Update: Grundy County posts signs on I-55 warning refugee buses to keep driving

Morris City Hall

Grundy County posted electronic signs along Interstate 55 over the holiday weekend warning drivers of buses full of refugees from Mexico and Venezuela to keep driving.

These signs, placed at the Illinois Route 47 and Gardner Road exits, read “NO MIGRANT BUSES THIS EXIT.” The signs were taken down days later.

This comes just over a week after the Grundy County Board passed a resolution that declared Grundy County a nonsanctuary county, meaning it will continue enforcing immigration laws and not protect refugees from other countries.

Sheriff Ken Briley said he’s spoken with other sheriffs, including Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, about concerns about buses of refugees being dropped off in collar counties now that Chicago has created stricter rules in place for when buses can be accepted.

A bus with between 30 and 40 Venezuelan refugees were dropped off at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 21 at a gas station in Kankakee, according to a Dec. 22 news release.

“The city of Chicago recently adopted an ordinance to address the number of buses coming in, so they put restrictions on these bus companies, only allowing them to be delivered Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and noon,” Briley said. “They have to do other things like provide Chicago with a manifesto and background checks of everyone on the bus, which we know they can’t do that because these people are coming in from out of the country.”

Chicago passed the ordinance in early December. It provides harsher penalties for buses that arrive without a heads-up. Aurora followed in passing an ordinance, and Briley said Grundy County soon will have a similar ordinance of its own.

Joliet, Lockport and New Lenox also have reported buses arriving unannounced at their local Metra stations over the past week. Will County Emergency Management Agency put out a statement outlining the county’s plans to coordinate with local municipalities and the city of Chicago on moving buses along to designated locations in Chicago.

Lockport and New Lenox mayors both put out executive orders on how they will locally deal with the situation. Morris Mayor Chris Brown issued a similar emergency disaster declaration Friday creating rules that buses without prior authorization cannot operate within the City of Morris.

According to the declaration, “the operator of any unscheduled intercity bus must make application for an approval to arrive and load/unload passengers in the city on an appropriate form made available by the City of Morris Police Department.”

The declaration states that the unscheduled intercity bus service must be received by the city at least five full business days prior to the day the bus would arrive, and all applications need to include the proposed passenger list. Operators must also perform background checks on each passenger over the age of 18, and provide copies to the Chief of Police.

Applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and no more than one application will be approved for a given date, time and location. If an application is approved, buses can only unload passengers between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The location will be determined by the Chief of Police.

The penalty for an unauthorized unloading of passengers into Morris will be $750, and criminal charges can be pursued against the bus driver, operator, and third party employees on basis of the location, whether the weather creates a risk for passengers, whether passengers are minors, and the time of day and access to shelter for passengers.

Community Affairs Director Stan Knudsen Friday morning said this declaration is effectively the same as those passed in other communities, and Morris’ legal team used the others as a template. There have not been any buses attempting to drop off migrants in Morris.

Briley said the county found out about the buses on Friday going into Christmas, and Grundy County leaders met Saturday to create a plan going into the weekend.

“We said we need to be able to provide direction to our police officers and our Emergency Management Agency and our dispatch center,” Briley said. “What are we going to do if migrants are dropped off?”

Briley said the bus in Kankakee stranded the refugees and left them with no place to go, dressed inappropriately for the weather and without food, shelter or money.

“We developed a plan that if we came across a bus of migrants left behind, our Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with Will County would load up those migrants in the Grundy Transit buses and deliver them to the train station in Joliet, where we would purchase tickets for them to go to Chicago,” Briley said.

Briley said this would protect the people from the bus so they aren’t caught in the middle, stranded on the side of the highway without proper clothing and shelter for the weather conditions.

A group of Grundy County governmental bodies issued a statement on Christmas Eve letting the public know that a plan is in place to address these issues.

The city of Morris, Morris Police Department, Grundy County Board, Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, Grundy County State’s Attorney and Grundy County Emergency Management Agency said in a joint statement Sunday that the plan takes the safety of local residents and the safety and basic needs of the refugee into consideration.

“Any migrants dropped unexpectedly in Grundy County will be immediately transported to a location where they can receive the services and resources they need,” reads the Sunday news release.

The Grundy County Board’s resolution passed on Dec. 15 expressed solidarity with a nonbinding resolution put forth in 2020, where 64% of Grundy County residents said they would rather the county work with the federal government when it comes to enforcing immigration laws.

Much of the discussion on this resolution took place at a November meeting.

The motion separates Grundy County from the rest of Illinois, which declared itself a sanctuary sate in the 2017 Illinois Trust Act.

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