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McLean County Board rejects proposal opposing public services for certain immigrants

People sit in chairs, and stand, filling a board room. A woman with a television camera and tripod stands in the center, near a press table, pointing camera toward board dais. To the left, a woman looks down at her cellphone.
Michele Steinbacher
A large crowd gathers in the McLean County Board room on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, prior to the board meeting in the downtown government center.

The McLean County Board on Thursday rejected a proposal calling for the board to oppose tax-supported services for certain groups of immigrants.

The 13-to-7 vote followed nearly two hours of public comments before a standing room-only crowd. Of the nearly 50 people who addressed the board, almost all spoke against the proposal, with many calling it anti-immigrant, racist, and immoral. Others called it shortsighted for not embracing the economic benefits immigrants bring to a municipality.

Several speakers — and a few county board members — also criticized Republican Chuck Erickson, of District 10, for drafting the resolution.

The board's 10 Democrats were joined by three board Republicans — Randall Knapp (District 5), Susan Schafer (9) and board chair Catherine Metsker (1) — in defeating the measure.

County Administrator Cassy Taylor said if Erickson's proposal had passed — as a nonbinding resolution — it would have only been a symbolic issuing of the board's opinion, meaning it wouldn't have triggered any policy changes or impacted existing immigrant services.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved more than $2.5 million in funding for county road projects, including one in the Downs area and a $1.2 million resurfacing project in Hudson.

Texas governor's busing policy spurs proposal

Erickson said after the meeting he was disappointed the proposal didn't pass. It wasn't anti-immigrant, but rather pro rule-of-law, he said.

But on Thursday, several of his critics said he only pushed the resolution as a fear monger and a campaign stunt. Erickson is running in the Republican primary in March for the 88th Illinois House District seat.

This proposal came on the heels of several Chicago suburban governments considering policies to limit bus companies from unauthorized dropoffs of migrants. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's has sent thousands of asylum seekers to Democrat-controlled northern cities such as Chicago through “Operation Lone Star." And as 2024 began, news came he'd flown more than 300 migrants to Rockford.

“The issue is becoming that Chicago is getting to a point where they can’t handle all the migrants that they have. And so, eventually it’s going to have to branch out downstate,” said Erickson. “It’s not a question of if, it's just a question of when.”

But Erickson’s proposal differed from recent resolutions put forth in the Chicago area that seek to limit the unauthorized bus dropoffs by fining bus companies. Erickson’s proposal focused on the immigrants themselves.

That point was one reason Metsker voted against the measure. “I didn’t believe that the county should restrict — and could restrict — any services to individuals, regardless of their [documentation] status,” she said after the meeting.

Schafer, who heads the board’s health committee, also was a “no” vote. She described the proposal as problematic for calling on health care workers to deny services to people in need. "The board of health's mission is to promote health and equity," she said, adding the department is mandated to follow state and federal rules.

Vice chair Elizabeth Johnston, a Democrat from District 5, said besides the health department, the McLean County sheriff's staff and the Emergency Management Agency also faced similar concerns.

"They're going to be the first responders. They're going to be the ones on the ground responding to a situation or to a crisis," she said. Besides the mandates those responders must follow, there are more. "From a responsibility perspective, being able to respond in the moment. It means that we won't be leaving [the bused immigrants] in limbo," she said.

If such a bus does stop in a McLean County community, helping those travelers would be in everyone's best interest, said Johnston.

Advocacy groups among those decrying proposal

A variety of people spoke against Erickson's proposal at the meeting, including first- and second-generation immigrants, historians, religious leaders, university students, and former and current civic leaders.

"This anti-immigrant feeling runs like a river through American history," said retired Illinois State University history professor Mark Wyman, citing different groups that were unwelcome — from Irish to German to Chinese. "Now it's the Mexicans, Venezuelans, Guatemalans," he said.

Also at the podium to admonish Erickson and his effort was the leader of the Normal-based Immigration Project, as well as representatives from the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], Not in Our Town, and the League of Women Voters of McLean County.

Diana Hauman, local leader for League of Women Voters, told the board, “While we may believe that our federal immigration process needs to be reformed, now is not the time to deny immigrants already in our county basic human services.”

The local chapter of the ACLU "strongly condemns the proposed use of the resolution process within the McLean County Board to cynically score political points, and spreading meaningless talking points while ignoring the American value of welcoming new people to our shores," said spokesman Ravi Duvvuri.

He also criticized Erickson's proposal for failing to mention Texas leaders' role in using the busing policy for political gain.

Millions in spending OK’d for county road projects

The board awarded nearly $2.5 million in contracts for construction and maintenance materials for 2024 Motor Fuel Tax-funded roadway projects.

Nearly $1.7 million goes to Rowe Construction of Bloomington, a division of United Contractors Midwest, for the Seminary Street project in Downs.

More than $800,000 in contracts was awarded to several companies for other scheduled road projects, including Limestone Transit of Fairbury to stockpile aggregate for Cheney’s Grove and Martin Township roads, and for maintenance operations and oil and chip work; and Reynolds Express of Colfax for work on West Township Road.

The board also OK'd an estimated a $1.2 million project to resurface Hudson East Road from West Street to Pipeline Road. The road averages about 1,650 vehicles per day, and last was resurfaced in 1999.

In other business, the board:

  • OK’d a grant-funded feasibility study of rural broadband Internet expansion with CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering.
  • Approved an agreement with Baxter & Woodman to design a Comlara Park Sewage Treatment Plant Rehabilitation plan.
  • Awarded a $119,200 contract to Wheaton-based TOP Roofing, to replace the roof on the  county’s Fairview Building at 905 N. Main St., Normal.
  • Created application fees for a tax incentive program aimed at expanding affordable housing options within existing stock.
Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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