Illinois Public Media News

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)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Quinn to Sign Ill. Dream Act for Scholarship Money

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 27, 2011

Cook County Commissioner Pulls Bill to Free Inmates Wanted by ICE

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)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 26, 2011

Bill Would Free Cook County Inmates Wanted by ICE

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 22, 2011

Original Freedom Rider to be Honored in Champaign

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Catholic Charities, Illinois Cut Ties Over Civil Unions

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is defending the state's civil union law in a dispute with a Catholic adoption agency.

State officials say they won't renew foster care or adoption contracts with Catholic Charities. The organization has received state money in the past, but Catholic Charities has said it would not comply with the new civil unions law signed by Quinn.

Quinn said the law granting gay couples many of the same rights as married couples is staying put.

"We're not going back," Quinn said. "Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won't participate voluntarily in a program, that's their choice."

Quinn said another agency is helping coordinate more adoption services. There are four Catholic Charities offices around Illinois.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

Quinn Defends Civil Unions Law in Adoption Dispute

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is defending the state's civil union law in a dispute with a Catholic adoption agency. State officials say they won't renew foster care or adoption contracts with Catholic Charities. The organization has received state money in the past, but Catholic Charities has said it would not comply with the new civil unions law signed by Quinn.

Quinn said the law granting gay couples many of the same rights as married couples is staying put.

"We're not going back," Quinn said. "Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won't participate voluntarily in a program, that's their choice."

Quinn said another agency is helping coordinate more adoption services. There are four Catholic Charities offices around Illinois.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 16, 2011

Rev. Ben Cox, Former C-U Resident and Freedom Rider, Dies at Age 79

A pastor who was one of the original Freedom Riders and spent much of his life in Champaign-Urbana has died.

The Rev. Ben Elton Cox Sr. died Sunday in Jackson, Tenn. The 79-year-old Baptist minister had lived in Tennessee since 1998.

The News-Gazette reports that Cox was among the Freedom Riders who went to the South in the early 1960s to protest segregation. He was on a bus that was attacked in Anniston, Ala., in 1961 by white men with clubs and bricks.

Speaking on a panel with fellow Freedom Riders Ed Blankenheim and Hank Thomas in 2003 at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Cox said he got off easier than his fellow panelists. But he said that as an African-American, discrimination had been a constant part of his life, ever since he first learned about it at age four.

"You're looking at a man who's an ordained minister, preaching since I was 17", Cox told his audience. "I'm 72. And since I realized what segregation was at the age of four, I have never had one day of total freedom in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I've either been discriminated against, or heard about it or listened to other confessions about it. But yet, I love America. As far as I'm concerned, it's the greatest country on earth. If you find one better, call me collect."

Ben Cox Jr. says his father spoke little about his role in the Freedom Rides and the civil rights movement. The younger Cox believes his father wanted to shield him from the darker things he'd experienced.

Cox spent his teen years in Kankakee and lived much of his adult life in Champaign-Urbana.

(Photos courtesy of codepinkhq/flickr)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Gay Couples Seek Green Cards Despite Likely Denial

Faced with losing the life they've built together in the dusty California desert town of Cathedral City, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol are making a last-ditch effort to stave off the looming threat of deportation.

To a large degree, the couple is stuck. While the American information technology consultant and Venezuelan pet groomer wed at a romantic Connecticut ceremony last year, the federal government won't recognize the marriage between the two men - and as a result, won't approve their application for a green card.

But the couple, and others facing a similar predicament, are still trying. The men don't expect to actually obtain a green card any time soon and have already been shot down once but hope filing an application might convince an immigration judge to at least refrain from deporting Benshimol while the fiery legal debate over the country's same-sex marriage laws simmers.

"There have been so many ups and downs on this roller coaster. I really don't know what to expect," said Gentry, 53. "It can't hurt (to refile). All they can do is deny it again."

For years, immigration attorneys warned gay couples not to bother seeking a green card for their foreign spouses since there was no chance they'd get one. Now, in select cases, they're starting to rethink that advice.

In the wake of the federal government's announcement that it will no longer defend a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and a court ruling raising questions about the law, some immigrant advocates have suggested that gay couples fighting deportation apply for a green card in a final effort to stay in the country.

Most couples, advocates say, should refrain from doing so to avoid drawing attention to their predicament if the foreign spouse is here illegally, and to avoid forking over cash for a benefit they won't get anytime soon if here on a legal visa.

But the small group of couples already facing deportation has little to lose by applying, and might see some gain.

In March, an immigration judge in New York halted deportation proceedings involving a lesbian couple until December. Last month, an immigration judge in New Jersey did the same for a Venezuelan salsa dancer married to an American graduate student after Attorney General Eric Holder asked an immigration appeals court to review another case involving a same-sex couple.

In a memo posted to its web site in March, the American Immigration Lawyers Association suggested that couples facing deportation consider filing for a green card in the hopes that it might win sympathy from an immigration judge willing to put the case on hold or bolster the immigrant spouse's case for an asylum petition.

"We are advising more people to do it - at least in the context of if the foreign partner, the foreign spouse is in deportation proceedings," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, an immigrant rights group focused on the gay and lesbian community. "At this point there is more of a feeling that the tide is turning on marriage in this country and it could be something that could be helpful."

U.S. immigration authorities are denying green cards for same-sex couples because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, said Chris Bentley, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. As of March, the agency had 10 or 20 such petitions pending, he said.

There are roughly 26,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States where one partner is a U.S. citizen. There's no estimate on how many have legally married, said Gary Gates, a UCLA professor and co-author of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas.

It's impossible to know how many couples filed green card petitions before last year, immigration authorities said.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, said he started encouraging some clients to apply last year after a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled the 1996 Act is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state's right to define marriage. Soloway saw further encouragement this year when Holder said the executive branch would no longer defend the Act as constitutional and the immigration agency temporarily held off making a decision on same sex couples' cases.

"The forum in which we're testing the issue is immigration court," said Soloway, who represents a dozen couples including Gentry and Benshimol. "It is the best possible place for this discussion to be taking place because it involves parties that have broad discretion to address just the kinds of concerns we're talking about."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement - which is responsible for carrying out deportations - said the agency will continue to enforce the law unless it is repealed by Congress or shot down by the courts.

The issue has enflamed passions on both sides of the debate over gay marriage.

It has also raised questions for those seeking stricter limits on immigration. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said judges can exercise discretion on individual cases but shouldn't use that power to enact sweeping policy changes.

"They are in effect legislating and it's not their job. It's Congress' job," Krikorian said.

Benshimol came to the country 12 years ago and overstayed his tourist visa -an immigration violation that straight couples can remedy once married. Now, he says he can't safely return to Venezuela as an openly gay man and also can't stand the thought of being separated from his husband, or of forcing Gentry to leave behind his adult son and daughter who live in California.

Even so, Gentry and Benshimol say they are hopeful, simply because they have no other choice.

"You just never know. The analytical side of my head says, you know, DOMA exists and it's the law and they're going to deny it," Gentry said. "But then the hopeful side of your brain says, you know, there's a chance."

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


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