La Salle County Board differs on migrant policy, agrees to send item to committee review

‘As soon as we get a time and date,’ committee will review item

La Salle County Board member Mike Kasap comments on a resolution to declare La Salle County as a Non-Sanctuary County for the current flow of asylum seekers (immigrants) caused by the current border enforcement policies on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2023 at the La Salle County Government Complex in Ottawa.

La Salle County still may become a nonsanctuary county, but County Board members decided Thursday that the issue needs more discussion and sent it to committee.

The 29-member board was poised to vote on a resolution modeled after Grundy County that would, on paper, thwart or halt the movement of asylum-seekers.

I don’t see what the hurry is, really.”

—  Doug Trager, Ottawa Democrat

Before a vote was held, however, board member Doug Trager, D-Ottawa, pointed out the issue hadn’t been discussed in committee and should get fleshed out before full board action.

“I don’t see what the hurry is, really,” Trager said.

That sentiment prevailed, and the board voted unanimously to send it to the rules committee. Committee Chairwoman Jill Bernal, D-Peru, pledged to act swiftly to get the matter on the committee’s agenda.

“As soon as we get a time and date,” Bernal said, “we’ll be good to go.”

Judging from Thursday’s discussion, however, full board action will be neither unanimous or swift. Board members chimed in with divergent views on the pragmatic issue of whether the cities or the county should hold sway, and the moral issue of aiding asylum-seekers over other individuals in need.

Board member Ray Gatza, R-Dimmick, urged the board to craft something durable in light of the fact that municipalities would emulate the county – “I think it’s important we do this quickly and correctly” – and urged his board colleagues to put first the needs of existing residents.

“Consider the citizens of the U.S.: the ones who are legally, the ones who are law abiding, because that’s who were here to protect,” Gatza said.

“While compassion for those seeking asylum is admirable,” said Beth Findley Smith, R-Somonauk, “we must also consider being compassionate to La Salle County residents. We do not have enough resources to take care of noncitizens. We need to dedicate our limited resources to La Salle County residents, especially our homeless and our veterans.”

At the other end, board member Mike Kasap, D-La Salle, identified himself as a second-generation American whose forebears fled communist-controlled Yugoslavia and entered the U.S. illegally through Canada.

The U.S., he said, is a “golden door” for political and economic refugees, “and I don’t ever want to forget my family and (my) terrible imagination of their plight.”

Board member Pamela Beckett, D-Ottawa, posed a legalistic issue, inquiring whether county authority would supersede that of the cities as they grapple with this issue.

In response, Chairman Don Jensen, R-Deer Park, said he “anticipates a cooperative effort” between the county and the cities to ensure a uniform response to a possible influx of migrants.

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 such as Chicago, The Associated Press reported.

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.

As a result of these new rules in Chicago, a number of buses have left migrants in the Chicago suburbs. So far, no buses have arrived in La Salle County.

Interstates 80 and 39 and an Amtrak railroad line with a stop in Mendota run through the county.

Ottawa put together an emergency response plan should a bus abandon migrants in its city, Mayor Robb Hasty said Wednesday, and the Marseilles City Council approved an ordinance Jan. 3 that would impose fees and give the city the ability to impound buses with the intention of leaving migrants in the city.

La Salle County Board member Pam Beckett comments on a resolution to declare La Salle County as a Non-Sanctuary County for the current flow of asylum seekers (immigrants) caused by the current border enforcement policies on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2023 at the La Salle County Government Complex in Ottawa.
La Salle County Board member Ray Gatza comments on a resolution to declare La Salle County as a Non-Sanctuary County for the current flow of asylum seekers (immigrants) caused by the current border enforcement policies on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2023 at the La Salle County Government Complex in Ottawa.