Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2012

Cardinal Apologizes for Linking Gay Parade to KKK

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George is apologizing for remarks comparing an annual gay rights parade to a Ku Klux Klan rally.

In a Chicago Tribune interview, George said he is "truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused."

George said he has gay and lesbian family members, and his remarks has "evidently wounded a good number of people. I am sorry for the hurt."

The cardinal's initial remarks were prompted by plans by gay pride leaders to route a parade at a time that would have interfered with services at a church on Chicago's North Side. He said it resembled anti-Catholic marches once staged by the Klan. The time of the parade was changed.

Gay rights groups condemned his comments. The Civil Rights Agenda said George should apologize and resign.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Delay Asked in Lawsuits Against Indiana Immigration Law

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wants to delay two lawsuits challenging Indiana's tough new immigration law because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the issue in an Arizona case.

Zoeller's office said Thursday it filed a motion in federal court in Indianapolis seeking a temporary delay in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in June granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana from enforcing two provisions in that law, including one that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants who are subject to immigration court removal orders.

Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state also will seek a stay in a second lawsuit challenging the immigration law. That case was filed in northern Indiana this week by a Hispanic advocacy group.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Latino Group Joins Lawsuit Against Indiana Immigration Law

La Union Benefica Mexican has been around for decades in Northwest Indiana.

The group promotes Mexican culture and traditions throughout the year with events and gatherings, but the UBM is taking a more serious tone by joining a federal lawsuit against Indiana's anti-illegal immigration law, S.B. 590.

Although adopted last spring by the Indiana General Assembly, certain provisions of law have yet to take effect since a federal judge's injunction kicked in last summer.

Still, Antonio Barreda, head of the UBM, said the bill discriminates against Latinos, not just those who may be in the United States illegally.

"The law itself could violate not only immigrants but American citizens such as I and many others," Barreda said. "It also gives businesses the opportunity to become even more discriminatory by not hiring Hispanics."

Barreda said UBM is join in its lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

In a written statement, MALDEF said the bill "poses severe and immediate threats to the United States Constitution and to the livelihood of anyone who 'looks' to local authorities like an undocumented immigrant."

"This challenge is necessary to send a message to anti-immigrant groups that their efforts to pass Arizona-style legislation in the Midwest are not welcome and will be resisted," Alonzo Rivas, MALDEF Midwest Regional Counsel said in a statement.

The Republican-controlled Indiana State House pushed the immigration legislation, although many Indiana Democrats supported the measure which drew harsh criticism and protest by those opposed to it.

Several more controversial aspects were nixed from the bill, such as giving an Indiana state trooper the right to pull over anyone who appeared to be an undocumented immigrant.

But other provisions, primarily against businesses who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, remain in the law.

The bill is already being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Indiana is seeking to delay hearings on all challenges to the bill until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona's own tough immigration law.

"We will be seeking a stay in this case in addition to the previous case while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to Arizona's immigration statute," Zoeller said in a statement. "Indiana will join with other states in seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court that will provide some guidance to states on immigration since Congress has thus far failed to enact or enforce federal immigration policies."

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court announced plans to hear the case challenging Arizona's immigration law this spring.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2011

Bond Set for Suspect in Stabbing of UI Professor

Bond has been set at $500,000 for a Fithian man arrested in connection with the stabbing of a University of Illinois law professor.

Joshua Scaggs, 23, faces attempted murder and aggravated battery charges in connection with the attack of Dhammika Dharmapala, 41, of Champaign. The incident occurred shortly before 6 AM on Wednesday in the Amtrak waiting area of the Illinois Terminal Building.

According to a witness account given to Champaign Police, both Dharmapala and the suspect were sitting in the Amtrak waiting area, when the suspect jumped up and shouted that this was his country. He then attacked Dharmapala, grabbing him around the neck. The witness then intervened, pulling the suspect away, and discovering he had stabbed his victim in the neck with a utility knife. Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz said other witnesses stepped forward to keep the situation under control until police arrived.

Dharmapala was taken to Carle Hospital in Urbana, but no information was available on his condition as of Thursday morning. At Scaggs' arraignment in Champaign County Court Thursday afternoon, he appeared via video conference, surrounded by correctional officers.

Scaggs' attorney, Baku Patel of Urbana, has requested that his client undergo mental and physical evaluations. Authorities say he's locked in isolation at the county's satellite jail.

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan wrote in an email to faculty and students said that university was "deeply saddened" by the stabbing, and expressed gratitude for those who intervened.

Champaign Police had originally included hate crime charges in their arrest of Scaggs. But Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said they would not prosecute him on that charge. She said the attempted murder and aggravated battery charges actually carry stiffer penalties than the hate crime charge. However, Rietz noted that "the underlying motive for the offense will be taken into account as the case moves forward."

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal civil rights charges to be filed against Scaggs. In a news release, the organization stated that Dharmapala is not Muslim, but was singled out due to his perceived ethnicity. CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper stated, "our society must begin to address the rising level of anti-Muslim sentiment that can lead to such disturbing incidents."

Scaggs is due back in court on Dec. 15th.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Illinois to Allow Civil-Union Couples to File Joint State Tax Returns

(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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2011

Quinn Hits Back Against Immigration Checks

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 18, 2011

Illinois Politicians Praise New Deportation Policy

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)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 18, 2011

Police Arrest 10 Protesters at Immigration Hearing

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2011

Quinn to Name Immigrant Scholarships Commission

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Quinn Signs Bill to Help Undocumented College Students

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)


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