© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Woodford County government may declare 'non-sanctuary' status for migrants

The Woodford County Courthouse in Eureka, Ill.
Tim Shelley
Peoria Public Radio
The Woodford County Courthouse in Eureka, Ill.

Woodford County may declare itself a non-sanctuary county for migrants in the country illegally next week.

"We're stating to the state as well as to our governor: We do not accept the influx of migrants in this community. If you do, there are some ramifications. We do have steps in place that will be able to deal with this challenge that you basically impose upon this county," said county board member Zach Ferris at a Tuesday meeting of the county public safety committee.

A resolution drafted by the Woodford County State's Attorney's Office says the county doesn't have the resources or infrastructure needed to support migrants, and declares the county won't accept or provide taxpayer-funded services for migrants or asylum seekers in the country illegally, except for in emergency situations.

"That's a big budget issue. I mean, you're talking about an unbudgeted-for item when you get a large mass of people into your area that now you have to potentially take care of," said public safety committee chairman Blake Parsons.

The resolution also states migrants in the country illegally can bring more crime and communicable diseases, in addition to the strain on public resources.

Both the state and Chicago city government have struggled to wrap their arms around the migrant crisis in the absence of significant federal intervention. More than $64.8 million was spent by the state on asylum seekers from November 2023 through April 9, according to the Illinois State Comptroller's Office. That doesn't include most of the $478 million Gov. JB Pritzker announced for migrants in his budget address.

Language in the resolution was changed by the public safety committee to explicity identify immigrants in the country illegally as the target of the non-sancutary stance, as opposed to migrant farm workers or migrants sponsored by churches.

LaSalle and Grundy counties recently passed similar "non-sanctuary" resolutions. Since 2022, the state of Texas has transported more than 38,000 asylum seekers to Illinois, almost entirely to the city of Chicago. Most of those asylum seekers are from Venezuela.

U.S law allows asylum seekers at the border to legally enter the country if they're processed at a port of entry. A migrant can also declare a fear of persecution and ask for asylum, regardless of how they entered the country. A year is then given to allow the migrant to formally apply for asylum. The migrant can remain in the U.S. legally while the application process is underway. It can take several years for a migrant's asylum application to clear.

Asylum seekers can apply for work authorization to support themselves after five months in the country, but as the Chicago Bar Foundation notes, there are currently huge backlogs causing significant delays in processing those applications.

Zach Taylor is a Metamora High School board member who spoke in favor of the measure during public comment.

"Somebody's got to pay for it. Our taxes are already extremely high on the market. I don't know where we're going to get the money. And relying on federal funds, it's kind of irresponsible, fiscally, for accounting," he said.

Metamora resident John Armstrong also supports the measure.

"Pritzker hasn't started shipping them yet. But it's in the making. So we need to vote now for this. It's important to all our communities. Eureka, Washington, Metamora. All our surrounding communities," he said.

The resolution goes before the full Woodford County Board on April 16. Neighboring Marshall County is considering adoption of a similar measure on April 11.

Ferris said the next step for Woodford County could be another resolution imposing fines on charter bus companies dropping off migrants, though it's not clear if those could be enforced in practice.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.