Pritzker discusses book bans, migrant arrivals

PRM - Governor Pritzker Visit_group pic 2023

Gov. JB Pritzker — MRN file photo

CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker was in Hyde Park Tuesday at the University of Chicago’s library to discuss Illinois’ fight against book bans.

The university is building a collection of every book that has been banned in the U.S. and is partnering with the Digital Public Library of America to make books more accessible where they’ve been the subject of bans.

Pritzker, who earlier this year signed a law prohibiting libraries from receiving state grants if they ban books on ideological grounds, joined representatives of the university in condemning book bans.

“There are small mobs of people around the country and here in Illinois who are trying to use the terminology of freedom and saying that they are protecting our children, but they are using it as a veil for their bigotry,” Pritzker said.

The American Library Association, which tracks book bans, found that between January and August, there were 22 attempts to restrict access to books in Illinois, targeting 98 unique titles. Most challenged books around the U.S. were written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community, according to the ALA.

The off-topic questions at the Chicago news conference, however, focused on the state’s response to the influx of migrants and what Pritzker said was about $500 million in spending between the city and state to address the situation.

Since last August, Chicago has been one of the cities targeted by Republican leaders like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others who’ve paid for buses and air travel to relocate asylum-seekers from their states. Approximately 15,000 migrants have come to Chicago in the last 13 months, but that number is expected to grow in the coming weeks.

While Pritzker said there has been “lots of communication” between his staff and Abbott’s, he accused Abbott and other “border politicians” of being deliberately unhelpful.

“You don’t hear him telling Republicans that they need to go to work in Washington on behalf of reforms at the border,” Pritzker said. “Instead, he’s just sending busloads around the country and causing chaos, frankly, wherever he is doing that.”

Pritzker again reached out to President Joe Biden to play a larger role in coordinating relocation efforts.

“There is much more 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,” Pritzker wrote in a three-page letter to the White House on Monday.

Without naming GOP figures like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Pritzker blamed political leaders who “have shipped people to our state like cargo in a dehumanizing attempt to score political points.” But he also faulted the Biden administration for its lack of support for Illinois, which has already dedicated $330 million to addressing the influx of 15,000 migrants and counting.

“Today, Illinois stands mostly unsupported against this enormous strain on our state resources,” Pritzker wrote.

Since last August, Chicago has been one of the cities targeted by Republican leaders like Abbott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others who’ve paid for buses and air travel to relocate asylum-seekers from their states.

Migrants hail mostly from Central and South America, including a large contingent fleeing economic and political collapse in Venezuela. New York City, which began receiving migrants earlier in 2022, has seen more than 110,000 asylum-seekers enter the city in the last year and a half, though some have moved onto other places, including Chicago.

On Friday, Pritzker’s office announced the state would send an additional $30.3 million to Chicago to address the needs of asylum seekers, along with roughly $11 million to be split among several municipalities in the Chicago area and $250,000 for downstate Urbana. The money represents nearly all of a $42.5 million line item in the state’s budget for the current fiscal year, which began in July.

The governor has been a vocal Biden ally, including in his monthslong effort to bring the Democratic National Convention to Chicago next summer. During a visit to Chicago in June, the president praised Pritzker as having “helped me more than anybody in America” in his 2020 election bid.

Read More: In Chicago visit, Biden heaps praise on Pritzker, touts economic recovery ahead of 2024Chicago to host 2024 Democratic National Convention

In his carefully worded letter, the governor thanked Biden for steps his administration had taken to assist Illinois’ response to the migrant crisis, like providing “modest” funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But he was unequivocal in expressing the need for more federal aid.

“The burden of funding the state and city have taken on is not sustainable only by our budgets,” Pritzker wrote.

‘Untenable’

Pritzker accused the federal government of “abdicating responsibility” for asylum-seekers once U.S. Customs and Border Protection releases the migrants after any initial detention at the border.

The states busing migrants to Illinois have typically given no warning to state and city officials, and the pace of arrivals has been accelerating in recent weeks. Volunteer groups have worked to fill in the gaps of the ad hoc response. Pritzker urged the Biden administration to “take a much more active role in managing the transport and destination of the transport of asylum seekers.”

“Unfortunately, the welcome and aid Illinois has been providing to these asylum seekers has not been matched with support by the federal government,” Pritzker wrote. “Most critically, the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.”

The governor also criticized the White House for having a disorganized and disjointed system for responding to leaders in states and cities taking on migrants. Pritzker recommended that instead of the current system of “too many different federal department contacts — who are uncoordinated with one another,” the federal government should create “a single office with an identified leader” to coordinate with state and city leaders.

The governor sent the letter one day after he, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and the White House spoke on a conference call. Last week, tensions flared between Pritzker and the new mayor’s allies on the Chicago City Council after Johnson’s administration signed a $30 million contract with a security firm to set up a “base camp” for migrants, many of whom are sleeping in airports and police stations across the city.

Work Permits

At the end of August, when the number of asylum-seekers who’d arrived in Chicago numbered approximately 13,000, Pritzker and other political and business leaders urged the Biden administration to allow Illinois to sponsor work permits for migrants. The idea is a bipartisan one that other states have also requested, especially as the U.S. economy still faces labor shortages in key industries while it continues to recalibrate from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More: Pritzker, state leaders call on Biden to allow Illinois to sponsor work permits for migrants

In response, the Department of Homeland Security granted Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants last month while announcing plans to accelerate paperwork processing times. But Pritzker argued that TPS-eligible migrants will still have to wait months for their work authorization paperwork to clear, and he urged further action from Biden to “cut the red tape.” And for non-Venezuelan migrants, the governor asked Biden to waive the “high cost” fee to apply for TPS.

“Mr. President, I urge you, (DHS) Secretary Mayorkas, and the rest of your administration to take swift action and intervene on our behalf and on behalf of the other affected states and their residents, as well as on behalf of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who undertook a dangerous and difficult journey in hopes of attaining public safety and forging a better life for themselves and their families,” Pritzker wrote.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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