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.
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."
Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.
The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.
They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.
Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.
The Illinois House has once again rejected allowing medicinal marijuana for those with certain medical conditions.
The proposed measure would hae implemented a three-year pilot program for medical marijuana. The program would've allowed people suffering from certain kinds of illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, to receive a prescription for marijuana to help alleviate pain and nausea.
The measure failed on a 61-to-53 vote.
The bill would have barred people from buying the marijuana anywhere except 59 licensed, not-for-profit sellers. But critics argue it sends the wrong message to kids and could make the drug problem worse.
The measure's Sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), had limited the program to three years and added a provision to allow the purchase only from licensed dispensaries, but it wasn't enough.
"Maybe as many as 100 members believe we should pass a medical marijuana law but for whatever reason are unable to convince themselves to do it," Lang said.
Lang could call the measure for another vote this Spring. He said he believes he has the necessary support, but has to convince enough colleagues to follow through and vote for it.
House Republican Leader Tom opposed earlier versions of the measure, but endorsed it this time it, saying it's only right to help relieve people's suffering.
"Shouldn't we be able to provide to them the best relief and the best available source to do that?" Cross said.
A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed guns in public fell short of the supermajority needed to pass Thursday in the Illinois House.
It would have allowed people to carry guns if they were properly registered and had completed eight hours of training, including target practice. Applicants would have needed to pass a background check with a review of their mental health status.
The vote was 65-32, giving the measure a solid majority. But it needed 71 votes to pass, a standard requirement for legislation that restricts local communities' regulatory power.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he called the bill for a vote despite thinking it would probably fail. He could call another vote, but Phelps said Thursday was likely the best chance to pass it.
Phelps and other supporters said concealed carry wouldn't make Illinois more dangerous. It would just give people a chance to defend themselves in an emergency, he said.
"There's guns on the streets right now because of the guns the bad guys have," Phelps said.
Gov. Pat Quinn promised this week to veto any concealed carry bill. He reiterated his position Thursday at a memorial service for slain police officers, calling the timing of the vote "ironic" considering the event he was attending.
"I happen to believe that that particular bill will not in any way protect public safety," the Chicago Democrat told reporters. "It will do the opposite."
Supporters of the bill say Illinois should emulate the rest of the nation, as it and Wisconsin are the only states without some form of concealed carry. They also say concealed carry is a sensible option for people who wish to protect themselves.
Critics say those who obtained concealed carry permits in other states have later been convicted of violent crimes. They argue putting more guns on the street will increase crime rather than safety.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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.