January 31, 2024

Young, Commerce Committee Republicans Demand Answers from Chicago Mayor on Misuse of Federal Airport Dollars to House Illegal Aliens

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) joined fellow Senate Commerce Committee Republicans in sending a letter to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson demanding answers regarding the recent development that O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport are being used to house illegal aliens. The Senators argue using airports and airport resources to house aliens misuses billions of dollars of federal taxpayer investment in a robust national airport system.

The Senators wrote:

“As members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Committee), we write regarding the housing of illegal aliens at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (O’Hare). Since at least June of 2023, the city of Chicago has been housing illegal aliens at the Bus and Shuttle Center area of Terminal 1. More recently, the city has expanded this footprint to accommodate the housing of even more illegal aliens, relocating courtesy shuttle pick-ups for actual travelers to an entirely different terminal. According to public reporting, the city of Chicago is now utilizing Midway International Airport to house illegal aliens, too.”

“Over the last 75-plus years, the federal government has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the development of a robust, nationwide public-use airport system to facilitate the ‘growth of aviation and the requirements of interstate commerce . . . and the national defense.’ As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states, there are several obligations that come with receiving this federal assistance, but the ‘[m]ost important is that the airport and its facilities must be available for public use as an airport.’ Repurposing airport facilities and infrastructure to house illegal aliens not only degrades taxpayers’ investment in the national airport system but, at least in the case of O’Hare, as federally-funded airport facilities are withdrawn from public access and use, it violates the requirement that these federally funded facilities ‘be available for public use as an airport.’ No rational person would define an airport as a facility that houses illegal aliens.”

“Since 1985, Chicago has publicly flouted federal law as a self-declared ‘sanctuary city.’  In recent years, despite waning public support, city leaders such as former mayor Lori Lightfoot doubled down on the sanctuary city status, rescinding a 2012 exception for public safety. The decision to remain a sanctuary city has proven contentious for Chicago […]”

“You have consistently promoted Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, insisting that ‘Chicago must lead with and live by the promise to be a sanctuary city,’ all while working overtime to avoid making good on such platitudes. Just recently, you characterized the sending of illegal aliens to Chicago as ‘sow[ing] seeds of chaos,’ implied Texas Governor Greg Abbott is motivated by racial animus and that his voluntary transportation program for illegal aliens to sanctuary cities is ‘attacking . . . cities that are being led by black leaders or leaders of color,’ and demanded the federal government and the American taxpayer pick up the bill for Chicago’s decision to flout federal law.”

“Your decision to house illegal aliens at O’Hare is even more curious considering Chicago has been in a contentious months-long dispute with tenants United Airlines and American Airlines regarding the future of a new terminal more than $1.5 billion over budget. As the Chicago Tribune noted in an editorial last year, at O’Hare the cost per enplaned passenger (CPE)—essentially a measure of how expensive it is for an airline to use an airport—was nearly $26 even before the new terminal project. By comparison, the CPEs at Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte were roughly $12 and $4, respectively. It should be no surprise then that airlines are questioning your city’s ability to support this ‘global terminal’ project, given that it is already over budget before construction has started and, instead of finding agreement on a path forward for the new terminal, Chicago continues to convert its existing terminal and ancillary facilities into housing for illegal aliens. The city has previously stated the $12 billion project—originally estimated to cost $8.7 billion—will be funded by airline taxes and landing fees. In the context of the ongoing contract dispute, your efforts to blame everyone but President Biden for the tens of thousands of illegal aliens coming to Chicago, and your demand for billions of dollars from American taxpayers, some may wonder whether your ‘openly anti-capitalist administration,’ as the Chicago Tribune put it, is trying to squeeze more money out of United and American as you struggle to offset the costs of being a sanctuary city[…]”

“The crisis of illegal immigration brought on by the Biden administration is not just untenable, it is inhumane. Rather than advocating for border communities alone to shoulder the burden, we encourage you to use the authorities at your disposal to advocate for border and transportation security, the enforcement of immigration laws, and consider reversing the illegal immigrant magnet that is Chicago’s misguided sanctuary city policy.”

The Senators also asked Mayor Johnson whether airport resources that could be used for valid aeronautical or non-aeronautical purposes have been diverted to fund the shelter.

In addition to Senator Young, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), JD Vance (R-Ohio), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) also joined the letter.

Read the full text of the letter here.