Kane County officials draft proclamation amid asylum seeker influx

A train arrives Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Elburn Metra Station.

Stymied by a lack of legal authority to prevent migrants seeking asylum from entering their communities, Kane County officials are drafting a bipartisan proclamation calling on the federal government to pass immigration reform.

The county lacks home rule authority to ban or fine bus companies that began dropping off migrants at Metra stations. The Kane County Board could boost funding to the sheriff and emergency management departments, which have been on call to help transport or shelter migrants.

But with only 10 busloads carrying a total of 300 migrants coming to the county so far, no requests for additional cash have come before the board.

That’s left Kane County officials feeling frustrated at being caught in the middle of a federal immigration dilemma they have no legal power to resolve.

“The reality is [the migrants] are put into a tent outside a police station,” County Board member Rick Williams said at a board meeting last week. “It is imperative that we tell our federal leaders, our state leaders, that this can’t stand. Our residents are the ones who are going to be paying the costs – financially and in health and safety.”

At a minimum, officials said they can put in writing several points that local Democrats and Republicans seem to agree upon.

First, there are no designated shelters or social services established in Kane County to assist these migrants. The only such facility is located in Chicago. Kane County officials want all migrants and associated buses to go directly to that facility.

Migrants began appearing in the suburbs after Chicago, which does have home rule power, enacted an ordinance in December banning the buses from dropping off migrants outside of the processing center’s operating hours. Kane County officials would like to see that ordinance rescinded.

Finally, county officials want the federal government to do something to address the immigration system, although few county board members have said exactly what they want Congress to do. That’s likely because county-level partisan disagreements mimic those in Washington, D.C.

The federal-level debate focuses on the asylum process.

Under U.S. law, there are two legal routes to seek asylum. Migrants can request asylum at an official border point of entry or by entering anywhere else in the U.S. and then declaring a fear of persecution. There is then an elaborate legal process that requires proof and documentation of those fears before a judge determines the validity of the asylum request.

Asylum requests have more than tripled since 2021, causing a backlog of more than 3 million pending cases. Asylum-seekers now wait an average of four years to get a court hearing. The vast majority of the asylum requests are rejected. And the number of requests that may be granted is capped at 125,000 a year.

Congressional Democrats have called for more increased funding to enhance border security and to add more asylum officers and immigration judges to speed up the process. Republicans have rejected the call for additional spending. They want to trim the backlog by, for example, automatically denying asylum to migrants who did not enter the country through an official port of entry.