SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — Several local Republican lawmakers took a trip to Eagle Pass, Texas last month to see the migrant crisis up close. Now, the Illinois Freedom Caucus is calling for the federal government to complete the border wall and for state lawmakers to repeal Illinois' sanctuary status.

Illinois House Democrats created a working group this week to discuss the complex issues related to new arrivals. Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch said the recent influx of migrants into Illinois provides challenges and opportunities that require thoughtful engagement.

"We know this issues will be an important part of conversations this session, which is why I'm putting together a diverse team with strong, relevant backgrounds ready to act as needed," Welch said Wednesday.

However, the Freedom Caucus told reporters the General Assembly should repeal the 2017 Illinois TRUST Act.

"The city of Chicago can't handle this," said Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City). "They've already said they can't handle this. This has become a problem for the state of Illinois. The threat of this crisis spreading to other parts of the state is going to become a reality soon."

Illinois Freedom Caucus

Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City) talks to reporters during a press conference with the Illinois Freedom Caucus on January 17, 2024.

The Eastern Illinois Republicans argue that the state needs to stop funding programs for people who they claim are here illegally. After visits to the southern border and downtown Chicago to witness the crisis in person, Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) said it is time to act.

"Members of the Black community in Chicago feel like these migrants are getting reparations at their expense," Caulkins said. "They're being taken care of. They're being provided food, shelter, phones, money and transportation while members of their community are being overlooked."

Freedom Caucus members would also like to see the state create a database for people to see information about the new arrivals. Wilhour stressed that the state should also ensure non-citizens never received government-issued IDs. 

"In lockstep with the White House, Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois Democrats have propped up and expanded our sanctuary state policies to make Illinois the new Holiday Inn Express for illegal immigrants," said Rep. Chris Miller (R-Hindsboro).

While the state may need a supplemental budget to provide may need a supplemental budget to address the crisis, Gov. JB Pritzker said this is a federal problem.

"People are showing up in Texas. It is a challenge for Texas and for the nation," Pritzker said Thursday. "There's no doubt about it. And it ought to be addressed on a national basis, not on a piecemeal basis and the governor of Texas causing problems state by state to the states that he chooses to send people to." 

Democratic leaders also said they would appreciate real solutions from GOP lawmakers instead of ideas based on conspiracy theories.

"If this is not population replacement, what is it," asked Rep. Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville). "The invasion needs stopped pronto."

A proposal to repeal the Illinois TRUST Act, which created the state's sanctuary status, has over 30 House Republican co-sponsors. However, it is highly unlikely that Democratic leaders will allow that plan to be heard in hearing or on the House floor.

Welch chose Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) to lead the new arrivals working group due to her decades of experience as a human rights attorney. Gong-Gershowitz said she is honored to work with eight other members of the House Democratic caucus who are actively engaged on the topic.

"We come from a variety of backgrounds, but we share an understanding that this must be a human-centered approach that respects the real lives that are impacted," said Gong-Gershowitz. "I look forward to the work ahead."

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