The following essay was written by Mary Williams Walsh, a New York Times escapee and the managing editor of News Items. It’s a terrific piece, worth reading in full, about one of the most important issues of the 2024 presidential election. — John Ellis
Last year, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott started sending migrants by bus and by plane to America’s self-designated sanctuary cities, his stated goal was straightforward: He wanted to repudiate President Biden’s “open-border policies.”
He didn’t say he wanted to throw America’s third-largest city into disarray, or to turn Chicago’s residents against Brandon Johnson, the progressive mayor they elected just last April. He certainly didn’t talk about stirring up a hornets’ nest ahead of the Democratic National Convention, set for next summer on Chicago’s lakefront.
But that’s what Abbott has done, and the turmoil in Chicago may have figured in President Joe Biden thinking yesterday, when he confirmed that he was going ahead with construction of about 20 more miles of Trump’s unfinished border wall, saying the current wave of migration over the US-Mexico border left him no choice. The deportation of Venezuelans in the US illegally will also begin. Work on the wall will use money that Trump set aside but had not yet spent when he left office. Biden suspended construction on the day of his inauguration.
The president said he still doesn’t believe border walls are effective, but Congress wouldn’t repurpose the money, and federal law required it to be spent as appropriated by the end of 2023.
It’s been a rough few weeks in Chicago. Mayor Johnson, a former organizer for the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, was elected last April after a campaign of lofty promises: racial justice, fair housing for all, “community-centered strategies to combat poverty,” and more. Johnson didn’t offer a whole lot of detail on how much his goals would cost, or where the city would get the money, but that didn’t seem to bother his voters. He had made frequent references to “A Tale of Two Cities,” and that image resonated with people. They saw in him the possibility that at long last, the city government would make their needs a priority.
Even then, last spring, busloads of migrants were already arriving in Chicago—but nowhere near as many buses as now. This fall something changed. In mid-September Mayor Johnson said the city had a $538 million budget deficit, six times what his predecessor had forecast. And then it seemed as if the floodgates opened, and the city least able to accommodate the migrants was suddenly getting more than anyone else. Hundreds of migrants were being dropped off daily on street corners, exhausted after long journeys, some with small children in tow, clutching meager possessions in plastic bags and bundles.
The Salvation Army facilities were overflowing. Downtown hotels that had failed during the pandemic were quickly filled. Schools and colleges had no space because classes had resumed. Migrants lined the floors of police stations and a shuttle bus terminal at O’Hare Field. The city’s Emergency Management Office said there was absolutely no more space, and the buses kept coming.
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