Marseilles council sets code to handle migrant buses with fines, possible impound

Commissioner says new policy is with safety in mind

A bench was dedicated to Marseilles first female mayor Patti Smith in front of City Hall.

The Marseilles City Council on Wednesday night voted to amend its city codes to include a section regarding “charter transportation,” essentially putting in place a set of procedures to be followed in the event that migrants are abandoned in town.

Marseilles is one of many communities within a 100-mile radius of Chicago setting policy for migrants.

Commissioner Melissa Small spoke to the council regarding a conference call for many La Salle County municipalities and government agencies that she and Police Chief Brian Faber took part in, focusing on the available options should migrants usually headed for large cities such as Chicago begin to filter down the Interstate 80 and 55 corridor to smaller, rural communities such as Marseilles.

More than 60 buses brought about 2,500 migrants to the Chicago area from Texas between Dec. 20 and 27, according to a news release from Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday.

Migrants arriving in northern Illinois cities is the latest in a trend seen over the past year as Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration transports groups crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to Democratic-led cities, The Associated Press reported.

Migrants were bound for Chicago. Chicago city leaders, however, have since imposed penalties of their own on unscheduled bus drop-offs, saying the abrupt nature of the drop-offs doesn’t allow the city to adequately prepare to house those in need.

Small said Wednesday that so far, it is “city by city, town by town. It’s up to the municipality to determine how it wants to mitigate the situation.”

She said the state has not stepped in to take control of the situation. That is, however, still open to change.

Also open to change is what goes in to the new section of municipal codes as more information on the migration becomes available.

According to the code, buses could be impounded and a $1,000 fine levied, plus charges for towing and storage issued, should violations take place.

The ordinance said any form of vehicle engaged in the privately chartered transportation of people, including disembarkment of 10 or more passengers within the city that isn’t a planned round trip, must file an application for review with the police chief, sharing information about the bus company, the entity that paid for the transport and the driver, as well as the identities of its passengers if available.

The application must be made five days before the trip. The code also restricts buses to schedule drop-offs from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with the exception of federal holidays. The police chief can approve or deny these applications.

“There are obviously so many issues to prepare for,” Small said. “It is a huge humanitarian issue going on, but we want to make sure we have our ducks in a row as far as how we handle it as a city. … We hope it doesn’t become an issue, but we want to make sure we have measures in place to protect us as a city should it become one.

“Keeping everybody safe is the primary goal.”

The commissioner said that she’d been told buses have unloaded their passengers in the suburbs. That includes the Chicago suburbs, which recently had 15 buses abandon migrants there.

She said she heard that over the weekend Grundy County closed off an exit from Interstate 55 to prevent a bus from stopping there after the county, by choice, declared itself a nonsanctuary county.

Small said there have been instances in which migrants are arriving with only a blanket and the clothes on their backs.

“As a human, it strikes a chord in your heart, and you want to make sure the people are getting the help that they need,” she said, “but also to make sure it’s going through the proper channels, making sure that the safety of the community is foremost.”

On Nov. 16, Pritzker announced a plan to allocate $160 million through the Illinois Department of Human Services to help aid asylum-seekers headed to Chicago.

The funds, however, according to the governor’s office, are mostly allocated to the city of Chicago.