Clarence Page

As a long, dreaded January chill made life on Chicago’s streets unthinkable for waves of migrants bused north from Texas, city, state and federal officials engaged in a new round of finger-pointing and buck-passing.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told reporters Monday he was “deeply concerned” that Chicago officials had no plans to open new shelters.

A couple of days later, Mayor Brandon Johnson insisted that he, too, is concerned and shifted blame to the state, for an alleged failure to hold up its part of the effort. The mayor urged the state to build more shelter space in other municipalities.

Johnson has the city back to saying it will evict migrants from a shelter after they spend 60 days there.

“What the state committed to doing back in November, that process has not moved as quickly as this (60-day) policy will hold,” Johnson said. “This policy was really attached to a larger operation that included … 2,200 beds. That’s what the state of Illinois committed to doing.”

In our nation’s capital, the urban political unrest over the migrant influx has found its way into congressional gridlock. Although the border issues have been mostly a Republican issue since Donald Trump launched his first presidential campaign with promises to build a border wall, recent pressures from polar vortexes, Republican governors torturing Democratic cities, and a looming presidential election have pushed border security to the front burner for Democratic Congressional leaders, too.

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Oh, yes, House Republicans raised temperatures on the immigration issue by tying the package to Ukraine funding, which, sad to say, has turned what traditionally was a bipartisan cause into a mainly Democratic priority, largely thanks to Trump. As long as Joe Biden wants to send American aid to Ukraine, it appears, Trump is against it.

So President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both part of the Cold War generation, try to approve aid Ukraine desperately needs to stave off Vladimir Putin over the bulldog hostility of Trump.

Bizarrely, Trump — not even yet the GOP presidential nominee — functions as an opposition force in exile, effectively becoming a gatekeeper without any official position of any kind.

Behind closed doors, McConnell, as reported by Punchbowl News, was moved to reveal that Trump’s growing dominance had put Republicans, including him, “in a quandary.”

Throughout his long career, it’s usually been McConnell putting his adversaries into quandaries. But how to negotiate with a man — Trump — who seemingly has few principles other than winning?

As a result, we have seen Republican proponents of a border deal toiling as part of a bipartisan group of senators for months to overhaul our nation’s long-broken immigration system in ways Republicans ordinarily would support while Trump makes that task more difficult. And the reasons for Trump’s opposition are obviously nakedly political. He wants the issue for his campaign. A solution signed by Biden he perceives as threatening to his chances.

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All the while, people who need help are kept waiting.

Back in Chicago, the disagreements continue in the absence of federal action. More than a dozen Chicago aldermen last Thursday called on Johnson to scrap his 60-day shelter limit policy for migrants.

How frustrating it must be for Mayor Johnson, Gov. Pritzker and others working in good faith to humanely cope with this crisis that emanates ultimately from Washington and is tied to the ambitions of a man who doesn’t even hold office.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.


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