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State legislators react to busing of migrants to northern Illinois

WNIJ file photo

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Aurora was among the handful of suburbs in the greater Chicagoland area that quickly moved to pass a local ordinance to discourage the arrival of buses transporting migrants from arriving in their city limits. Chicago passed a similar ordinance that penalizes bus operators for unscheduled drop offs.

The ordinances that were adopted in communities surrounding Chicago were prompted when buses carrying migrants made stops near Metra stations such as in Elburn and Aurora.

Here’s some state legislator’s response to these developments as Texas officials continue to send asylum seekers to the states despite the cold weather.

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, of Aurora, said she’s disappointed in the ordinance passing, which speaks to the city’s negative record serving its Hispanic residents.

“People already knew the historical background of maybe the city was not so supportive of the Latino community, the migrant community,” she said, “and then having this actually stated in words and an ordinance form, it kind of confirmed that. And it was just upsetting to see.”

Latinos make up about 42 percent of Aurora’s population and reside mostly on the east side of the city. Hernandez said although the city highlights the Latino community through annual celebrations in September, it can do more to include Hispanics in all aspects of the city.

“They just take us for granted in many ways,” she said.

Local city council discussions on bus ordinance proposals have drawn anti-migrant and anti-Latino sentiment, as well as strong public support for cities to provide for asylum seekers arriving by bus to their municipalities, such as in DeKalb.

And while Hernandez opposes the Aurora City Council’s action, she said she also understands the position held by some on the council.

“We just don't have the financial support or the housing for the community,” she said, “which is very heartbreaking to see as well.”

Since 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been sending migrants by bus to the state, primarily to Chicago, to what critics says is a publicity stunt. His actions have drawn attention to the federal government’s lack of response to the influx of people, mainly from Latin America, seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thus far Illinois has allotted $640 million to supporting migrants, with most of it going to Chicago. And yet, the nation’s third largest city continues to struggle to meet their basic needs. In December, a five-year-old boy died at a publicly funded shelter.

Critics say his death could have been prevented if there had been more oversight of the private contractor hired to run the shelter.

Regarding Chicago’s efforts, Hernandez said, “I feel personally that they might not be able to take on all the work, and they are already very short staffed in many ways. So, I would always welcome them in the suburbs.”

In September, the state awarded funding to local communities outside of Chicago to support migrants. She said Aurora declined to apply for the funding. Under the program, nonprofit organizations would be reimbursed for serving migrants with shelter, food and health care needs. Local governments would serve as pass throughs for the state dollars. Elgin is among the cities who have accepted funding through the program.

Recently, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced an additional $11 million for the program called Supporting Municipalities For Asylum Seekers Services.

Hernandez said she’d like to see a grant program that allows nonprofits to apply directly for funding, rather than depend on the local government to do so on their behalf.

“So, it would have been great to have offered a food pantry in Aurora to apply instead,” she said.

In Springfield, Hernandez said legislators may not have much of an appetite for more state dollars towards supporting migrants.

“I’m not sure if Illinois overall will be discussing more funding. I think right now we're just trying to ask the federal government to help us out,” she said.

State Sen. Steve Stadelman, of Rockford shared similar sentiments.

“I'm not expecting any supplemental or any legislative action at this point on the costs,” he said. “Obviously, the city and to some extent the state is having to deal with this crisis right now, a humanitarian crisis, but, again, the federal government needs to step up here.”

Asylum seekers arriving in Chicago during this month’s winter storm stayed on heated buses due to lack of available shelter.

In late December, asylum seekers landed at Rockford’s airport where they were sent on to Chicago.

Stadelman didn’t share concerns about how the Rockford city officials responded to the arrival of migrants via airplane, but again pointed to the need for federal planning and support.

“I just think there needs to be a better coordination at the federal level, as far as how these people are getting from point A to point B,’ he said.

In the meantime, Gov. Pritzker recently sent a letter to Texas Gov. Abbott requesting a pause in the transportation of migrants to Illinois, who arrive in the state with little gear to manage the cold winter months. But according to reports, Abbott refused and instead pledged to continue to send asylum seekers north.

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A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.