Stranded asylum seekers sparks protective measures In county

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media


Pingree Road Metra station in Crystal Lake, where migrant asylum seekers were dropped off in an unscheduled bus stop. (Courtesy of Northwest Union Pacific)

When 36 migrant asylum seekers were left stranded at the Fox River Grove Metra station Dec. 23 by a bus driver claiming it was Chicago, red flags were raised by local governments in McHenry County.

Several county municipalities have since enacted emergency legislation against chartered buses and unscheduled “drop-offs.”

The city of Chicago became a sanctuary city under mayor Harold Washington in 1985, and the status was reinforced more than three decades later by mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Buses arriving from Texas have flooded the city, as well as suburban cities to its west and south. The trend has now encroached McHenry County communities.

Over the New Year’s weekend, travelers were dropped off at the Woodstock Metra station, before boarding a train to Chicago. Its city council passed an ordinance regulating bus transportation for large groups, during a Tuesday, Jan. 2, session. It requires a preapproved application, and violations include a $10,000 fine, as well as $750 for each passenger.

The action invoked similar guidelines as passed by the McHenry city council, during a special meeting held Dec. 29. The ordinance not only sets a punitive fine, there are provisions for the bus to be immediately impounded.

“The city council passed the ordinance with a 7-0 unanimous vote, and it’s centered on filing through an application process in a reasonable time period,” said Ross Polerecky, the city’s community development director. “Since the Fox River Grove situation, we have kept our finger on the pulse.

“We want to head things off with cold weather approaching and other issues,” he said. “We will be working with McHenry County to mitigate those issues.”

Those issues include strained resources, a lack of funding to accommodate new arrivals, and potential security for sheltered individuals. The county has listed resource agencies, although the “drop-off” points have focused on Metra train line stations with an eventual terminus in Chicago.

Crystal Lake saw an unscheduled migrant traveler drop-off at its Pingree Road Metra station Dec. 21. Administration officials are pursuing a similar ordinance that will prevent arrivals without previous notice. A press release indicated the matter will be discussed for action at its Jan. 16 meeting.

The city seeks to maintain the quality of life for all residents, businesses, and visitors. “Along with having compassion for others … the city will continue to promote these values, as it navigates this ongoing situation,” it said, in the release.

They will also be working with the McHenry County Emergency Management Agency to move them to “locations where appropriate resources are available.”

In Harvard, which has a large Hispanic population, no action has been taken regarding ordinances or motions related to migrant asylum seekers.

“From a police department perspective, we are waiting back right now … taking a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude,” said Tyson Bauman, the city’s police chief. “We have seen where some of the other municipalities have enacted ordinances. Our city is monitoring the situation.”