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Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration begins filing lawsuits against operators of 'rogue buses' of migrants

Sarah Freishtat and Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration has quietly begun filing lawsuits over what it has described as “rogue buses” transporting migrants, an escalation the mayor has coupled with an attempt to further crack down on the transportation companies.

The stepped-up enforcement is the Johnson administration’s latest effort to address the influx of new arrivals, which has become one of the mayor’s most vexing challenges. The care of more than 24,400 migrants who have arrived in Chicago since August 2022 has taken on heightened urgency as winter sets in, and tested the limits of how welcoming the city can be.

The city has filed 55 lawsuits since it implemented new rules about when and where buses can arrive in mid-November, the Law Department said. The lawsuits address 77 total buses accused of violating the rules, and public records show at least some cases are seeking fines against the bus companies.

Mayor’s office spokesman Cassio Mendoza in a statement characterized “rogue, uncoordinated” buses as endangering the lives of newly arriving migrants, and said bus companies should be held accountable.

Chicago “continues to welcome asylum-seekers but the city cannot safely and efficiently shelter migrants when bus companies, contracted by the State of Texas, flagrantly violate all safety measures that the city has put in place,” he said.

The city announced it would crack down on buses in mid-November, laying out rules for when and where buses could drop off migrants. Buses were capped at two per hour, and limited to drop-offs between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The rules also require intercity buses to apply for approval from the city to drop off passengers. The Chicago Department of Transportation said it has not received any applications.

The mayor’s office is now seeking the ability to impound buses that don’t follow the rules and fine owners up to $3,000. Chicago police would write the citation, Jeffrey Levine, deputy corporation counsel for the city, told aldermen at a committee meeting Friday. The city could also cite companies by mail, if the bus information is captured on camera.

 

The city approval process was designed to create “predictability and orderliness as far as when such buses would be arriving in the city,” Levine said. Adding harsher penalties is intended to encourage better compliance.

Aldermen advanced the harsher penalties Friday, and they are pending final approval by the City Council.

Since May, 463 buses have arrived in Chicago, according to figures provided by the city. Five buses arrived Thursday, and buses were also expected Friday. Recent buses have dropped off passengers outside the city, in places like Schiller Park, Rosemont and Cicero, and around O’Hare International Airport, the mayor’s office said.

The mid-November rules reflected the city’s fast-dwindling capacity for its thousands of new arrivals. City officials also said they would begin issuing notices to migrants at city-run shelters to vacate the premises within 60 days and that they would boost personnel at initial bus landing spots to help asylum-seekers relocate out of the city, if they so choose.

Johnson had begun efforts to build a camp to house migrants in heated winter tents on a controversial Southwest Side lot, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration moved to scrap that plan Tuesday as tensions between Springfield and City Hall escalate.

Pritzker’s office said an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency review of a city environmental report of the site indicated “concerns related to insufficient soil sampling and remediation,” and it would take too long to do additional testing and remediation so the state would not proceed with the camp.

The search for another camp site to house migrants continues.


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