Chicago mayor urges Biden to grant work permits to half million illegal immigrants

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson urged President Biden on Thursday to grant work permits to nearly 500,000 illegal migrants living in the state. Johnson also said the city, which has roughly 2.7 million people, can "conservatively" welcome another 400,000 to 700,000 illegal migrants.

"We need the president to extend the same economic opportunities long term for our undocumented brothers and sisters, so they can build a better life here in the city of Chicago or wherever else they decide to live," Johnson said during a roundtable with urban business leaders on Thursday. 

"I want to make this emphatically clear: Chicago will never turn its back on people who wish to call the city of Chicago their home," Johnson said.


Johnson, whose one-year anniversary as mayor was also Thursday, said he penned a letter to the Biden administration, pushing harder for additional work permits, with the support of dozens of other city mayors, including Denver, New York, Seattle and San Francisco.

"I remain standing in my belief that a more inclusive and equitable future for all residents is truly possible, whether they arrived here yesterday or have been here for an extended period of time," he said.

The mayor added that even though the "humanitarian crisis" continues to overwhelm and "test the city," officials will not "waver in their commitment to the immigrant communities."


As the slow rollout of work permits issued by the federal government has left big cities overwhelmed by the illegal migrant crisis and overcrowded shelters, city leaders have been urging the administration to grant more permits for additional arrivals and extend existing ones. This year's work permits expire on April 24.

In February, more than 40 mayors sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ur Jaddou, calling for automatic extensions for existing work permits of at least 540 days.


On Thursday, the administration announced an extension from 180 to 540 days for certain categories of illegal migrants "to help prevent renewal applicants from experiencing a lapse in their employment authorization and documentation." It's unclear how many of Chicago's illegal migrants will be eligible for those extensions.

Last year, Johnson faced backlash from Chicago residents at several city and community meetings who were frustrated by illegal migrants being dumped in their neighborhoods. More than 20,000 migrants have arrived in the city since August 2022 and thousands remain in shelters.

Race for Illinois prosecutor seat features former appellate judge, professor with Democratic backing

An open seat to lead the nation’s second-largest prosecutor’s office has become one of the most spirited races in the Illinois primary with a Democratic matchup between a tough-on-crime judge and an attorney with union and establishment backing.

The Cook County state’s attorney primary features Eileen O’Neill Burke, a former appellate judge with a large campaign war chest, versus Clayton Harris III, a professor and former prosecutor who’s held government posts.

The race is the latest example of how the legacy of progressive Democrats who swept into big city prosecutor offices over the past decade has fractured. Some, including in Los Angeles, face tough reelection bids with blame on progressive policies for perceptions that cities are less safe. Others have resigned or face possible impeachment.


In Chicago, Democrats hoping to replace outgoing State’s Attorney Kim Foxx are walking a line, saying they'll uphold some of her progressive policies while also being critical of her tenure.

"We should be booming, and we’re not because of crime," said O’Neill Burke, who's more openly critical of Foxx. "This is something we can fix."

Meanwhile, Harris says punishments must be appropriate and consider racial disparities: "We can focus on our communities being safe without sacrificing justice."


Neither candidate has high name recognition. But the winner of Tuesday's primary in heavily Democratic Cook County is expected to coast to victory in November.

It’s an open race because Foxx, who easily won her first two elections, declined to run a third time. Her leadership was praised by reformers but also blasted for being soft on crime and the handling of high profile cases like Jussie Smollett.

One campaign issue has been the future of Foxx's controversial policy not to prosecute retail theft as a felony unless the value of the stolen goods is over $1,000. State law sets a $300 felony threshold.

Harris said he’d continue the practice.

"If someone came and took my cellphone, is that cellphone worth a felony on your record? I do not think so," he said. "We look at recidivism. We charge everyone appropriately."

O’Neill Burke said she’d scrap it.

"It doesn’t deter crime, it promotes it," she said of Foxx’s change.

In other cities, progressive policies are also being blamed for crime and homelessness. That’s even as violent crime, including homicides and shootings, has largely fallen in Chicago and nationwide to the same level as before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón survived a nonpartisan primary this month but expects a tough November election. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner faces the possibility of an impeachment trial. In San Francisco, Chesa Boudin was recalled by voters, while St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner resigned.

In the Chicago area, both candidates say Foxx made important strides. The state's attorney's office has more than 700 attorneys and is the largest after Los Angeles.

O’Neill Burke said she’d continue restorative justice efforts for young people and credited Foxx with diversifying the workforce. Harris has held up Foxx’s conviction review unit, which has overturned wrongful convictions, as a national model.

Harris says the prosecutor must improve the relationship with law enforcement.

On the campaign trail, he's talked about his personal life as a Black man raising children on Chicago’s South Side, as well as his professional experience in helping run government and lobbying elected leaders.

"Being a Black man. I’ve been pulled over before for no reason," he said. "We can have safe communities without being racially profiled."

Harris has scrutinized O’Neill Burke’s record as an assistant state’s attorney. He's put a spot spotlight on a decades-old murder case where O’Neill Burke, who is white, helped prosecute a Black child on charges he murdered an older white woman when he was 10 years old.

The conviction was thrown out by a federal judge who found the boy’s confession was coerced by police and taken without a parent or attorney present.

O’Neill Burke now says she’ll advocate for stronger legal protections for children under interrogation, but she wouldn’t change her work on the 1994 case as the boy’s attorney and parents were in court when he took the stand and repeated the confession.

"No one has ever questioned my conduct in this case or any case," she said, calling Harris’ campaign ads about the case a "distraction" for voters.

Harris disagrees.

"Instead of acknowledging that mistakes were made, there has been a doubling down," he said. "That’s the wrong attitude to have."

When it comes to fundraising, O’Neill Burke is ahead, with roughly double the amount of Harris, just under $2 million compared to roughly $750,000. Her sum includes money from top Republican donors.

But Harris has picked up hefty endorsements from labor unions, progressive leaders and the Cook County Democratic Party.


His Democratic ties are a top target for O’Neill Burke.

Harris was briefly a chief of staff for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, helping oversee the office after Blagojevich was arrested and ultimately convicted. Harris wasn't accused of wrongdoing.

O’Neill Burke deems Harris a "Democratic insider" while attempting to tie his lobbyist work to Republicans who oppose abortion. Her campaign promises including creating a unit within the prosecutor’s office to protect abortion rights.

"I’ve spent every single day for the last 30 years in a courtroom from every vantage point. That’s a significant advantage," she said in an interview. "He has spent a career answering to politicians and you cannot answer to a politician in this job."

Also running in the primary is Republican former Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, who lost a 2020 bid for the office.

Mayors want work permits extended to keep migrants employed, receive new asylum seekers

More than 40 mayors and county executives from around the country are calling on the federal government to extend work authorizations for illegal migrants, saying that without the measures thousands will lose their jobs, businesses will suffer and districts will find it harder to cater to new asylum seekers.

The elected officials – which include New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson – wrote a letter on Monday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ur Jaddou, calling for automatic extensions for existing work permits of at least 540 days.

Historically, migrants have been granted a 180-day grace period if their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) renewal application is still pending.

In 2022, USCIS extended the 180-day grace period to 540 days due to lengthy processing delays. 


That extension expired on Oct. 26 and now the mayors are requesting a "permanent automatic extension of work authorization" in the form of an interim final rule that extends work permits for 540 days or longer. 

"Without this, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers will lose their work authorization, businesses will lose staff, and our cities and counties will face an increasing challenge to provide shelter to the public," the mayors and county executives wrote. 

"If DHS does not address this impending crisis, local economies will suffer additional harm in the face of large job losses."


The signees wrote that local businesses are still struggling to address the current labor shortage and cannot handle further disruptions to their operations by losing immigrant workers. 

"We are concerned that the lengthy delays in adjudicating renewal applications for work authorization have not improved."

They wrote that as of June 2023, there were approximately 263,000 EAD renewal applications pending. 

Given these delays, they wrote, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will likely experience a lapse in their work authorization in the coming months. 

"As a result, cities and counties are bracing for similar events to transpire, and we are already hearing from businesses who may soon be forced to lay off their workers until their renewed EADs arrive."

The officials also wrote that if extensions are not granted it will "significantly impact our ability to receive newly arrived asylum seekers."

"Cities and counties across the United States are quickly running out of shelter space. If hundreds of thousands of already-employed immigrants lose their jobs, they are likely to lose their homes, and this will result in cities and counties experiencing even greater difficulty providing shelter space and additional services to the public," the letter reads.

"If DHS does not implement a permanent change to the automatic extension, any temporary extension should be for a period of no less than three years, to allow sufficient time for USCIS to work through the extensive work permit renewal backlog. We ask that you act swiftly so that the communities we represent do not experience the destabilizing effects of immigrant workers falling out of the workforce."

The signees are part of a group called the Cities For Action (C4A), made up of nearly 180 U.S. mayors and county executives who advocate for "humane immigration policies that strengthen their cities and reflect the nation’s values of inclusion and opportunity."

Adams, who has criticized the federal government’s response to the crisis, saying it would destroy New York City, said the migrants have a right to work in the Big Apple. At least 170,000 illegal migrants have arrived in New York since the spring of 2022.

"New York City thrives on the diverse and dedicated contributions of these community members and stripping people of their right to work is simply un-American," Adams said in a statement accompanying the letter.  

"I'm hopeful the federal government acts swiftly to protect the stability and security of hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers and their families."


Meanwhile, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, who last week announced cuts to public services to help fund the cost of his city’s migrant crisis, also signed the letter. About 40,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have arrived in Denver over the past year, and more than 3,500 are living in city-funded hotel rooms, according to the Colorado Sun.

"Over the past few weeks, Denver has seen record-high numbers of migrants arriving in our city, and very few have the ability to work and make a living for their families," said Johnston

"This has created simultaneous humanitarian and fiscal crises for our city, forcing us to look at significant budget cuts and reduction in services. We know that the ability for migrants to work is critical to Denver’s success, and it is imperative that DHS take immediate action to prevent even more migrants from losing their work authorization."