Woodstock City Council passes ordinance to deter migrant bus drop-offs

Vote comes following bus drop-off at the Woodstock train station Saturday

Community members attend a Woodstock City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2, at which the council approved an ordinance to deter buses that drop off migrants.

The Woodstock City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday on an ordinance designed to crack down on bus drop-offs, specifically those carrying asylum-seekers from the southern U.S. border.

Vehicles that drop off passengers without filling out an application five days in advance and coordinating with Woodstock will face fines of $10,000 and $750 per passenger, in addition to impoundment.

The vote followed a series of instances in recent days where busloads of migrants have been dropped off at suburban train stations, including Woodstock’s. It also came after about an hour of comments from community members, who shared various points of view, and a half hour of discussion by council members. The discussion was at times heated.

Some members of the community focused on the humanity of arriving migrants, while others expressed concerns about the potential impact of the asylum-seekers in the community.

The Rev. Scott Zaucha, who is the pastor of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church but said he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the church, told the council, “I think we can do better than saying here, ‘Go somewhere else.’”

Commenter José Lopez said he opposed the ordinance, feeling like it was “kicking the can down the road.”

“We have a chance to show that it doesn’t take a Republican, a Democrat or even an independent to care about these people coming in these buses. It takes a human being,” Lopez said.

Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner stressed during the meeting that they were there strictly to discuss the ordinance, cutting off one speaker who started to discuss national policies related to immigration.

Following public comment, council member Natalie Ziemba thanked those who spoke but also stressed that the City Council wasn’t going to debate on federal, state or county immigration policy.

Council member Melissa McMahon was wearing a T-shirt with the Emma Lazarus poem that greeted immigrants at the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

McMahon said she assisted migrants who were dropped off at the Woodstock Metra station Saturday before taking the train into the city. “They were the most gracious people,” she said.

McMahon said she was “torn” about the ordinance but voted in its favor.

Council member Gordie Tebo said he was “aghast that this has happened to people,” when he found out about the bus drop-off Saturday, but also said the city doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the migrants.

“We don’t have the resources to do it. As much as we’d love to do it, we don’t have those resources,” Tebo said.

Turner previously said Woodstock’s ordinance is modeled after Chicago’s, and he told the Northwest Herald last week the city was calling a special meeting. The city of Chicago passed the ordinance to crack down on bus drop-offs after Texas bused asylum-seekers to the city.

Buses have been dropping people off in the suburbs with the idea they’ll take public transportation into Chicago, and some cities have been passing ordinances to try to dissuade bus drop-offs. McHenry passed a similar ordinance Friday night.

In McHenry County, there was a bus drop-off in Fox River Grove Dec. 23, and there was a bus drop-off in Woodstock Saturday afternoon.

Turner had said in a Facebook post about the event that the city had developed a plan and was going to encourage passengers to head to Chicago.

“For the City of Woodstock, we determined that our approach would be to encourage and direct these migrants to accept transportation into the City of Chicago via train or bus so that they can make use of the City of Chicago / State of Illinois / Federal government resources available to provide assistance to them,” Turner said in the post.

Turner reiterated his support of the ordinance during the meeting, but also said he hopes the ordinance is “something we never have to enforce.”

Council memberTom Nierman called the ordinance a “stopgap measure” but called for compassion.

“We do have to remain compassionate. We also have to remain realistic,” Nierman said.