Joliet enforces new ordinance as migrant bus moves on

New ordinance charges $750 per person for unscheduled bus stops

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

Joliet enforced its new migrant bus ordinance Wednesday, sending a bus from Texas back on the road out of town when police threatened to impose fees if passengers were dropped off.

The Joliet ordinance, like many others enacted by Will County municipalities in the last few weeks, imposes steep fines and threatens potential impoundment of buses for unscheduled drop-offs of passengers.

The bus was the first known to arrive in Will County in the new year, said Allison Anderson, director of the Will County Emergency Management Agency.

Similar to another bus drop-off in December, the bus first went to the Metra station in Manhattan in an attempt to leave the migrants at a place where they could catch a train to Chicago. But because of the limited Metra schedule in Manhattan, the bus went on to Joliet where trains run more frequently and through the night.

This time, however, the bus faced potential penalties included in an ordinance approved Jan. 2.

“The Joliet Police Department was on the scene,” Anderson said. “They said, ‘You’re welcome to get off, but we’re going to fine you.’”

The bus appears to have moved on to Glen Ellyn in DuPage County to make its drop-off, Anderson said.

Pedestrians board an Amtrak train at the Joliet Gateway Center train station on Wednesday, Jan. 3rd, 2024 in Joliet.

The new Joliet ordinance threatens fines of $750 a passenger and potential impoundment of the bus.

The ordinance, similar in its specifics to those approved in Manhattan, Lockport and a number of Will County municipalities, requires that bus companies apply to the city for permission to make an unscheduled drop-off of passengers and include names and background checks on the people being left off.

Joliet police confirmed the attempted bus drop-off, saying it occurred about 1 p.m. Wednesday at Joliet Gateway Center, the downtown transit center for trains and buses.

“Officers apprised the bus operator of the Joliet city ordinance restricting intercity buses and discharging passengers without proper application and authority,” police spokesman Sgt. Dwayne English said in an emailed statement. “Upon learning of the city ordinance, the bus operator chose to transport the passengers out of Joliet. The bus was escorted out of the city limits of Joliet.”

Will County municipalities enacted the bus ordinances after an estimated 400 migrants were dropped off, most of them in University Park, between Dec. 14 and 23, the first arrival of migrant buses from Texas to Will County stopping points.

A total of 11 bus drop-offs, a revised number from an earlier count of 14, were made in Will County in that period in December, Anderson said.

The strategy in Will County has been to put migrants onto Metra trains to Chicago where they are processed and provided certain services at a center called the “landing zone.”

Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson speaks to supporters during a public listening session at Principle Barbers, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson this week called for a meeting of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, which includes mayors throughout the Chicago region, to strategize on a regional approach to handling migrants pouring into the area as they are transported north by Texas authorities.

The caucus includes mayors from Will County, and Romeoville Mayor John Noak is secretary of the executive board for the caucus.

The meeting is to be held Tuesday at United Center in Chicago with all mayors in the region being invited, said Neil James, executive director of the caucus.

James said it’s not clear yet what will be discussed at the meeting.

“We’re not 100% sure what the agenda will be from the city of Chicago,” James said.

Suburban mayors have avoided opening drop-off centers for migrants being bused from Texas, typically contending that they don’t have the resources to handle them.

“It’s not something that’s in any of the municipal budgets across the state,” James said.

The migrant inflow is costing Chicago about $40 million a month, according to Beth Beatty, the new city manager of Joliet who arrived in December after previously serving as a deputy mayor in Chicago.

Chicago officials count 30,000 migrants coming to the city from the southern border since August 2022.