top of page

Your turn: Let’s take the “Keep Out” sign off Winnebago County

On the corner of 7th street and 6th avenue in Rockford is the old Rockford train station, now the home of the Midtown District.

In the front is a cornerstone with a plaque that reads: “At this place, Swedish immigrants arrived in Rockford with their vision of a new life in America. From here they began their life as Swedish Americans.”

Since the very beginning, Winnebago County has been a beacon that called immigrants to come and pursue the American Dream.

From the statue of the three settlers who founded Rockford — Germanicus Kent, Thatcher Blake, and Lewis Lemon (who was an enslaved person) — to the bronze casting of the Joe Marino statue holding his famous fireworks, this community has celebrated the people who have settled here as innovators and entrepreneurs, skilled workers and bold creators.

Right now, the State of Illinois is offering to help Winnebago County and the city of Rockford to prepare for and assist legal migrants. Millions of dollars are being made available to accommodate asylum seekers that are being sent to Illinois from border states, often without warning.

Take the politics out of it. Over $50 Million has been allocated through the Illinois Department of Human Services for “SMASS” grants — “Supporting Municipalities for Asylum Seeker Services” grants.

Millions of dollars have already gone to help communities process, house, feed and prepare for immigrants that have already been sent to communities across Illinois.

But there are some on the Winnebago County Board who would turn away those financial resources from the state. They would prefer to close the doors to asylum seekers – to put a big red “X” on Rockford. They want a “Keep Out” sign that turns away people who are coming here looking for opportunities to escape violence and disorder, to protect their families, and to offer their children a better life.

More poignantly, they closed the doors of our county to asylum seekers, who are here legally as their cases are processed by the federal government.

But let’s be clear — regardless of what the board decides, immigrants will always come to Winnebago County, just as they have done for generations.

Asylum seekers are going to see the same things that appeal to our current residents — an affordable city, access to great food and plenty of resources, job openings, and opportunities to build new communities and be good neighbors.

It’s time for Winnebago County and Rockford to plan ahead. We need to expect the unexpected, and be prepared for a future when another flight of asylum seekers land at the Rockford airport unannounced.

We need to know what to do, and we need to have the resources to do it, resources that this vote put in jeopardy .

Our community cannot and should not operate based on partisan politics and fear. We must live up to our values of welcoming and caring for one another, values that make this city and county so exceptional. Plus, practically speaking, we need to prepare ourselves. We need to stay ready so that we won’t have to get ready.

We know that “Keep Out” signs don’t actually keep people out. We know that the big red “X” signs that mark blighted buildings only serve to diminish the value of these proud places that once held the bustling businesses of the generations of settlers that came before us.

Let’s take the “keep out” sign off our community and accept the resources necessary to welcome new arrivals to Rockford and Winnebago County.

Together, we can write a new chapter in our story, a story that was started by immigrants nearly two centuries ago.

State Rep. Maurice West II, D-Rockford, represents Illinois' 67th House District, an area that encompasses much of west and south Rockford, Cherry Valley and parts of Loves Park and Machesney Park.

1 Comment

elmer mcgee
elmer mcgee
Apr 24

What can be done about those of us who have lived here almost their entire life and can't seem to overcome some of the long standing Illinois laws that keep punishing us on a daily basis? The expungement process in this state leaves me to wonder if anyone has taken a serious look at these outdated laws. I for one would love to insert myself into the Community more, but because of the background checks that go way back to far, it is not possible.

No as far as immigrants go, I don't see anyone performing these types of background checks on any of them...

bottom of page