Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he’s ‘deeply concerned’ with Mayor Brandon Johnson’s migrant shelter plan

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday again expressed frustration with Chicago’s handling of the migrant crisis, saying he was “deeply concerned” about Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to hold off on opening new shelters.

Pritzker called out the plan as flawed and said Johnson has not pinpointed ways state funding can help shelter and support asylum-seekers.

“The city has not told the state where they would like us to put our resources to build new shelters,” Pritzker said during an unrelated event in Chicago on Monday. “So we can’t help if they don’t identify those locations.”

Asked for a response, Johnson’s office said that Pritzker and the state have the authority to “fund, stand up and operate a shelter” in any city in Illinois, including Chicago.

“The city of Chicago has carried the entire weight of the new arrival mission, sheltering nearly every asylum-seeker sent to Illinois,” according to the statement.

Pritkzer and Johnson have been at odds over the migrant situation for months. The lack of communication between city and state was highlighted when Johnson’s plan for a large tent encampment in the Southwest Side Brighton Park community was scratched by the state over environmental concerns.

Busloads of migrants started being sent north by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in August 2022 and as of Monday nearly 35,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago

The city-run shelter system has been at capacity for months. Johnson earlier this month confirmed that there has been a pause in standing up additional shelters since mid-December.

Asked whether the state would be providing additional funding to address the state’s migration crisis this year, Pritzker said he has encouraged state legislators to ensure they can fulfill the $160 million in additional funding the state has committed to address the issue.

“If you think this problem is going to end when the temperature warms up, it’s not,” he said. “We still need shelter for people.”

Pritzker came up with the $160 million largely by moving money around within the existing Illinois Department of Human Service budget but wants lawmakers to approve using surplus revenue to replenish those line items. Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, has expressed a reluctance to address migrant funding as a stand-alone issue.

Pritzker took questions on the migrant issue after hosting an abortion access roundtable with Chicago activists on the 51st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to receiving an abortion nationwide, which was struck down by the high court in 2022.

Democrats hope to use the issue to their advantage in this year’s elections, and Pritzker proclaimed reproductive rights as “perhaps the most intense issue that will be debated and discussed” ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

“I believe that a majority of Americans will go to the polls understanding that if they vote against the pro-choice candidates, that’s Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that they are voting to take away abortion rights and fundamental rights from women across the nation,” Pritzker said.

Chicago Tribune’s Alice Yin contributed.