Burr Ridge mayor ‘blindsided’ by arrival of dozens of migrants for temporary housing: ‘I’m not a believer in sanctuary cities’
By Zareen Syed
Sep 09, 2022 at 4:39 pm
Migrants are led from one bus to another bus after arriving from Texas at Union Station in Chicago on Sept. 9, 2022. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso called the events of Wednesday when dozens of migrant families were transported from a shelter in Chicago to a hotel in the western suburb, “abysmal government coordination.”
“Until today, no one has officially contacted me. They were in Texas and now all of a sudden they’re in Burr Ridge?” Grasso said over a phone call with Pioneer Press Friday afternoon. “Our beef is not with these people, they want to come to America for a better life — my God, my grandparents did the same thing. That’s not what I’m upset about.”
Burr Ridge, with a population of about 11,000, has five hotels, including Hampton Inn & Suites, where 64 migrants from Venezuela will be temporarily housed for 30 days. Grasso said in a statement Thursday that village officials were not consulted beforehand.
Migrants from Venezuela relax outside the Hampton Inn & Suites in suburban Burr Ridge on Sept. 8, 2022. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Over the last week, hundreds of individuals and families were bused to Chicago from Texas as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to send asylum-seekers to sanctuary cities. The first group of migrants arrived at Chicago’s Union Station on Aug. 31 in two buses carrying dozens each.
Another bus of migrants arrived in Chicago last weekend with more than 50 people looking for housing, employment, and a better future. More than 150 asylum-seekers arrived in three more buses on Wednesday afternoon, of which 64 refugees were taken to Hampton Inn from a shelter in Humboldt Park.
“Our laws are based on due process, on notice — on a right to speak up before something happens to you. We were completely blindsided and the idea that neither the city nor the state thought to call the mayor or the administrator of our village to me is almost intentional to just do this to us,” Grasso said on Friday.
According to village officials, the families are expected to stay in Burr Ridge over the next few weeks but ultimately no more than 30 days from when they first arrived, and staff members from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) are staying close to assist with finding housing and employment. Some of the refugees have families in the area while others are being assisted by private agencies.
Earlier this year, Burr Ridge hosted asylum-seeking refugees from Afghanistan who have now found permanent housing and employment, according to Grasso. Those families also stayed at Hampton Inn & Suites, he said.
“Being a place for refugees to come sounds like immigration — it’s not the hotel business,” Grasso said, sharing that he has been in touch with hotel staff. “We would likely not let you open a hotel if you tell us that you’re going to be housing refugees as your primary source of business.”
It’s not typical for a hotel to notify the mayor if large groups of people book rooms, but agencies who coordinate the accommodations should be expected to reach out, he said.
“We’re not told that somebody is having a wedding, but we’re generally told when a major event is happening in our village,” Grasso said. “I didn’t know if we were going to need more police, I didn’t know if the restaurants needed more staffing — I didn’t know the scale of this.”
Israel Velasquez, 13, gives a kiss to his little sister, Ana Isabel, 3 months, as the family relaxes with other migrants from Venezuela outside the Hampton Inn & Suites in suburban Burr Ridge on Sept. 8, 2022. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Grasso said he spoke to representatives from IDHS on Friday, but even they couldn’t tell him “whose calling the shots,” and why Burr Ridge.
“You mean to tell me there are no hotels with empty rooms in the city of Chicago?” Grasso said. “But I’ll tell you one thing, I’m sure they’re a heck of a lot safer in Burr Ridge than they would be in Chicago.”
Grasso said the “competency of village leadership” was called to question when he had to admit he knew no more about the matter than his constituents.
In a news release Thursday, Grasso listed several things he wanted residents to be aware of, including that refugees received health screening at the border and those who required isolation were taken to a public health shelter outside of Burr Ridge.
Village officials also mentioned that the federal government, which handles all immigration matters, granted legal refugee status to these migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and those housed in Burr Ridge are legally permitted to be in the United States.
Grasso said the plan is for village officials to work with IDHS to help the families find employment, something he said could have been done proactively, had he known.
“There are people here that want to offer some of these migrants jobs; we have restaurants that need cleaning people, bus boys and women — local groceries have reached out and asked if they can make offers,” Grasso explained. “If this had been better coordinated we probably could have started finding them jobs — or help the kids go to school. We wouldn’t have objected to that.”
While on the phone, Grasso said he was staring at 10 emails from residents who still had questions and concerns.
“I’m not a believer in sanctuary cities, I don’t think my community is in favor of it, some might be but I think most aren’t,” he said.
Hampton Inn & Suites management could not be reached for comment.