Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Starting in January, Illinois will allow couples who obtained civil-union licenses this year to file joint state income tax returns, a symbolic change that likely won't save couples money but that one gay-rights group called an important step.
Monday's announcement comes after Illinois became the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's civil union law in January.
That bill included the right to decide medical care for an ailing partner and the right to inherit property, but it didn't include the ability for same-sex couples to file a joint tax return.
While federal law does not allow same-sex couples to submit taxes together, Quinn pushed for the state to make the change after signing the civil union bill, Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer said Monday.
"This was basically the governor saying, 'Find a way to make this work,'" she said.
New tax paperwork and other details haven't been finalized. Officials plan to have same-sex couples who will file individual federal returns also fill out a joint federal return for the state's use only, Hofer said.
The state income tax forms are based on a couple's adjusted gross income on the federal return.
Illinois has a flat income tax of 5 percent, so the benefits couples receive from filing together for federal taxes won't apply at the state level, Hofer said. Still, she added that couples wil still have some additional benefits, like property tax exemptions or education assistance tax credits.
"It's a fairness issue," she said. "And that's the way the governor presented it."
The policy would have no bearing on filing federal taxes jointly because of federal restrictions on gay marriage.
"But this is still a major step because it allows civil union couples to be treated in the same way as married couples are treated, and that's exactly what the lawmakers intended," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.
Cherkasov said he hopes Illinois' recent efforts to extend rights to same-sex couples carry over to the federal level. He also said the change would benefit same-sex couples in the future if lawmakers change the state tax code.
"We wanted to make sure that we don't give up on that fight now only to create a real disadvantage for civil-union couples later down the road," he said.
According to the group, Illinois will become the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow joint state tax returns.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to throw another wrench into a key immigration-enforcement program of President Obama's administration, saying it ensnares too many people and erodes trust in local police.
An Aug. 18 letter from the governor's office to John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hints about a possible legal challenge and asks the federal agency to contact all 26 Illinois counties that have agreed to participate in the program, called Secure Communities, to confirm they still want to take part.
"This is the least that ICE can do," wrote John Schomberg, Quinn's general counsel. "These counties signed up, along with the state, for a Secure Communities that is far different from the program that was . . . originally presented by ICE."
Launched in 2008, Secure Communities enables ICE to use fingerprints that local police agencies send to the FBI for criminal background checks. The fingerprints help ICE identify jail inmates who lack permission to be in the United States.
The Obama administration says the program helps focus immigration enforcement on dangerous criminals, such as murderers and kidnappers, and on repeat immigration violators. ICE reports that Secure Communities has led to the deportation of more than 86,000 convicted criminals.
ICE data show that about half of those immigrants were convicted of misdemeanors, not felonies. The program has led to the deportation of another 34,000 people not convicted of any crime.
Quinn withdrew Illinois from Secure Communities in May. New York and Massachusetts followed with similar steps.
But an August 5 letter from Morton to governors says states no longer have any choice and that Secure Communities will extend to all local law-enforcement jurisdictions in the United States by 2013. An addendum to the letter describes changes in the program. Those include elimination of a state role in conveying data to help track the fingerprints.
Mark Fleming, an attorney with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, said ICE could end up in court if Secure Communities lacks the consent of the local jurisdictions.
"The governor's office may be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge," Fleming said.
Fleming points to U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1990s that said the Constitution's 10th Amendment bars Congress from compelling state and local governments to administer federal regulations.
Asked whether Illinois officials are cooking up a lawsuit, a Quinn spokeswoman points to Schomberg's letter, which says the governor's office "will continue to monitor and evaluate" Secure Communities and "consider all of the state's options."
ICE representatives did not respond to requests by Chicago Public Radio for comment about whether Secure Communities is constitutional.
The Obama administration lately has played down agreements through which it first brought state and local governments into the federal initiative. "We wanted to work with the locals and let them know about the program," said Jon Gurule, an ICE official who helped set up Secure Communities. "But, from the operational side, it's federal information sharing between two federal agencies and it's congressionally mandated."
If ICE sought consent from the Illinois counties, as Quinn is requesting, some might opt out. A handful of Chicago-area sheriffs have publicly criticized Secure Communities.
"If they honor the governor's request, I would not want to partake in it," said Patrick Perez, sheriff of west suburban Kane County, part of Secure Communities since 2009.
"The program has not turned out to be what it was supposed to be," Perez said, pointing to the deportation of non-criminals. "People in the Hispanic community have become very reticent to contact police if they're victims of crime because they're fearful that if they contact us to report a crime that they will be deported."
The program also has its defenders.
"My life has been destroyed by all of this cheap, foreign scab labor," said a 56-year-old network engineer in Chicago who blames immigrants for his unemployment and asks that his name not be published because he's job hunting. "Whether it's illegal aliens or foreign legal workers, they're hurting American citizens. Secure Communities removes the criminals and that's a start.
Illinois Democrats who've been fighting for federal immigration reform are praising the Obama administration's decision to allow many illegal immigrants facing deportation the chance to stay.
Homeland Security officials announced Thursday that authorities will review the cases of about 300,000 illegal immigrants facing possible deportation. Those without criminal records get to stay indefinitely and a chance to apply for a work permit.
Sen. Dick Durbin has supported DREAM Act legislation for illegal immigrant students for years. He says the policy is fair to young people who were brought into the country illegally by their parents.
Congressman Luis Gutierrez says it's the type of policy that immigrant rights advocates have been wanting from Obama.
Not all support it. Texas GOP Congressman Michael McCaul says Obama is implementing reforms against Congress' will.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A federal program that involves state and local police agencies in immigration enforcement is stirring up controversy. The program helps federal authorities see if criminal suspects have permission to be in the United States. Immigrant advocates say the program snares too many people who haven't committed crimes.
This spring, Gov. Pat Quinn made Illinois the first of three states to withdraw from the program. But now the feds are saying states have to participate, whether they want to or not. A big question is whether Quinn will mount a legal challenge. At a hearing Wednesday night in Chicago over the program, a crowd turned raucous and 10 people were arrested, according to the Chicago Police Department.
In a word, the program has meant fingerprints. State and local police forces routinely get them from suspects as part of booking. Most jurisdictions send the fingerprints to the FBI for a national criminal background check. The Secure Communities program makes it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to use the fingerprints. President Obama's administration has said the goal is to focus immigration-enforcement resources on deporting criminals like murderers, rapists and others who threaten public safety.
ICE reports that Secure Communities has helped lead to the deportation of more than 650 convicted criminal aliens in Illinois alone. But, the program has also led to hundreds of deportations of people without criminal records. Opponents of the program say it also erodes public trust in local cops, which presents another set of public-safety threats. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn pulled the state out of the program in May. New York and Massachusetts quickly followed suit. This month, the feds told states they have no choice; that all law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide must participate by 2013.
Some attorneys at immigrant advocacy groups say they're trying working on a legal strategy for Illinois to cut ties to the program. They say they have the ear of the Quinn administration. A spokesman for Quinn says the governor's office is looking at the situation carefully but that it's too soon to discuss legal options.
At the same time, the federal Department of Homeland Security has formed a task force to help find ways to improve the Secure Communities program to keep it from damaging local law enforcement, though some immigrant advocates are calling it PR.
The task force is holding at least four hearings around the country. The third one was Wednesday night in in a downtown Chicago union hall. About 300 people packed in. The mic was open and most of the speakers said they opposed Secure Communities. Carolina is a Mexican-born mother whose kids are U.S. citizens. She asked us not to broadcast her last name because she's undocumented. So is her husband. She said Chicago police arrested him after a mixup over some broken car windows that landed him in deportation proceedings. He's got a one-way flight to Mexico out of O'Hare this morning.
"He's being deported," she said. "Do you really think that this program is working? How many more families have to suffer? Do you have children? Think of them? How would they feel if they were separated from you?"
A few minutes later most of the crowd at the hearing suddenly started yelling. It was an orchestrated protest. They stood up and followed some young undocumented activists out the door. Some of them then blocked an intersection and got arrested.
Back inside, a retired teacher said he was a brother of the victim in a hit-and-run collision that got some press coverage a couple months ago.
"I am here to report that my brother Dennis was killed by an illegal alien in the Logan Square neighborhood on June 6, 2011," said Brian McCann. "The offender hit him and then stepped on the gas, rolling over his body, and dragged him several blocks. The offender had recently completed two years' probation for another aggravated felony DUI."
McCann said he didn't know enough about the Secure Communities program to take a stand on it. But he said, at minimum, he wants immigration violators who are felons to be deported.
Gov. Pat Quinn says that by the middle of September he hopes to name a nine-member commission that will establish private scholarships for immigrant children in Illinois both illegally and legally.
Quinn says he wants to make sure people who want to serve on the commission created by the Illinois Dream Act he signed this week have time to submit their names for consideration.
The Chicago Democrat will name the commission that has to raise private money to fund the scholarships because no taxpayer dollars will be used.
Immigrant children can qualify if they attend an Illinois high school for at least three years and have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States.
Quinn has already pledged $1,000 to the fund.
A college education will be more affordable for thousands of undocumented immigrants in Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a bill that will set up privately funded college scholarships for children of immigrants, legal or not. The program's backers say it will be the nation's first state-created scholarship fund benefiting undocumented immigrants.
"[It's] certainly something that will get noticed around the country and in the Congress," said Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute.
The Illinois measure could build support for a federal bill called the DREAM Act, according to McHugh. That bill, introduced in May by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) would lay a path to citizenship for many undocumented students and military members who arrived in the country before age 16. Durbin has been pushing versions of this measure since 2001.
Opponents say helping out the young people rewards their parents for violating immigration laws.
Quinn signed the scholarships bill at Benito Juárez Community Academy, a mostly Mexican high school in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. He called the occasion a "landmark" day and told an auditorium of people that education is the key to opportunity in a democracy.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the ceremony after announcing support for the measure in May. Lobbying led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights helped push the bill through the Illinois Senate and House that month.
Under the measure, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission will create a nonprofit organization to manage the scholarship funds. High-school guidance counselors will receive training about the program. The immigrant families will also be able to join state-run college savings programs.
Illinois and several other states already provide undocumented students in-state tuition.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A spokesman says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to allow the children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to get private college scholarships and enroll in state college savings programs.
Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman says the governor will sign the bill Monday.
Called the Illinois Dream Act, the measure creates a panel to raise private money for college scholarships. Supporters say this will help illegal immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools go on to college because they may otherwise not be able to afford it.
Students must have at least one immigrant parent and must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years to qualify for scholarship money.
Opponents say the legislation wrongly helps people who violate immigration laws.
Legislation that would have required Cook County to free some jail inmates wanted by immigration authorities is dead for now.
Commissioner Jesús García (D-Chicago) withdrew his bill at Wednesday's County Board meeting.
"We want to rethink it," García said afterwards.
The measure would have made the county the nation's largest jurisdiction to end blanket compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. Those are requests by the federal agency for local jails to keep some inmates 48 hours beyond what their criminal cases require.
García's bill would have also ended the county's compliance unless the inmate had been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors and unless the county got reimbursed.
Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she would back releasing some inmates wanted by ICE, but she said she wants to hear from State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
"We hope to have a written opinion from the state's attorney that will allow us to proceed," Preckwinkle said after the board meeting.
A letter from Alvarez to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's office back in 2009 said the jail "must comply with any ICE detainers."
But ICE officials in recent months have said there is no legal requirement for jails to comply. Dart told Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ, this month he planned to ask Alvarez for an updated opinion.
Alvarez's office hasn't answered WBEZ's questions about whether she will revisit that opinion.
(Photo by Bill Healy/IPR)
A Cook County commissioner is quietly proposing an ordinance that would require the county's massive jail to release some inmates wanted by immigration authorities.
Sponsored by Jesús García, (D-Chicago), the measure would prohibit the jail from holding inmates based on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement request unless they have been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors, and unless the county gets reimbursed.
The legislation's preamble states complying with the ICE detainers "places a great strain on our communities by eroding the public trust that local law enforcement depends on to secure the accurate reporting of criminal activity and to prevent and solve crimes."
The jail now holds detainees requested by ICE for up to 48 hours after their criminal cases would allow them to walk free. Sheriff Tom Dart's office said the jail turns over about a half dozen inmates to the federal agency each business day.
Dart this month told Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ, that his staff was exploring legal options for releasing some of these inmates. The sheriff said his review began after he noticed that San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey had ordered his department to quit honoring certain ICE detainers beginning June 1.
If Dart's office follows Hennessey's path or if García's legislation wins approval, Cook County could become the nation's largest local jurisdiction to halt blanket compliance with ICE holds.
"Cook County would be a counter pole to Arizona's Maricopa County," said Chris Newman, general counsel of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a Los Angeles-based group that opposes involving local authorities in immigration enforcement.
García's office didn't return WBEZ calls or messages about his legislation. The offices of Sheriff Dart and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said they had viewed the bill but declined to say whether they supported it.
A spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said late Tuesday her office had not been consulted about García's proposal. A 2009 letter from Alvarez to Dart's office said federal law required the sheriff to comply with "any ICE detainers" lodged with the jail.
In recent months, however, immigration authorities have acknowledged that local jails do not have to comply with the detainers.
Asked for comment about García's legislation, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa sent a statement calling the detainers "critical" for deporting "criminal aliens and others who have no legal right to remain in the United States."
"Individuals arrested for misdemeanors may ultimately be identified as recidivist offenders with multiple prior arrests, in addition to being in violation of U.S. immigration law," the ICE statement said. "These individuals may have been deported before or have outstanding orders of removal."
Jurisdictions that ignore immigration detainers would be responsible for "possible public safety risks," the statement added.
García's proposal is on the county board's agenda for Wednesday morning. Possible steps by commissioners include referring the measure to committee or approving it immediately.
A memorial service is scheduled Saturday in Champaign for the late civil rights leader, Rev. Ben Cox.
Cox passed away last month in Jackson, Tenn. at the age of 79. He spent years in the Champaign-Urbana area after going to the South in the early 1960s as part of the freedom rides.
Rev. Claude Shelby knew Cox. He is currently the senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church, where a memorial service will be held. He is also organizing the memorial. Shelby said Cox never shied away from being vocal about civil rights issues.
"I remember him as one who paved the way for the generations that followed him," Shelby said. "I was in total agreement with the messages that he gave."
Another longtime friend, Willie Summerville, said Cox left his mark on the community. Summerville, who was a music instructor in the Urbana School District for years, praised Cox's efforts in pushing for civil rights.
"We really, truly had a civil rights icon," Summerville said. "You know, maybe some people will regret that they didn't pick his brain even more while he was here."
Summerville is organizing a large choir performance for the memorial service with singers from area churches.
The memorial begins Saturday at 1pm at Salem Baptist Church on 500 East Park St. in Champaign.
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