Joliet Township pulls out of grant for asylum-seekers

Announcement issued Friday afternoon

Joliet Township Supervisor Angel Contreras leads the meeting at a pack Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park theater on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023 in Joliet.

Joliet Township on Friday announced that it no longer will pursue an $8.6 million grant to provide services for asylum-seekers.

The announcement comes two weeks after the grant was announced, stirring a controversy that may have peaked at a raucous township board meeting this week.

“Joliet Township declines the asylum grant it was awarded by the state of Illinois,” according to a statement from the township.

Township Supervisor Angel Contreras declined to comment beyond the statement, which also referred to the board meeting attended by hundreds of people who commented on the grant for about three hours.

The statement thanked those who attended and who spoke at the meeting.

“Many other issues were raised at the meeting beyond the asylum grant application, and Joliet Township looks forward to working with our community and governmental partners to address those issues,” according to the statement.

The grant aroused a public backlash when announced Sept. 29 by Gov. JB Pritzker’s office.

About 350 people showed up to a township board meeting Tuesday, when the public was allowed to speak out against the grant, and a large majority spoke against it during about three hours of public comment on the subject.

The meeting took place at Bicentennial Park Theatre.

Hundreds pack Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park theater for the Joliet Township meeting to get answer on the townships questionable application for asylum grant money on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023 in Joliet.

Local officials including Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy and Will County Board Chairwoman Judy Ogalla had urged the township to withdraw its grant application.

D’Arcy also issued a statement Friday afternoon after the township announcement.

“We are pleased the Joliet Township supervisor has decided to withdraw the grant application,” according to D’Arcy’s statement. “This will allow all governmental and social agencies impacted by this grant time to work together and assist in helping those individuals currently in Will County who need services.”

Contreras had insisted that the grant was intended to reimburse the Spanish Community Center and Will-Grundy Medical Clinic for the cost of services already being provided to asylum-seekers arriving in Joliet.

But the size of the grant raised concerns that it could be used to make Joliet a destination point for asylum-seekers.

D’Arcy objected to representations in the grant application that he and the Joliet Fire Department supported the grant plan submitted by the township. D’Arcy said he first heard about it when it was announced publicly Sept. 29.

The proposal ran into more problems, as other supposed partners in the grant disavowed any knowledge that they were included.

The Joliet Park District canceled a pending lease with the township for its Hartman Recreation Center after learning it was included in the grant as a potential welcome center for asylum-seekers.

Mayor Terry D’Arcy addresses the public saying he did not approve, agree to or sign a grant agreement to help asylum seekers at the Joliet City Council Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023 in Joliet.

A spokeswoman for Duly Health & Care said there were no discussions with the township about the inclusion of one of its Joliet medical facilities as a welcome clinic for asylum-seekers in the grant proposal.

Additionally, a Joliet-based hotel operator has demanded a statement from the township to clarify what it said are false claims in the grant application that one of its Joliet hotels now houses asylum-seekers and would be a provider in the future for migrant housing.

The plan also drew fire from members of the Black community for the proposed use of the Peter Claver Center at 172 S. Chicago St. as a welcome center.

The township earlier this year acquired the Peter Claver Center, which has traditionally provided community services in a primarily Black section of the city.

Joliet Township was the second-biggest recipient of the $41.5 million in asylum-seeker grants awarded to six communities in the Chicago area.

Chicago was the largest at $30.25 million. Elgin was the third largest at $1.27 million.