Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Continue to House Tenants

Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).

The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.

The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.

Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."

"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."

Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.

"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.

This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.

Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.

Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 16, 2011

Immigration Bill Moves Through Indiana General Assembly

An Indiana House committee Friday barely passed an immigration reform bill, even after the bill's most controversial provision had been removed.

In a six-to-five vote along party lines, the House Public Policy Committee approved Senate Bill 590, which now moves to the full Indiana House for consideration next week. The bill no longer includes a provision that would allow state and local police to question anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. That section was similar to a law passed in Arizona last summer. The Arizonan measure has been blocked from implementation by a federal judge.

But it is possible representatives could try to amend SB 590 before the full House votes during second and third readings. If the bill survives that process, it will move back to the Indiana Senate. That's where the bill's original sponsor, state senator Michael Delph, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis, is lukewarm to his now watered-down proposal.

"I introduced a bill that I wanted to see become law," Delph said Friday in Indianapolis. "This is not that bill."

Political blogs and news reports now speculate that the bill could fail passage because it has been altered too much.

If support does fall short, it would mark the fourth consecutive year that Delph tried but failed to move a "get tough" immigration bill through the Indiana legislature. That is despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, Delph's own party, the GOP, controls both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. Republicans have not warmed up to Delph's original bill, which opponents had argued would open police to charges of racial profiling.

One Republican committee member, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-Liberty), said he would have voted against the original bill. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, does not support granting police the ability to question those suspected of being in the country illegally. His priority in the immigration reform debate is to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

But Delph says getting police involved is now allowed under federal law.

"The most controversial part of this bill, at least according to press accounts, has been with this issue with enforcement with law enforcement," Delph told the House committee at a hearing Thursday. "The Congress in its wisdom gave state and local governments several years ago the power to use state and local enforcement basically as a force multiplier. That's part of the bill."

The revised House bill would revoke certain tax credits for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and would check the immigration status of criminal offenders. It also would require the calculation of how much money illegal immigration costs the state; then, the state would send a bill to to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

Undocumented UI Student Released from Jail After Georgia Protest

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An undocumented University of Illinois student was released Thursday morning from an Atlanta jail after taking part in a protest to demand more rights for undocumented immigrants.

Police arrested 22-year-old Andrea Rosales and six other illegal immigrants Tuesday after they sat in the middle of a downtown Atlanta street for more than an hour. The protesters were charged with obstructing traffic. Atlanta police do not participate in a local-federal partnership that empowers local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, so the likelihood of the students being turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was low.

Rosales says the protest was triggered by a policy Georgia's university system approved last year banning illegal immigrants from attending the five most competitive public schools in the state.

"We see that happening due to political inaction, as well as lack of support - institutionally and locally," Rosales said. "This is why we felt we needed to escalate and even risk arrest and facing being put into detention proceedings because we are tired and something needs to change."

Rosales must perform five-to-10 hours of community service. She is part of the social justice student organization, La Collectiva, which helped fund her trip to Georgia.

The protests were part of The Dream is Coming project, which was created to advocate for the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for certain young people who were brought here at a young age. It failed to pass Congress several times, most recently in December.

Illinois is one of 10 states that provides in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who attend public universities. Members of La Collectiva want Illinois lawmakers to introduce an Illinois-style Dream Act that would open up a financial pathway for more undocumented immigrants who want to attend college by setting up a private scholarship fund.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2011

Unions Mark MLK’s Death With National Protests

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

The eldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said Monday if his father had not been killed more than four decades ago, the civil rights icon would be fighting alongside workers rallying to protect collective bargaining rights.

Martin Luther King III joined about 1,000 marchers in Atlanta and thousands more across the country to support workers' rights on the anniversary of his father's assassination. King was in Memphis, Tenn., supporting a black municipal sanitation workers strike April 4, 1968, when he was shot to death on a hotel balcony.

King III laid a wreath at his parents' crypt before leading a group of clergy, labor and civil rights activists through downtown to the steps of the Georgia Capitol. Marchers held signs that read, "Stop the war on workers" and "Unions make us strong," and sang "This Little Light of Mine."

King III told the crowd at the statehouse that his father lost his life in the struggle for workers' dignity and democracy for all Americans, comparing the struggle to today's battle over collective bargaining rights in states including Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

"If he were with us today, he would be at the forefront of this struggle to retain the rights of workers," King III said to the cheering crowd. "I would've hoped we would be in a different place in this nation 43 years after his death. Something has gone awry in America."

The rallies were part of a coordinated strategy by labor leaders to ride the momentum of pro-union demonstrations and national polls showing most Americans support collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP leaders have fought to reduce or strip those benefits.

Walker has argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue. He signed into law a bill the strips nearly all collective bargaining benefits from most public workers, arguing the move will give local governments flexibility in making budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit.

Labor unions want to frame the debate as a civil rights issue, which could draw sympathy to public workers being blamed for busting state budgets with generous pensions. Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, was in Atlanta for the "We Are One" campaign, which she said included teach-ins and vigils in dozens of cities nationwide. Holt Baker said the two movements are linked and that economic justice was King's dream.

"We need to thank these governors," she said. "They did for us what we haven't been able to do for ourselves for a long time. They have woken us up. They say it's about balancing budgets, but we know it's about union busting."

At a rally in Cleveland, about 300 union supporters denounced Ohio Gov. John Kasich and workers vowed to block the bill he signed last week that bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration and restricts bargaining for 350,000 public employees. U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, said Republicans are trying to silence workers at the bargaining table and told the crowd that Republican lawmakers are counting on us quitting.

"We pay respect to the dignity of your work," she said. "We thank you. We can't quit."

In downtown Louisville, Ky., about 200 people gathered at a rally. Musicians, including the Grammy-nominated Nappy Roots, played to their home crowd in a show of support, and a red, white and blue banner read "The Right to Bargain - Kentucky's Public Employees Deserve It - Now."

"The 9-to-5 of blue collar workers, we really are from that era," said Nappy Roots' Skinny DeVille, whose mom still works at the Louisville GE plant.

In Tennessee, groups against bills that would curtail or cut workers' rights stood silently as legislators walked into the House and Senate chambers.

On the University of Illinois campus, several different union groups showed up for a rally Monday in front of the Alma Mater statue. Peter Campbell with the U of I's Graduate Employees Organization praised King for teaching people about the importance of social and economic justice.

"King said if you support unions, you also support racial justice," Campbell said. "If you support racial justice, you support rights of workers. If you support women's rights, you support rights for everybody. So, we're all necessarily in this together."

Other union events are planned in the Champaign-Urbana area this week with a larger union rally planned in Chicago on April 9th.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2011

Panel Backs Ind. Gay Marriage Ban Amendment

A proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in Indiana is on its way to the state Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the amendment on a 7-3 party line vote Wednesday, with Republican senators rejecting arguments that language prohibiting civil unions could threaten the ability of employers to offer domestic partner benefits.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn says the measure isn't meant to affect any benefits offered by companies and he doesn't believe that it would.

Current state law bans gay marriage.

The Republican-led House approved the amendment last month before the Democratic boycott began. If the measure passes the Legislature this year, it must pass again in 2013 or 2014 to go before voters on the 2014 ballot.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2011

Indiana Lawmakers Debate Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions

Indiana lawmakers continue to debate a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Indiana law already prohibits marriage between same sex couples, but some Hoosier lawmakers want to take the ban a step further. They want to amend the state's constitution so the ban can't be overturned by what one legislator described as "activist judges."

The Indiana House approved the amendment last month and it moved on to the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments on it yesterday at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. There, the committee heard from two prominent companies in Indiana; pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly, and diesel engine manufacturer, Cummins Inc. Company representatives testified that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would hurt on recruiting top notch employees.

The committee delayed a vote on the matter until next week. If it's approved, it will move on the full Senate. And if it passes there, the amendment would still need to be approved by the Indiana General Assembly next year.

If the amendment makes it through next year's legislature, Hoosier voters will have the final say if it becomes part of the Indiana constitution by voting on the measure in a referendum.

The earliest such a ban could be in the constitution would be in 2013.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 23, 2011

Justice Dept. Drops Defense Of Anti-Gay Marriage Law

In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution's) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."

The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.

"Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed" the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said in a statement. He noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and that Congress has repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Holder wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that Obama has concluded the Defense of Marriage Act fails to meet a rigorous standard under which courts view with suspicion any laws targeting minority groups who have suffered a history of discrimination.

The attorney general said the Justice Department had defended the law in court until now because the government was able to advance reasonable arguments for the law based on a less strict standard.

At a December news conference, in response to a reporters' question, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is "constantly evolving." He has opposed such marriages and supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The president said such civil unions are his baseline - at this point, as he put it.

"This is something that we're going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward," he said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 15, 2011

Indiana House OKs Amendment Banning Gay Marriage

The Indiana House has approved a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions in Indiana.

The Republican-controlled House voted 70-26 on Tuesday to advance the proposal, which must clear two separate Legislatures to get on the ballot for a public vote.

State law already bans gay marriage, but supporters say the amendment would provide an additional layer of protection for traditional marriage. Opponents say the proposal would write discrimination into the state's constitution.

The proposal now moves to the GOP-led Senate, where it is expected to pass. If both the House and Senate pass the proposal this year, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 to be on the ballot in 2014.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 15, 2011

DOJ Will Not Pursue Civil Rights Case in 2009 Carrington Police Shooting

The U.S. Department of Justice will not pursue a civil rights case in the 2009 police-shooting death of Champaign teenager Kiwane Carrington.

The city of Champaign released a letter it received Monday, saying the Justice Department's Civil Rights division had closed its investigation into the incident and "concluded that the evidence in the case does not establish a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statute."

The 15-year-old Carrington was shot to death in October of 2009 when Police Chief R.T. Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits confronted and wrestled with Carrington and another teen behind a Vine Street house. Police had suspected that the two were trying to break into the home, but it was later discovered that Carrington was welcome in the house, which was unoccupied at the time. A state police investigation concluded that Norbits' gun discharged accidentally during the altercation. Finney had been working a regular patrol that day. Norbits was given a 30-day suspension for not properly controlling his weapon.

The incident added fuel to long-standing suspicion against police in the African-American community.

In a complaint to the Department of Justice shortly after the shooting, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice was critical of the local investigation, claiming that evidence was mishandled and that Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz poorly analyzed the case. The group's Aaron Ammons said he has not heard back from the Department of Justice regarding that complaint, and added that he is not surprised by the outcome of the department's recent investigation into the shooting.

"I guess deep in our hearts and the recesses of our minds, we'd like to believe that there would be some justice at some level within our government," Ammons said. "When you don't see that, it is disappointing."

The case has been reviewed by various local, state, and federal agencies. The Department of Justice's recent investigation came as no surprise to Seon Williams, a friend of the Carrington family.

"The situation and outcome has been the same, so I don't think the community's surprised on the next phase of this thing." Williams said. "I think we're all just trying to heal and trying to move forward."

In a statement, Chief R.T. Finney said, "We are confident of the thoroughness of all investigations and satisfied that the outcomes were all the same. This was a very tragic incident for all involved and the closure of this investigation will help us all move forward."

The city settled a civil lawsuit with Carrington's family last year. A second civil suit filed by the family of the other juvenile is pending.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 11, 2011

NPR’s Al Letson Reflects on the Life of Bayard Rustin

It's Black History Month, and Al Letson, who's the host of NPR's State of the Re:Union, recently finished a documentary honoring the life of someone who he calls the most important civil rights figure with very little name recognition. Bayard Rustin was involved in the freedom rides, he served as the chief architect of the March on Washington, and by the end of his life, he became influential in the gay rights movement.

Al Letson was in Champaign this week to talk about Rustin's legacy, and he spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers.

(Photo courtesy of Warren Leffler)

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