Joliet enacts penalty for buses making unscheduled migrant dropoffs

Public crowds City Council chambers to urge approval Tuesday night

Several Pace buses sit at the Joliet Gateway Center on Wednesday, Jan. 3rd, 2024 in Joliet.

Joliet adopted its own regulations for asylum-seeker buses Tuesday, joining other suburban communities taking measures to avert the potential arrival of migrants being transported from the U.S. Southern border.

The City Council voted 7-0 in favor of an ordinance allowing fines of $750 per passenger and the impoundment of buses making unscheduled drop-offs of passengers in the city.

Council members Cesar Guerrero and Cesar Cardenas were absent.

The approval was met with applause from most of the 50 or so people who crowded the council chambers, many of whom spoke in favor of keeping asylum-seekers out of Joliet.

“We have to make sure we stay on top of this,” said Tina McGrath, who urged city officials to coordinate with other Will County communities on the arrival of asylum-seekers. “We don’t know their names. We don’t what countries they come from. We don’t know where they’re being dropped off.”

The ordinance approved by the council requires bus companies that intend to make unscheduled drop-offs to submit an application to the police chief. Applications are required to include the names of each passenger and background checks.

Interim City Attorney Chris Regis emphasized that the ordinance would not apply to buses on school field trips and those carrying student-athletes for sporting events.

“These are one-time drop-offs that companies are engaged in,” Regis said.

Joliet City Manager Beth Beatty and City Attorney Chris Regis listen to discussion of the city's new ordinance regulating potential asylum-seeker buses during the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

Regis said the ordinance was requested by new City Manager Beth Beatty, who came to Joliet on Dec. 11 from the city of Chicago, where she served as a deputy mayor.

Beatty said Chicago is “spending roughly $40 million a month trying to manage the situation.”

“We don’t want to see the same situation unfold here because we don’t believe we have the resources,” she said.

The Joliet ordinance follows a pattern of Chicago-area communities that have been developing new laws aimed at stiff penalties for migrant drop-offs.

The Lockport City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar ordinance Wednesday night.

The mayors of Lockport and New Lenox issued executive orders Dec. 22 regarding buses with migrants arriving in their communities.

The buses of migrants are being sent primarily from Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has implemented the program as a political statement on sanctuary cities such as Chicago and other cities in the northern part of the country, often providing little or no warning that the buses of migrants will be arriving.

Some Joliet City Council members and many members of the public at the meeting said the new ordinance passed Tuesday does not go far enough.

Council member Joe Clement repeated his past call for Joliet to declare that it is not a sanctuary city. The idea, which was met with applause from the audience, is seen as a potential deterrent to migrants coming to Joliet.

Katie Deane-Schlottman, a Will County Board member from Joliet, called the new ordinance “a good start.”

People line up to speak to the Joliet City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, about an ordinance aimed at preventing asylum-seeker buses from making drop offs in Joliet.

But she said the city needs to pursue stronger measures to ensure that asylum-seekers with criminal backgrounds “are not infiltrating places of innocence, such as our schools.”

Police only have been called to check out one instance of a possible asylum-seeker bus making a drop-off in Joliet, Police Chief William Evans said.

And that bus was not carrying asylum-seekers.

Evans said there have been three or four instances in which other Will County communities have brought asylum-seekers dropped off in their towns to Joliet to get them to the Metra station so they could take a train into Chicago.

“To my knowledge, we have not had buses come directly to Joliet,” Evans said.

The city has worked with neighboring communities to ensure that migrants are getting on the train and to a Chicago center where resources are in place for processing them, Evans said.

A couple of people at the Joliet meeting questioned the wisdom of the asylum-seeker bus ordinance.

“I see it as an attack on American liberty,” Mike Pierce of Joliet told the council, questioning whether the ordinance could be misused and whether mandated background checks give police Soviet-style authority. “To me, it’s turning our police force almost into the KGB.”