Chicago’s new progressive Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a speech after he was sworn into office Monday that the Windy City has “enough room” for migrants surging across the border.
“We don’t want our story to be told that we were unable to house the unhoused or provide safe harbor for those who are seeking refuge here. Because there’s enough room for everyone in the city of Chicago whether you are seeking asylum or you are looking for a fully funded neighborhood,” Johnson said.
“We don’t want our story to be that Chicago became so traumatized by violence and despair that our residents felt they had no other choice but to leave. And so better days ahead Chicago. Our stories get to reach beyond this moment. And I’m grateful to be working with a body of government that is committed to that transformation,” he added.
The flow of new migrant arrivals into Chicago is expected to increase now that pandemic-era Title 42 restrictions on border crossings have ended. Last week, outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an emergency declaration in response to illegal immigrants being bussed to her city by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Her office counted over 8,000 arrivals since August 2022.
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“Speaking of the right thing to do, the soul of Chicago tells us that we will never close our doors to those who come here in search of a better life,” the mayor said later on. “For as Scripture says, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’ That has always been the soul of Chicago, and it will always be the soul of Chicago.”
“We know the strength of a city is determined by how we treat the most vulnerable,” Johnson added. “And so we chose to be a strong city. We must reject a zero-sum formulation between investing in those who have been here for decades and supporting those who have been sent here on a bus even this morning. We can do both Chicago, and we can all strive together.”
Acknowledging that “too many Chicagoans fear for their safety,” Johnson attempted to draw ties between the 2021 death of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by since-fired Chicago Police Department officer Eric Stillman at the end of a foot chase, to last week’s murder of 24-year-old Chicago Police Officer Aréanah Preston on her way home from work. Joseph Brooks, 19, Trevell Breeland, 19, Jakwon Buchanan, 18, and a 16-year-old boy face charges of first-degree murder and armed robbery.
“The tears of Adam Toledo’s parents are made of the same sorrow of Officer Preston’s parents,” Johnson said. “To the family of Officer Preston, my heart is with you.”
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The mayor, noting that he himself lives in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, also referenced how the city will host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
“The very fact that the mayor of Chicago lives in one of the most disinvested and violent communities in the city, it shows us what’s possible,” he said. “So let’s not be discouraged by what it is. Let’s make sure we never stop imagining what it could be. So we’ll create a Chicago where the big development projects get done, the poor have a pathway out of poverty and large events like the Democratic National Convention that would generate a vitality in every single neighborhood, that that gets done.”
Johnson, 47, is a former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union who was little known when he entered the mayoral race in 2022 and had no experience within city government. But the two-term Cook County commissioner gradually climbed atop a crowded field with the support of the influential union he once worked for, endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and local progressive groups to knock off the incumbent mayor, Lightfoot, and win a tough runoff in April.
He has since tried to appeal to those who didn’t back him in the election, stocking his transition team with familiar names from Chicago corporations and philanthropies beside leaders of organized labor and progressive groups. He selected a veteran of Chicago’s emergency management agency as his chief of staff and a retired police commander who is popular among rank-and-file officers as interim leader of the Chicago Police Department.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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