Chicago Council Members want to stop sending money across the state line to Gary-Chicago International Airport

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico calls for ending compact between Chicago and Gary airports.

Oct. 15, 2018 John Byrne, Reporter / Chicago Tribune

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico wants Chicago to stop sending money across the state line to Gary-Chicago International Airport in northwest Indiana.

Chico on Monday said the flights that federal immigration officials operate from the airport to deport people who are in the country illegally are not in keeping with Chicago’s welcoming city status and that the decades-old agreement is no longer needed.

Chico, himself of Mexican descent, sought to highlight that fact by saying the deportation flights from the small airport are personal to him.

He pointed out that the annual payments of $500,000 or more started 23 years ago, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley was trying to protect Chicago’s airports from being taken over by downstate Republicans and to pre-empt the need for a regional airport in south suburban Peotone. That’s not a danger today, he said.

“I want this money to be kept at our airports to support their rebuilding, not another state’s airport,” he said. “I don’t want the money to be sent to an airport that deports people from around the Midwest, including Chicago.”

Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, joined Chico at Monday’s City Hall news conference and said he would introduce an ordinance to the City Council this month to end the agreement. Lopez and fellow Southwest Side Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, have been complaining about the airport compact for the past few months. Burke may be facing a tough re-election fight as he tries to hold onto his seat in his majority-Hispanic ward.

But Lauren Huffman, spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Aviation Department, called the proposal “puzzling, because ending the nearly 25-year relationship with Gary would have no impact on ICE operations out of the Gary airport.”

“The federal government decides where these flights operate regardless of the wishes of local municipalities, to suggest otherwise misunderstands the federal government’s authority to operate wherever it wishes,” Huffman said in a statement.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson released a statement Monday noting that Gary is a welcoming city for immigrants living in the country illegally.

“At the same time, the Gary Airport Authority does not have the ability to prevent a tenant from lawfully engaging in legal business no matter how much we object to the underlying policy,” Freeman-Wilson said. She called on Chicago officials to work with Gary on dealing with issues rather than pulling out of the deal. / Twitter @_johnbyrne
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