Leaders prepare for migrant influx in Central Illinois

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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(25 News Now) - Buses of migrants continue to arrive in U.S. cities, often without warning. Now, local leaders are planning for the same situation to play out here at home.

Governors from states including Texas, Florida, and Arizona have been sending more migrants released at the southern border to major cities and communities nationwide as a way to bring awareness to border security. The immigrants are allowed to be in the U.S. to temporarily while they pursue asylum or while on humanitarian parole. The Florida legislature allocated $12 million for its program, with Texas committing billions of dollars to border security.

The first bus from the southern border that’s part of this effort appeared in Chicago at the end of last month. But the city may not be able to handle them all. That means there’s a chance those migrants will be sent elsewhere, including to Central Illinois.

In Peoria, a meeting later this week will address how the city could handle the situation if it should occur. With a fifth of the city’s population already living under the poverty line, the need for more resources is clear. Mayor Rita Ali says they’re stretched to serve the homeless, and having migrants would push those limits even further. Now, it’s all a matter of preparation.

“We have to figure out a way to make it work,” says Ali. “And that’s what Peoria does. We care about people, we treat people in humane ways.”

In McLean County, Normal mayor Chris Koos has spoken with the Illinois Municipal League, alongside other state leaders. With the surge of migrants flowing into Chicago, they understand other communities may be asked to take some to alleviate the strain. But it could be too soon to say when that might happen.

“We have to be realistic about what we can or cannot do as a community, and those are the pieces of the puzzle we’re trying to pull together right now,” says Mayor Koos.

Koos says housing is the biggest concern, with the market tight in the Twin Cities. Internal meetings have also begun to discuss how other factors like employment could come into play. He says it will require pulling stakeholders together from across the community. More than anything, he says, they need a better idea of what they’re dealing with.

Bloomington mayor Mboka Mwilambwe’s sentiments overlap with Koos’. The Mayor’s office sent us a statement in response to several of our questions, in which he agrees that living and food are the largest issues. But he calls the city “a welcoming community that has a history of mobilizing to assist fellow human beings in need. We did it during COVID and we can do it again if called upon to do so.”

Mwilambwe’s comments add he’s not sure when residents may expect migrants. To prepare, he says the city needs to reach out to various service providers to explore options, with staff asking initial questions about capacity.

“We want to be prepared if all of a sudden they decide to show up. We’re hoping the latter is not the case,” says Koos.

The Peoria ACLU responded to our request for comment late Tuesday. They say all details will need to come from the Chicago office, and we are waiting to hear back from them.