Illinois Public Media News

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)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Champaign County Jail Inmate Dies, Officers Point to Suicide

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 05, 2011

IL House Votes Down Medical Marijuana Bill

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.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 05, 2011

Concealed Carry Bill Goes Down in IL House, Could Be Resurrected

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.


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