally of the president, reflected the fast-growing impatience of state and local Democrats who are scrambling to keep up with the busloads of migrants arriving in places like Chicago and New York City.

White House officials said Monday that top aides to Biden spoke with Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson about the migrant situation over the weekend, and that more than $46 million in federal grants had been sent to help the city and state this fiscal year.

In a statement, Angelo Fernández Hernández, a White House spokesperson, emphasized the administration’s efforts to contact migrants eligible to apply for work authorization and to speed permit processing for those who apply.

“Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to block the reform the immigration system needs,” Fernández Hernández said, adding that “we will continue to work closely with Illinois and states and cities across the country.”

In the places absorbing the largest numbers of migrants, local officials have struggled to keep up. After crossing the southern border, thousands have made their way to Democrat-led Northern cities with a push from officials in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. But those buses account for only a fraction of the arrivals, with others arranging travel on their own or through nongovernmental organizations.

In Chicago, where new arrivals, many from Venezuela, have filled police station lobbies and park buildings, city leaders reached a $29.3 million contract last month that calls for housing migrants in winterized tents. In Denver, officials activated an emergency operations center last week to respond to the growing number of arrivals.

The influx has been most acute in New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul said in August that “this crisis originated with the federal government, and it must be resolved through the federal government.” Mayor Eric Adams added to the criticism last month by warning that the arrival of more than 110,000 migrants “will destroy New York City.”

When the first busloads of migrants headed north, Democratic officials focused their critiques on border-state Republicans. But in recent months, there has been a growing chorus of Democratic discontent with Biden’s administration in large, liberal cities that usually represent friendly venues for the president.

Though Democrats in New York and Illinois cheered last month when Biden agreed to speed up temporary work authorization for Venezuelans who arrived before the end of July, Pritzker called Monday for federal officials to waive application fees for that authorization and to quicken the review of applications.

“We ask that the White House and the administration continue to look for ways to ‘cut the red tape’ and speed up the work authorization process by all means necessary, including instituting a mass blanket fee waiver,” wrote Pritzker, whom some Democrats have eyed as a potential future president.

The governor listed a number of other grievances with the federal response — a lack of data collection, a muddled chain of command, insufficient funding — and complained that some of his state’s requests “have been largely ignored.” Pritzker also asked Washington to coordinate busing efforts, saying “the federal government must stop abdicating responsibility.”

“There is much more,” the governor said, “that can and must be done on a federal level to address a national humanitarian crisis that is currently being shouldered by state and local governments without support.”

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