Grace Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, addressed the Countryside City Council on Sept. 14 about asylum seekers. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Grace Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, addressed the Countryside City Council on Sept. 14 about asylum seekers. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Countryside hosts 50 asylum seekers from Venezuela

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By Steve Metsch

The city of Countryside has warmly welcomed 50 refugees from Venezuela who are seeking asylum in the United States, officials said at the latest city council meeting.

“These are individuals going through the process,” Mayor Sean McDermott said. “They are legally in the United States and they are seeking asylum, which a process that’s been going on for decades.”

Grace Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, at the Sept. 14 city council meeting, spoke about what the people have been going through since they arrived in Countryside.

Hou, who grew up in the La Grange Highlands and is a graduate of Lyons Township High School, has been impressed.

“The outpouring of love and support in my backyard is truly an amazing thing. We’ve seen in the last two weeks a roller coaster of emotions from people who are scared or fearful without knowing what the issues are,” Hou said.

Based on personal experience, Hou knows what it’s like to be new to America. She called herself “an ABC, an American born Chinese,” noting her parents fled from Communist China to Taiwan to America.

“They found not only a safe harbor here, but a place where their children could flourish,” she said.

The same is hoped for those from Venezuela, said Hou and McDermott.

The first buses arrived on Aug. 31, she said.

“It is our duty to provide health and safety. It’s even more of a challenge because sometimes we have three hours or 10 hours,” Hou said.

Fifty seeking asylum were lodged at the Holiday Inn in Countryside as of Sept. 14, she said. More than 500 have come to the Chicago area, she said.

“(Yesterday) in the early morning hours, Chicago received its 11th bus (from Texas). We need to work closely with the city to provide immediate shelter,” she said.

She noted that Washington, D.C., has received 10,000 people and New York City 8,000 since April.

“We know we as a state want to do right by these families,” she said.

Many have expressed interest in finding permanent lodging in the area, along with steady work.

Several Countryside businesses have reached out to McDermott, seeking employees.

“There are businesses who say, ‘Please send people to me, we’re looking for workers’,” he said.

Three other hotels are being used to house the refugees, including one in Burr Ridge, one in Elk Grove Village and one near O’Hare Airport, she said.

Asked by a resident if the process would be continuous, Hou said “we have no control over how many buses are sent to Chicago.”

McDermott said “we don’t control who comes to our hotels, whether they be individuals seeking asylum or 60 Irishmen who came five years ago to drive Route 66 and they stayed at our hotel.”

“We welcome these individuals and we offered to do what we can to be of assistance,” McDermott said.

Ald. John Von Drasek (2nd) asked what impact the pandemic might have had.

Hou said those seeking asylum have health screenings when they arrive in America, and have access to health care.

Ald. John Finn (1st) added “after hearing everything tonight, I just want to say how proud I am of the city about how welcoming we are. That’s what a community is all about.”

In a light moment, McDermott said Hou told him her wedding rehearsal dinner was held at the Flame restaurant.

The former site of the longtime restaurant is now home to city hall.

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