Highland Park and Deerfield regulate bus drop-offs after migrants repeatedly ‘abandoned’ on side of the road

Highland Park and Deerfield joined the growing list of municipalities who have placed regulations on one-way buses dropping off 10 or more passengers.

While the ordinances are generic and apply to all one-way buses, no matter who the passengers are, the regulations come after municipalities around Chicago have experienced an influx of unscheduled buses dropping off groups of migrants at all hours of the day and night.

Since August 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot has sent more than 630 buses and 30,000 migrants to the Chicago area. Buses began arriving in the suburbs of Chicago when the city tightened rules regarding bus drop-offs in mid-December, seeking more coordination and communication about the drop-offs from Texas.

At the recommendation of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, suburban municipalities have started to approve regulations around when and where buses can drop off one-way passengers. The rules also seek advance communication from the bus companies about expected arrival date, times and a manifest of who is on the bus.

The Highland Park City Council and the Deerfield Board of Trustees unanimously approved their respective ordinances Tuesday night. The regulations took effect immediately.

For bus companies that fail to comply with the new regulations, fines will be imposed on the company with the potential for impoundment of the bus.

“It is part of Highland Park’s values, part of what we stand for, to support the humane care of individuals regardless of their legal status, regardless of where they’ve come from,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said at a pre-session before the council meeting. “Humane care, public health, legal and human-service needs are all part of this process for people who are working to become part of our American culture.”

At its Tuesday night meeting, Deerfield Mayor Daniel Shapiro said it’s the village’s primary responsibility to connect the new arrivals with resources and help them get to Chicago. The ordinance and regulations are in place to accomplish that responsibly, he said.

“Someone once said, it’s never a wrong thing to do something that’s right,” Shapiro said. “The ordinance is intended to make sure those who are seeking asylum or are migrants are not left outside ... but rather are redirected on a bus that goes downtown, where intake services are available to help them.”

Highland Park experienced two “no-notice” bus arrivals in December, according to City Manager Ghida Neukirch.

After the drop-offs, the city coordinated with Lake County Emergency Management to provide the migrants with shelter, food and transportation to the Chicago processing center, where all new arrivals must go for screening and intake services.

“My hope is that all regulations that municipalities are enacting force the bus companies and the state of Texas to be more organized and proactive in their planning and communication with us,” Neukirch said.

Neukirch emphasized the ordinance is to protect those who are on the buses from being dropped off during evening hours, and “basically abandoned” in suburban areas. With advanced communication, the city can properly prepare to welcome the migrants and provide them with proper resources before going to the Chicago intake center.

In recent weeks, groups of migrants were dropped off in the early hours of the morning at a Metra station in Elk Grove Village. In Kankakee, a group was dropped off at a gas station on the side of the highway.

To notify the bus companies of the new rules, Neukirch drafted a letter to Abbott to inform him of the regulations. The city manager is also planning to notify a list of charter bus companies in Texas and Chicago of the regulations.

After the two no-notice buses in December, Neukirch began coordinating with local volunteer organizations, such as the Rotary Club and Service and Learning Together (SaLT), to collect donations for welcome packages for the new migrants.

The goal is to give a “Take Care” package to each person who arrives from the Southern Border. Care packages will have books in Spanish and English, winter clothes, first-aid items, personal hygiene products and snacks.

Donations for the welcome packages really kicked off during the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday. Neukirch said there was “great community support” through monetary and item donations.

After the care packages are assembled, the city plans to keep about 100 packages locally for buses that might arrive in the future. The rest of the packages will be sent to the Chicago migrant processing center.