Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Obama administration chief of staff, wants to expand the city’s efforts to house young illegal immigrants from Central America, reportedly proposing to shelter an additional 1,000 of them by year's end.
"The influx of unaccompanied child migrants is a growing humanitarian crisis that we can no longer ignore," said Emanuel, according to The Chicago Tribune. "While we have our own challenges at home, we cannot turn our backs on children that are fleeing dangerous conditions.”
The mayor’s office says the federal government will pay for the youths’ shelter, education, health care, food, safety and social services.
However, officials are trying to get Chicago lawyers to provide free legal services for the youths, who arrived in hopes of staying with U.S. relatives but now face federal deportation hearings.
To be sure, Chicago has its own challenges, including a recent violent-crime wave in which at least 82 people were shot over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, with 16 victims dying.
The Chicago area already has nine such facilities, which according to the National Immigrant Justice Center have roughly 500 beds for illegal-immigrant youths already in the United States.
City official have yet to disclose the locations of the new sites, nor have said how many they will need and must be retrofitted to accommodate the youths.
Emanuel, also a former Illinois Democratic congressman, announces his plan amid the national debate on what to do with the estimated 57,000 illegal youths who have illegally crossed the southern U.S. border during the past nine months.
They hope to stay in the U.S. based on a 2008 law, enacted to curb human trafficking, that allow youths from non-border countries to live here.
Other cities and states have rejected housing the new arrivals, including some residents of the California city of Murrieta who held protests and turned away buses full of illegal border-crossers.
Earlier this month, Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, a major Obama supporter during his re-election effort, called on the president’s administration to take a more “humanitarian” approach to the crisis.
The White House in turn purportedly leaked word that O’Malley opposed a plan to send some of the youths to a suburban Maryland facility. The governor responded by saying he feared the new arrivals would not be welcome at that particular site.
Emanuel policy chief Michael Negron told the Tribune that his administration is focused on facilities already equipped for residential use, including those once used as hotels and dormitories.
"We think that it'd be better to find locations that are already residential … and wouldn't need a tremendous amount of work in order to get them ready and also not be as conspicuous," he said. "Ultimately, we want to make sure that the children are secure. The more visible the site, the more risk there could be extra security risk to the children."