Wilmette enacts busing ordinance despite concerns from migrant volunteers

Volunteers who have been providing care packages and assisting migrants off of buses and onto trains at Wilmette’s Metra Station urged the Wilmette Village Board to not follow neighboring communities by adopting a busing ordinance during Wednesday night’s meeting.

Despite concerns, trustees voted unanimously to limit unscheduled bus drop-offs to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Village Manager Michael Braiman, who told Pioneer Press in early January the village had no plans to move forward with busing ordinances, said increased late-night drop-offs have begun to cause concern.

According to the village, 68 buses with approximately 2,700 people have arrived since Dec. 31, 2023. As of April 23, nearly 40,000 migrants have arrived in the Chicagoland area since August 2022, according to city records. Buses of migrants began diverting from the city to other communities after Chicago started impounding buses that violate parameters in place outlining when, where and how those migrants could be dropped off.

Since then, Braiman said 106 Chicagoland municipalities have enacted busing ordinances.

About half of those buses would have violated the ordinance if it had been in place, Braiman said.

“The vast majority of bus drop-offs have been orderly. None of them have presented public safety concerns,” Braiman said.

Even so, he explained increases in late-night and early-morning drop-offs have made it difficult for Wilmette police to provide support due to reduced staffing during those times.

If violated, penalties echo those of neighboring communities with fines anywhere from $50 to $750 per passenger levied against busing companies as well as the risk of being impounded. Some residents said the penalties don’t go far enough with Mark Weyermuller arguing for drivers to be arrested.

Resident Laura Templin called the migrant buses a safety issue while speaking of the slaying of 22-year-old University of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley by a Venezuelan migrant in February.

“This could be anyone’s daughter in our community,” she said. “We cannot let the fabric of our community undergo this level of change without our input or our consent.”

Volunteers rebutted her comments, saying there are bad apples in every bunch and citing studies that show immigrant populations have fewer incidents of criminal activity than native born residents. Braiman said there have been no criminal incidents reported in the village stemming from migrant passengers.

Wilmette’s ordinance doesn’t go as far as other communities such as Glencoe and Winnetka, who both require advanced approval of bus drop-offs and a 30-minute grace period window around the previously scheduled drop-off time.

Those opposed to the ordinance argued it’s nearly impossible for buses to be on a schedule and those sending people, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been sending migrants from his state to sanctuary cities across the country, have no desire to work within the framework of the ordinances.

Resident Lee Goodman told the board he spent the past two weeks in Eagle Pass, Texas, on the southern border. He reported seeing a family of six, including a pregnant woman, on the United States side of the Rio Grande but they were stopped from entering Texas by barbed wire fencing and eventually turned away by the National Guard.

“This law and the people who want it say they are trying to protect people. That’s not what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to control them,” Goodman said. “I’ll tell you one thing that’s not going to happen. The bus companies down there are not going to coordinate and try and match your schedule. … There’s no schedule. There’s no coordination. There’s no way to control this.”

Others worry the ordinance will encourage buses to drop off migrants in other communities who may not be as welcoming as Wilmette. Multiple volunteers spoke before the board with varying messages. Some called the ordinance reasonable, saying it would make volunteer efforts more coordinated and manageable while others labeled it as effectively a ban.

“This is a community that cares. The majority of people in our town I believe have their hearts in the right place,” volunteer Jessica Siegel said. “As we’ve seen in other towns, any ordinance is effectively a ban. The buses are going to stop coming.”

Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton spoke in favor of the ordinance and urged trustees to consider applying for county funding available to assist with sheltering migrants, the same funding Evanston has been looking to tap into.

“I hear these people described as illegals, as depicted as the other, as villains, as criminals,” Britton said. “It is not true. They are here seeking asylum.”

Calls were made to hold on passing the ordinance while a newly proposed bill by Illinois state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, aimed to curb the busing of migrants to sanctuary cities, makes its way through the state legislature. According to village counsel Jeffrey Stein, this state legislation would constitute violations as a Class A misdemeanor, a jailable offense of up to 364 days.

Village officials stated its ordinance could be changed as circumstances do even if a statewide law is passed, but the goal is not to stop the buses from coming.

“We’d be naive sitting up here thinking that this group of seven people can fix the migrant issues that are facing our country,” Trustee Kathy Dodd said. “I don’t know for sure what the right thing to do is here. I don’t think any of us know what the right thing to do is here. I can only do what I think the right thing to do is.”