The order to evict nearly 200 migrant workers from a former South Bend nursing home has been dropped.
The about-face comes just one day after the city’s code enforcement department flexed its muscles, citing multiple fire code violations within the building located in the 5000-block of Western Ave. That list included chains on exit doors, broken exit signs and no sprinkler system, the last of which could cost tens of thousands of dollars to install.
"If this place was safe enough to put our mentally ill people prior to 2010, then it's surely safe enough to put hard-working people who work day and night to put food on our table,” South Bend attorney Felipe Merino.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Pete Buttigieg wouldn't explain what led the city to change its stance. However, 6th District Councilman Oliver Davis Jr. and 2nd District Councilman Henry Davis Jr. tell NewsCenter 16, the switch came down to a community banding together to quite literally, fight city hall.
"We have an issue and the issue is that the city administration is asking that visitors leave the city of South Bend,” Henry Davis Jr. said during a Friday afternoon media conference.
The lifestyle of a migrant worker is a strenuous one with wake-up calls around 4 a.m. most mornings. Migrants of all ages then ride a bus to local farms where they clock 12 to 14 hour days. Come night, workers often reside in vacant or overcrowded houses with deplorable conditions.
"If you've ever been into a home of a migrant farm worker, the place that they're living in now is more like a palace then the place they were coming from before,” a local Latino expert said.
Advocates say migrants also help sustain local the economy, in this case spending money at local restaurants and grocery stores on the city’s far west side.
"If these were Notre Dame students would they be asked to move out on Monday? Would we put 200 Notre Dame students, IUSB students, Saint Mary's students out on the street? Would we do that,” Oliver Davis Jr. asked rhetorically.
Oliver Davis Jr. says despite a Hispanic population of roughly 10-percent, South Bend has never elected a Latino resident to the common council. It's his opinion the city’s “knee-jerk reaction” would not have occurred if Hispanics had more representation within the community.
A special joint meeting of the Zoning and Annexation Committee and the Health and Public Safety Committee is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. on the fourth floor of the County-City Building. There city leaders will discuss the future use of the Western Ave. facility. They’ll also talk about the possibility of using a grandfather clause to avoid the overhead cost of installing a sprinkler system. After all, all 190 migrants are scheduled to leave town by mid-August.