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Chicago is tightening restrictions on buses dropping off migrants from Texas

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Chicago is nearing the arrival of its 30,000th migrant since Texas Governor Greg Abbott began sending buses of migrants there 16 months ago. The city says buses can arrive only during daytime hours so volunteers can be available to help, but bus drivers are responding by dropping migrants off in Chicago suburbs at night. And as member station WBEZ, Michael Puente reports, those suburbs are now raising objections.

MICHAEL PUENTE, BYLINE: No less than a half-dozen suburban areas have passed ordinances this week to impose severe restrictions and hefty fines against any bus operator caught dropping off migrants at night.

JOE CLEMENT: I support this ordinance. I think we could take it a step further. I think we need an ordinance to let everybody know that we are not a sanctuary city.

PUENTE: That's Joe Clement, a city council member in Joliet, about an hour south of Chicago. He spoke this week during a city council meeting.

CLEMENT: This problem is being created by our federal government. OK?

(APPLAUSE)

CLEMENT: They are creating this problem. And then we have other cities that are welcoming asylum-seekers, accepting funds. And then now all of a sudden, now it's all these - everybody else's problem.

PUENTE: Clement's comments were directly aimed at Chicago for being a sanctuary city, which simply means officials won't ask people about their immigration status or disclose that information to federal authorities. The designation is one reason why Texas Governor Greg Abbott continues to send migrants to Chicago and other Democratic-led cities like New York. However, being a sanctuary city does not apply to the nearly 30,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, who can legally seek asylum. That distinction is lost on Joliet resident Tina McGrath, who is against any migrant drop-offs.

TINA MCGRATH: Nobody knows. We don't know their names. We don't know what countries they come from. We don't know where they're being dropped off. This is a massive concern.

PUENTE: Many of the ordinances in the suburbs have similar provisions - no drop-offs at night or on weekends, a five-day advance warning from the bus company, the names of all passengers. And violations could come with a $1,000 fine per passenger. The mayor of Joliet, Terry D'Arcy, says his officers are on the lookout for buses that may be carrying migrants to Chicago.

TERRY D'ARCY: Well, we've got our police department on alert, and we have people basically just watching for buses to come in off the interstates and find them right away. And we haven't had any trouble.

PUENTE: The ordinance has nothing to do with politics, says Buffalo Grove Board President Eric Smith. He says it has to do with protecting the migrants from arriving in the middle of the night, when there is no train service to Chicago and no resources to help them.

ERIC SMITH: The ordinance we are considering tonight puts no burden on bus passengers. Rather, it holds the bus companies and drivers accountable for proper coordination that ensures humanitarian care when transporting passengers bound for Chicago.

PUENTE: More suburban Chicago areas have scheduled meetings for next week to take up their own migrant bus ordinances.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Puente in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Puente
Michael covers news and issues primarily in Northwest Indiana, Chicago’s Southeast side and South Suburbs.