'We don't have the money.' Close the border. We don't care for people already here.

America has a border crisis that is engulfing communities thousands of miles away as migrants, many sent in buses paid for by Republican state leaders in Texas and Florida, are arriving in cities with Democratic mayors.

Federal agents had 2.5 million encounters with migrants at the southern border in the 2023 fiscal year, from October 2022 through September 2023, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

Many of these migrants have sought asylum in cities like Denver, Chicago, West Springfield, Mass., and New York, placing a strain on these densely populated areas and decimating their already tight budgets. I interviewed U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., in Waukesha this month following his appearance on the "Earl Ingram Jr. Show." I asked Johnson if cities in our state could soon see an influx of migrants.

His answer was clear: “I sure hope not.”

He has a valid point. While I respect migrants are seeking refuge in America for a better life, I don’t want cities like Milwaukee, Racine or Kenosha to experience what's happening in New York, Chicago or even Whitewater. We have trouble taking care of people already here, adding thousands more isn't sustainable.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., talks to reporters between votes at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2024.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., talks to reporters between votes at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2024.

New York an epicenter of cities struggling with migrant influx

While I disagree with Johnson on many issues, what's happening in New York illustrates why many want to see the flow of migrants stop. Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a pilot program offering prepaid debit cards to 500 migrant families with children, people who are staying in hotels leased by the city while they seek asylum, to buy food and baby supplies.

The debit cards can be used for shopping at bodegas, grocery stores and supermarkets in the city. The pilot program – which Adams said will save New York City $7.2 million annually – would provide up to $1,000 a month for a family of four. The city had allocated $53 million to the pilot program, something Adams says will save New Yorkers hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

Sen. Johnson – a self-proclaimed “deficit hawk” – said those struggling in the United States should have questions.

“It’s not free. Somebody is paying for that. And who's paying for that? It's our children. We are mortgaging our future. We don’t have the money. This is all deficit spending,” Johnson said.

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This illegal flow is a catastrophe, and it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars not just now but also in the future, he said. Johnson noted the cost and continued flow of migrants as why he opposed bipartisan legislation to address the border as well as provide aid to Ukraine and Israel.

“We are going to see the negative impact of this for years, if not decades to come, which is why I think our top priority right now needs to be to close that border because it is a clear and present danger and a drain on our resources,” Johnson said.

I have to agree with Johnson. This country doesn’t even take care of its own vulnerable now. That may sound harsh, but I talked with several unhoused people in Milwaukee who feel the same way.

Many people in Milwaukee already struggling to get by

Brian McMillian became homeless after a messy divorce and the loss of his job.

“It was one bad thing after another, and before you knew it, I ended up on the street, and it’s not where you want to be,” McMillian told me after he stopped at the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is located in an area classified as a food and job desert in Milwaukee. Aside from a hot meal, it offers free clothing, shoes, household goods and bikes for transportation. A volunteer nurse is on-site twice weekly to check blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Efforts are also underway to add a mental health specialist.

GOP claims to want border security. What Republicans really want is to help Trump.

McMillian heard about the program by word of mouth. He was given a hot cup of coffee and a double-lunch bag.

“I wouldn’t wish for anyone to be on the street; you see young and old out here. I was lucky. I got into one of the warming centers when we had that brutal cold stretch. I don’t think I would have made it without that,” he said.

When McMillian learned about the pilot program in New York for prepaid debit cards on top of free hotel stays, he was not surprised. “I care about everybody, and I can understand why some of them would want to come to America, but what about the homeless here?”

That's a good question. The border must be closed until America does a better job of taking care of its veterans, children, unhoused and poor. It's not sustainable at these unchecked levels. We only have to look at what's happening to the south and west of Milwaukee to see why.

Chicago opens more than 20 migrant shelters as Whitewater struggles

In Chicago, Black activists have protested how the migrant crisis is being handled. They cited how millions of dollars earmarked for immigrants should go toward Chicago’s crumbling infrastructures, public schools and start-up minority-owned businesses.

They also say thousands of immigrants have been placed into Black neighborhoods without a plan to monitor and house them in the long term. Activists said money is being taken from poor people in Chicago and given to those who were not born there. Chicago has opened more than 20 migrant shelters.

We have no more room," Zoe Leigh, a community activist, told ABC 7 in Chicago, "Y 'all are embarrassing Chicago as a whole."

Last month, the Journal Sentinel reported how Whitewater became the hotbed of the immigrant debate because of the influx of about 800 to 1,000 new migrants. The city's police chief and city manager asked federal leaders for funding and staff to handing the rise in immigrant population, and that sparked a huge debate in the community.

Immigrants are drawn to Whitewater for the factory jobs and work on farms.

I just returned from U.S.-Mexico border: What I saw should trouble us all.

Imagine if Milwaukee took in thousands of illegal immigrants

Sen. Johnson called the open border a “travesty,” and he said President Joe Biden has “all the executive authority he needs to close the border.”

“He used it to open it. He can use it to close it,” Johnson said.

The border issue will remain hot as Biden and former President Donald Trump battle for the White House. Biden said he was considering executive action on the border to deter illegal migration to stop the more than 10,000 crossings into America a day.

Trump said he would detain all migrants caught crossing the border illegally in addition to fulfilling his first-term pledge to build a wall on the Mexico border.

Trump or Biden? Americans aren't worried about the other guy – we're worried about either.

The current migration procedures are not sustainable or financially responsible, especially considering the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and how many citizens go without necessities like health care, affordable housing and food.

As thousands cross the border into America daily, and cities struggle to house and feed them, they will end up in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison and other cities throughout our state.

Imagine what it looks like to a family struggling to keep a roof over their head and to feed their family to see a migrant family housed for free at a hotel and receive state benefits up to $1,000 monthly for food and expenses that a citizen doesn’t qualify for because they make $5 too much to be eligible for food stamps or housing assistance?

Now imagine telling Milwaukee and state taxpayers they must foot the bill for it?

James Causey staff photo in Milwaukee on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Mug Photo by Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
James Causey staff photo in Milwaukee on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Mug Photo by Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

James E. Causey is an Ideas Lab reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where this column first published. Email him at jcausey@jrn.com; follow him on X: @jecausey

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: US can't handle an open border. Why are we letting more migrants in?