While some Burr Ridge residents say they are leery of migrants, Mayor Gary Grasso suggests there may not be any more coming

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The Monday meeting of the Burr Ridge Mayor and Board of Trustees could have been a routine event, save for the news last week that around 64 Venezuelans were staying in a Hampton Inn in town.

Mostly, Mayor Gary Grasso said, the issue was one of politics and less about the people staying at a Hampton Inn.

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According to Grasso, the people, all refugees, all legal, seeking asylum, and none costing the local taxpayers anything, are awaiting more permanent housing. Even so, Grasso pushed back at the process if not at the migrants, noting that he had no idea Burr Ridge would be hosting 64 people.

“We didn’t know that this was happening,” Grasso said on Monday. He said he didn’t know until a friend of his from the DuPage Board of Health called him to let him know asylum-seekers would be staying in a DuPage hotel.

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“This is not about the migrants,” Grasso said. “They have been of perfect behavior. They are fleeing conditions that were almost as certainly as bad or worse than our ancestors were fleeing.”

He said he was concerned over health and safety issues for the community at large.

“What did trouble me a lot is that I was not in a position, the board of trustees were not in a position, and the staff were not in a position to answer questions about whether there were any concerns of health, of whether there were any unaccompanied minors or whether they were illegal or legal,” Grasso said.

He made it clear the people would likely leave though any children, in the meantime, would be eligible for placement in public schools. That said, Grasso also added that members of the Burr Ridge community have offered the people employment, clothes and food — noting that Burr Ridge is a welcoming environment.

“I have been there twice and I have observed they’re all well-groomed and, as I said, well-behaved and I’ve been told there are not health issues.”

Grasso mentioned state health workers are with the people constantly, should there be any outbreaks of any illnesses. But, so far, they’re fine and the chief of police agreed they posed no danger to the community.

Grasso said the issue is one of politics. The governor’s office implied that suburban Chicago communities were xenophobic for not welcoming legal, temporary — if foreign — visitors to their communities. Grasso and others bristled at this. One man from the audience said the governor should apologize to Burr Ridge.

The mayor said that on Sunday, as he watched a football game, he got a call from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was upset that he pushed back at housing 64 people in the Hampton Inn. But, he added, she agreed he should have known the people were staying at the hotel.

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“After she calmed down, she admitted to me that we had every right to know in advance,” he said. “She said that was not the city of Chicago’s fault, but that’s the state of Illinois’ fault as they had taken over.”

The state is, so far, paying all the bills for the two dozen families. Even so, Grasso said he would have preferred notice from the governor’s office about the people at the Hampton Inn. Grasso said the village has a right to know about refugees who are temporarily staying in town.

“We should be able to question, politely, and get a polite answer and not be disparaged,” he said. “This is a diverse community and we are proud of our diversity.”

And again, he emphasized he’s not against hosting the families.

“We will welcome this situation, and these people, because they are being used as pawns, in my opinion.”

The board agreed with Grasso’s position.

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“I think we’re always open to welcoming new people to the village, but we should have been informed as we’re accountable to the residents,” said Trustee Anita Mital.

Still, some residents were skeptical about the 64 people at the hotel.

“I think everything you had to say, right here, right now, is lovely,” a woman said. “But the way this world is, I do not have any more confidence in the federal government in the way things are going. How do we know it ends with the 64?”

Grasso said he doubted more refugees would be coming anytime soon as he suspects his pushback would be enough to stymie any more foreign ‘visitors.’

“In the Italian language, ‘basta.’ Enough,” Grasso said. “Unless we hear in advance, there should be no more of such visitors to the village without confirming with me and the board and I don’t think that will happen again.”

Jesse Wright is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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September 13, 2022 at 04:18PM

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