Naperville councilman proposes exploring system for local residents who want to host migrant families

Naperville City Councilman Josh McBroom is adamant the city should not use taxpayer dollars to house or aid migrant families amid the continued and growing influx of asylum-seekers to the Chicago area.

However, he would welcome Naperville families being given the option to host migrant families instead.

McBroom brought the idea forward at the Naperville City Council’s Tuesday night meeting.

Chicago’s migrant crisis and how it has or could involve Naperville was not on the meeting agenda. McBroom broached the idea under new business.

Since August 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent more than 630 buses and 30,000 migrants to the Chicago area. For more than a year, Abbott’s unrelenting practice of busing migrants to Illinois was centralized to Chicago. But in December, buses started arriving in collar counties after Chicago tightened restrictions on when and where migrant drop-offs could take place.

To skirt the regulations, buses began unloading at suburban Metra stations, leaving migrants to go the rest of the way to Chicago by train.

As of Wednesday, six buses carrying migrants have stopped at Naperville’s downtown Metra station since Dec. 21, according to city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche.

With a new precedent of buses arriving announced in the suburbs, McBroom said Tuesday “there’s increasing pressure for some suburbs to … do (their) part.”

Other suburbs have responded with regulations establishing when and where buses can drop off migrants arriving from the southern border.

But for Naperville, which has been quiet about the recent wave of suburban drop-offs, McBroom broached the possibility of creating a sign-up sheet for local households willing to host migrant families.

“We do have a very affluent community. A lot of big homes,” he said. “What I’d like to do is direct staff to create a sign-up sheet for individuals that would be willing to house migrant families. And if there’s people that would do that, God bless them.”

Because the matter was introduced under new business and not formally on Tuesday’s agenda, the council could not take final action on the recommendation. Instead, McBroom directed staff “to come back with their ideas on how they could facilitate something like this.”

By a show of hands, council members Nate Wilson, Paul Leong and Jennifer Bruzan Taylor supported McBroom’s proposal. The idea will be vetted more thoroughly by staff before it is brought back to the council for discussion at a future meeting.

“Our constituents are asking about it more frequently,” McBroom said, adding that he’s heard from community members who are imploring the city to do more as well as some who are asking what the city is doing to prevent buses from coming to Naperville.

While he stressed that “taxpayer dollars are not and will not be used to house or aid potential migrants coming to Naperville,” per the conversations he has had with city leadership, “I do think that it’s an issue. I’m hearing stories about little kids at train stations without coats on.”

In the early hours of Jan. 5, the Chicago Tribune watched a charter bus from Texas drop off a group of migrants at a Glen Ellyn Metra station and then drive away. After missing their train to Chicago, migrants stood outside in subfreezing temperatures wearing cotton T-shirts, pants and sandals.

They told the Tribune they had spent several days in a detention center in El Paso, Texas, one of the world’s largest urban border regions.

Glen Ellyn received the bus after a wave of nearby municipalities passed ordinances to curb migrant drop-offs in their own jurisdictions.

Those sort of ordinances do not appeal to him, McBroom said. And he doesn’t think his fellow elected leaders would support them either.

“I’m not sure anyone in Naperville government would have the appetite to go down that road,” McBroom said, speaking with the Sun Wednesday.

Still, he wants the council to discuss the issue.

“I did not want to propose one of these more aggressive ordinances for a lot of reasons, but I wanted the situation to be addressed because we’re a major city and we’ve been largely silent publicly about it. And it’s like, what could I propose?”

Asked how hosting migrant families in Naperville would work, McBroom said, “Right now, for me, it’s just information.”

“You know, if we had a number of homes who said yes, we are willing to take in migrants into our home, who do we contact and how do we coordinate? Or would (the city) play a role in that? Or will we provide them the resources. Say here’s where you could contact. … I don’t know, and there’s probably a lot of legal questions that would need to be answered.

“I think the first step would just be, let’s find out … if there’s willing residents. I think there probably are some.”

Councilman Wilson voiced support for McBroom’s idea Tuesday. He said that while “city services won’t be directed toward this … we obviously don’t want kids or people (outside) when it’s negative 10 degrees.”

Meanwhile, Councilman Patrick Kelly said he would not support the use of much staff time on “a project like this” without clear support from the community.

Mayor Scott Wehrli also had reservations.

“I’d be concerned,” he said, “about our liability in potential screening and necessary things that are involved in trying to connect families to shelter migrants and any exposure we would have at the city level.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Nell Salzman contributed.