Local Officials Responding to Asylum-Seekers

A Big Tour Bus Isolated on White
A Big Tour Bus Isolated on White

By Karen Haave

Area officials continue to monitor their communities for unscheduled bus drop-offs of asylum seekers while searching for legal solutions to resolve the problem.

Migrants arriving from Texas set off alarms when they were spotted walking along IL Route 50 in Peotone two weeks ago.

M/Sgt. Christopher “Joey” Watson, Illinois State Police Troop 3, confirmed that a group of 13 people was picked up near W. Kennedy Road around 8:30 a.m. on December 21st.

Watson said, “ISP coordinated with Peotone Police, Will County Sheriff’s Office, and Will County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) to safely transport the pedestrians from the road.”

Officials learned that the group was dropped off by a bus skirting Chicago borders and that there were heavy new penalties, including impounding, for unscheduled arrivals. Chicago has begun citing unauthorized buses after being inundated with unprecedented numbers of immigrants and struggling to find adequate housing and aid for them.

Since then, other suburbs, including Manhattan, Monee, University Park, and Aurora, have reported groups of asylum seekers walking along roadways and being dropped off at Metra commuter stations.

Suburban officials say they are concerned for the migrants’ welfare but are not equipped to house them, and like Chicago, several are adopting ordinances that prohibit unauthorized buses.

Peotone Village Administrator Aimee Ingalls said that after the initial group of migrants was seen walking northbound along Rt. 50 about a mile south of the village limits, Police Chief David DeMik assisted the Illinois State Police (ISP) Will County Sheriff and Will County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) with the situation within the ISP jurisdiction.

“We are not certain who dropped this group of asylum seekers at the Will County border,” Ingalls said.

“While Peotone was not notified to expect the asylum seekers, we understand this is an ongoing issue for many communities.”

Peotone Mayor Peter March said he, DeMik, and Ingalls “have been monitoring the migrant crisis affecting our local communities, especially in the last week.

“Our plan is to first ensure the health and safety of the displaced people and then to work with other government entities who can provide a more permanent solution. I have been in contact with Congresswoman Robin Kelly, the governor’s office, and other state and county officials to encourage them to give immediate help for local communities, as well as come up with a long-term solution to the national migrant crisis. “

Last week, Ingalls said, “There have been no new incidents in the Village of Peotone, however, buses continue to come to other areas. The Mayor, Chief, and I are staying in contact with the Will County EMA for information, resources, and direction.”

In the Village of Manhattan, Mayor Mike Adrieansen has signed an executive order that imposes restrictions, fines, and other punishment for buses illegally dropping off migrants.

Officials there said the village’s concern is to “protect our residents’ health and safety, as well as those who are on these buses.

At the same time, they say, Manhattan “is not able to provide adequate care” for them, adding that officials are working with state, county, and other regional authorities to address concerns.

“The Village Board is expected to take this issue up at our next meeting, which was rescheduled to January 3rd at 6 p.m.,” Village Administrator Nick Palmer said, noting that even with the executive order, the board “will consider an official ordinance on the 3rd.”

“I have not received any reports of additional attempts to drop off additional migrants in Manhattan,” he added. “However, this could change.”

In Monee, a home rule community with the authority to adopt an ordinance penalizing illegal drop-offs, officials have not decided whether or not to do so.

“We have not been impacted (by unauthorize buses),” Police Chief Scott Koerner said.

“We have made preparations to direct any buses to the appropriate intake centers, but so far they are bypassing us and going directly to the University Park Metra station. We do have a response plan in place to assist and direct. We, along with EMA are small departments, and do not have the resources to deal with a large group. We will rely on the reception centers already in place in the Chicago area.”

Monee Village Administrator Ruben Bautista said he didn’t have answers yet to resolve the issue.
“I wish I had more answers for you, but unfortunately, I do not,” he said.

“I can tell you that we are in the same predicament as most of the greater Chicagoland area communities. We are looking for strong leadership at the Federal level and hoping to receive definitive answers/direction from Springfield and the city of Chicago.

“What I can also tell you is that the Monee Police Department, Monee Emergency Management Agency, and Monee Fire Protection District have coordinated their efforts to respond to any and all “life safety” matters when it concerns the residents of Monee, and the general public.”

Bautista noted that the village “was not directly informed of any asylum seekers being dropped off, but the Village has contracted with local bus companies, and a bus (or buses) would be dispatched to transport the asylum seekers to the city of Chicago as directed by the Chicago Office of Emergency Management & Communications. At this time, Chicago has two “in-take” locations.”

In University Park, Mayor Joseph E. Roudez III called a Special Meeting of his board of trustees on December 20th to ask them for approval of “an Ordinance Regulating The Unscheduled Bus Stops in University Park, Will and Cook Counties, Illinois Establishing Regulations For Unscheduled Intercity Buses, And The Discharge Of Passengers To Ensure The Health, Safety, And Welfare Of Residents And Visitors To The Village of University Park.”
Buses appear to be dropping off migrants near University Park and its Metra commuter station with greater frequency than other eastern Will County towns.

Meg Thomas-Reile, Public Relations manager for Metra said, “About 18 buses transporting migrants have arrived at various outlying Metra stations over the last several days. Metra received no advanced notification of their arrival.

Their fares were paid, and we transported them to downtown stations, where they disembarked and left Metra property.

Metra has coordinated and shared information with Chicago and local municipalities to the extent possible.”
Trustees also noted that when the initial group of asylum seekers arrived, volunteers provided food and comforters “and they were so grateful, all they could say was ‘gracias’.”

The board also discussed ways the village can help asylum seekers, perhaps with coats or other items. One suggestion was for donations to be collected and distributed when migrants arrive.

Police Chief Dale Mitchell pointed out that his department has been partnering with other agencies, including the Will County Sheriff’s Department and Will County EMA, with special attention to the Metra train stations, where the village has seen numerous new migrant drop-offs.

“We have a bunch of mechanisms preliminarily in place,” he said to help control drop-offs in the future.
“So we’re all paying attention. I was just on a call today with a bunch of Will County Police chiefs and we shared a bunch of information. We’re doing our best to monitor those (Metra) stations.”

Although there were no migrant buses reported in the Village of Frankfort, officials there issued a Community Update on social media.

“The Village of Frankfort continues to closely monitor the current issues with migrants being bussed and dropped off throughout the state and in Will County jurisdictions without notification,” the update said.

“The Village staff and Frankfort Police Department have been working with state, county, and local government agencies monitoring information and creating plans for transportation as needed if a bus were to stop in or near our village. Some questions have been raised regarding creating a local ordinance as some surrounding jurisdictions have to fine the operators of the buses and bus companies.

“By state law, only home rule communities have the authority to pass these types of ordinances. As a non-home rule community, the Village of Frankfort is limited in the type of ordinances it can pass, however, we continue to work with our attorneys to explore legal means, if any, to prohibit these activities. Ultimately the imposing of fines may not necessarily stop buses from unloading so we would still have to deal with the issue at hand. The village continues to research all available resources to keep all involved as well as our community and residents safe.”

The post advises that if any unusual activity of bus unloading is seen, to call the police immediately.

In a press release issued last week, the State of Illinois announced that it has made approximately 30 hotel rooms available Saturday night, with the remaining hotel rooms for up to 200 people coming online today. The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is working closely with the City of Chicago to identify hotel spaces, and the City is providing transportation. Those in hotels will be moved to a former CVS in Little Village when construction of that shelter is completed in January. Additional shelter sites are being explored, and work is underway.

“IDHS continues to welcome our new neighbors with support services and assistance with work-permit applications, which will ultimately hasten their journey to self-sufficiency,” said Dulce Quintero, IDHS Secretary Designate.

According to the press release, funding for the hotels will come from the additional $160 million Governor Pritzker announced in November to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis presented by the arrival of over 30,000 asylum seekers from the U.S. Southern Border.

The press release added that these investments build on $478 million in State funding that has been provided or committed to the asylum seeker response over Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024.

This includes direct funding to the City of Chicago and other municipalities assisting asylum seekers, as well as substantial State funding for shelter, food, medical care, rental assistance, and wraparound casework and services.

Karen Haave is a freelance reporter.

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