Joliet Township supervisor defends grant for asylum seekers, migrants

Says funds would reimburse Spanish Community Center and Will-Grundy Medical Clinic

Joliet Township Supervisor Angel Contreras goes over the various violence prevention services and support that they will be offering as a result of grant money awarded to the township.

An $8.6 million state grant awarded to Joliet Township for asylum seekers would fund services now being provided to migrants already coming to the area, Township Supervisor Angel Contreras said Wednesday.

Contreras provided a written statement and also answered questions late Wednesday afternoon after remaining silent since the grant was announced Friday and stirred a firestorm of speculation that it would lead to services attracting asylum seekers to the Joliet area.

Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy has asked Contreras to withdraw the grant application, which would cancel it.

“At the moment, I do hear the concerns from the public,” Contreras said. “But we are evaluating all options to help our agencies in the area before committing to not accepting the grant.”

Tina McGrath asks the council members to use money to help the residents of Joliet rather then accept grant money to help asylum seekers at the Joliet City Council Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023 in Joliet.

He said asylum seekers being bused into the Chicago area already are finding their way to Joliet and other suburban areas. The Spanish Community Center in Joliet has done casework for 2,200 asylum seekers since August 2022, Contreras said.

The grant would be used to fund services already being provided to asylum seekers by the Spanish Community Center and Will-Grundy Medical Clinic, the two organizations named as grant recipients.

“I envision it (the grant) just stabilizing the work that the organizations are already doing so that they don’t go under,” Contreras said. “The people are here already, and we don’t want our systems to go under.”

Joliet Township’s role is to serve as the municipal applicant for the grant, which is needed for the Spanish Community Center and Will-Grundy Medical Clinic to get access to the funding, Contreras said. The nonprofits could not apply for the grant on their own.

The township submitted a 40-page grant application seeking $12.1 million based on financial needs detailed by the two nonprofits, Contreras said.

The $8.6 million awarded would not be provided up front but would be used to reimburse the organizations as they provide services.

“It’s not $8.6 million ready to roll,” Contreras said.

The announcement of the grant and its size has aroused speculation of how the money would be used, including concerns that the township would seek to create residential facilities to house large numbers of asylum seekers.

“No, we have no authority to do that,” Contreras said. “It requires a local municipality to give you a permit to do any building.”

The township does not have residential permitting authority.

Contreras noted a local city or village also would have to issue a residential permit to allow the conversion of an empty building into a shelter for asylum seekers.

Housing assistance provided through the grant would generally be along the line of services now provided by the Spanish Community Center, which helps people find places to live, Contreras said.

One of the potential uses of the grant outlined by Contreras, however, did include the opening of welcome centers or welcome clinics for asylum seekers.

He said the use of the funds would not be limited to the immediate Joliet area. Both the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic and Spanish Community Center serve people beyond Joliet. Those organizations also could partner with agencies providing similar services outside the Joliet area, Contreras said.

Contreras did not comment on why he did not speak sooner and whether the city of Joliet or any other local government was aware that Joliet Township was pursuing the grant. But he said he would address those questions in “the near future.”

Joliet officials have said the city was unaware that Joliet Township had sought the grant until it was announced.

Contreras emphasized that Joliet Township has become active in pursuing grants, which has attracted the attention of social service organizations that need a government sponsor.

He pointed to a $2.3 million state grant awarded the township earlier this year to develop programs to reduce violence. Like the asylum grant, Joliet Township was the biggest recipient outside the city of Chicago, Contreras said.

“We know that the rest of the community is suffering and needs assistance,” he said.

What’s Next?

Contreras said people are welcome to come to the next Joliet Township board meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to get more information specifics about the planned uses of the grant. He added that he is considering moving the site of the meeting normally held at the Joliet Township Office Building at 175 W. Jefferson St. in expectation of a large crowd coming.