Chicago suburbs aren’t friendly or welcoming with ordinances to stop bus drop-offs of migrants

A child stands outside, wrapped in a blanket, at Chicago’s designated landing zone for new migrant arrivals at 800 S. Desplaines St. in the West Loop on Jan. 10.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

One after another, Chicago suburbs are passing nearly identical ordinances to keep busloads of migrants out. They are following a long tradition of exclusion. It is not a tradition they should be proud of.

The ordinances that the suburbs are enacting prohibit charter bus companies from unloading migrants in their towns unless the companies meet certain conditions, such as disclosing who will feed and care for migrants or getting approval from a city several days in advance.

The suburbs claim that the ordinances will apply to everyone — not just migrants — but everyone knows that busloads of suburban kids returning from summer camp won’t be turned away if they don’t have permits. Neither will people who want to get off buses in the suburbs to attend proms or high school football games or to visit the Botanic Garden or Ravinia. In their discussions on whether to pass these laws, the only people public officials have mentioned are migrants.

The suburbs pretend that they are excluding the migrants because they cannot care for them. Since when are the suburbs lacking in resources? The suburbs could, either individually or working together through the Northwest Municipal Conference, shoulder some of the burden instead of expecting Chicago to do everything.

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Some suburban officials say that they are concerned the migrants will be abandoned in the cold. Are there no hotels, churches, or gyms in the suburbs where the migrants could be sheltered? No banquet halls, restaurants, grocery stores or caterers that could help provide food?

The suburbs say that they cannot provide the support services that the migrants need. Are there no social workers, psychologists, doctors or lawyers in the suburbs?

A shameful role in excluding people

I have appeared before some village boards and city councils to warn officials that any bus company that complies with the ordinances could lose its license because the company would be illegally discriminating on the basis of national origin.

Federal law says that bus companies cannot treat passengers differently depending on where they are from. The migrants who are on the buses are legally in this country to seek asylum. The only difference between them and passengers on other buses is their nationality. But that doesn’t matter to many suburban leaders because they know that the bus companies will not obtain the permits.

The buses will simply drop the migrants off farther and farther away in towns that don’t have anti-migrant laws. Farther and farther away is exactly where the suburbs want the migrants to go.

At some public meetings I have attended or viewed, suburban officials have praised themselves and each other for showing compassion for migrants. I heard some boast of the little collection boxes in the hallway where people can drop off diapers for migrant babies. Hardly any suburbs have committed any significant tax money to help care for the migrants.

Some suburban officials have spoken, almost proudly, of “escorting” the buses of migrants to Chicago or to trains that will carry them out of town. For years, small-town sheriffs have used this approach to rid themselves of people they considered undesirable.

The practices that the suburbs are reviving are jarringly incongruous with their official websites and roadside signs, which say they are friendly, welcoming, diverse and inclusive communities. One has to ask, welcoming to whom?

Almost all of the suburbs had their greatest growth a few decades ago when people who could afford it fled the city for a sense of security in racially, ethnically and financially defined towns. It is not surprising that old-fashioned anti-migrant laws are now being passed. This is the first time many of these towns have had to deal with an influx of newcomers since those who now run the towns were part of the influx.

Sooner or later, the suburbs will recognize with shame the role they are playing in excluding people from equal participation in their communities. In the meantime, these are mean times in Chicago’s suburbs.

Lee Goodman lives in Northbrook. He works on migrant issues with the Illinois-based group Peaceful Communities and with Witness at the Border, a national migrant advocacy organization.

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