Elgin accepts $1.27 million grant to support asylum-seekers, clarifies it's not a sanctuary city

Elgin formally accepted a $1.27 million grant to support asylum-seekers, but officials were careful to note it is not a sanctuary city and they don't expect busloads of new migrants showing up.

The Elgin City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to accept the Supporting Municipalities for Asylum-Seekers (SMASS) grant awarded by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The city applied for the grant with three local social service agency partners - Centro de InformaciĆ³n, Food for Greater Elgin and Well Child Center - to address the needs of hundreds of asylum-seekers already using services from the groups.

"These are people who have already made their way here to Elgin," Assistant City Manager Karinna Nava said. "We have a variety of services here and people hear about it through word-of-mouth."

The grant is intended to fund services including housing, food, wraparound - comprehensive supports for youth and families such as case management, counseling, crisis care, outreach, and education - and legal and health support for people who entered from the U.S.-Mexico border since August 2022.

Nava said due to time constraints related to applying for the grant, the three agencies were chosen because of their existing partnerships with the city and each other. Also, all three already had been serving hundreds of new asylum-seekers since last year.

"In a perfect world, we would have put out notice to the nonprofit community and had everybody involved," Nava said. "It was just really trying to get the ball rolling and having a strong application."

Centro de InformaciĆ³n will use the money to provide critical wraparound services, legal immigration and rental assistance. Food for Greater Elgin will use the funds to provide access to healthy and nutritious food, and Well Child Center will provide essential health care services for women and children.

The city received the full $1,270,699 requested in the grant. Lake County also is expected to receive nearly $1 million from the program, recently announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Nearly $42 million in awards will flow to local governments taking in migrants fleeing violence and other threats, mostly from countries south of the U.S. border.

Other municipalities receiving funding are Chicago, at $30.25 million, and Oak Park, $150,000.

Illinois has seen more than 15,000 new arrivals originally from Central and South America since Aug. 31, 2022, most of whom arrived in buses sent by the state of Texas.

Several Elgin council members said residents have expressed concerns accepting the grant would lead to a flood of new asylum-seekers.

"Just so the public knows, we're not asking for buses to come with people," council member Carol Rauschenberger said.

Council member John Steffen said anecdotally he's seen a growing number of asylum-seekers while volunteering at Food for Greater Elgin.

"They're here already and they have needs right now," he said. "It's not something we can afford to debate about."

Mayor David Kaptain said Elgin's situation is not analogous to Joliet, which recently turned down an $8.6 million grant it was awarded after residents there expressed concerns taking the money could make Joliet a destination for asylum-seekers.

"Elgin is not a sanctuary city," Kaptain said. "Chicago is a sanctuary city and Chicago is doing a pretty good job I'd say of dealing with the problem that they have. This money is a pass through to the people who know what best to do with it. The city of Elgin should not be building facilities and hiring people to do that, you guys (the agencies whose representatives were at Wednesday's council meeting) do the best job with it."

  Centro de Informacion is one of three community partners chosen by Elgin to benefit from a $1.27 million grant to aid asylum-seekers. Rick West/
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