Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2011

Latinos Make Up Largest Minority Group in Illinois

U.S. Census figures show Hispanics are now Illinois' largest minority group, outnumbering African Americans. But not all communities are welcoming the trend, according to a professor a the University of Illinois.

Hispanics now make up nearly 16 percent of the state's population, an increase of nearly 500,000 people from a decade ago. The shift in demographics has put an emphasis on immigration issues such as housing and educational opportunities for Latinos and Latinas.

Jorge Chapa teaches Government and Public Affairs at the U of I, and he also co-authored the book "Apple Pie and Enchiladas: Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest."

"They are growing much more quickly than the capacity and the knowledge and how to serve them," Chapa said.

Chapa said very few Hispanics serve on local school boards or in other administrative roles. He said there are also communication barriers in medical care and schools. In addition to growth in Chicago and the collar counties, Illinois' Cass County has seen an influx in Latinos since the last census.


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 25, 2011

Director of Illinois Family Services Department Quits

The head of Illinois' child welfare agency is leaving after five years in that role.

Having served as Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services since 2006, Erwin McEwen released a statement saying he's ready for the next challenge.

It has been a tumultuous summer for the agency. DCFS has been involved in a high profile court fight with Catholic Charities after that group refused to recognize couples in civil unions when it comes to adoptions and foster care placements. However, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said that case had nothing to do with the Director's decision to leave.

"His decision is completely unrelated to the civil unions controversy or any other recent events," Marlowe said.

Marlowe said among McEwen's accomplishments include an increased capacity to serve more families on a voluntary basis, rather than waiting for the legal system to intervene.

DCFS now serves more families on a voluntary basis than on a court ordered one.

McEwen has not announced what he will be doing next. His resignation is effective Sept.30.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 23, 2011

City Leaders, Activist Look Ahead to Police Chief Search

A Champaign City Council member says the search for a new police chief should be an opportunity to build upon community ties that retiring Chief R.T. Finney has already established.

Will Kyles also sits on Champaign Community and Police Partnership, or C-CAP. The council member praises Finney for his efforts to heal already strained relations that worsened following the 2009 police shooting death of teenager Kiwane Carrington. Finney announced his retirement, effective January 20th, on Friday.

Kyles says the community needs direct, one-on-one interactions with officers, something he says has started with the 50-plus community meetings the last couple of years. And he hopes the city can hire someone new prior to Finney's retirement date.

"An interim person can build on certain things, but realistically, people do look for the sole title of chief, not interim chief," said Kyles. "When you have an interim, it just kind of changes the focus. It changes what we expect from that person."

Kyles also hopes a new police chief can also work to increase the number of minorities within the police department. He's interested in serving on the panel being assembled to search for Finney's replacement.

Fellow city council member Michael LaDue also says he'd like to help seek out a new police chief, but says he's not concerned about having to name someone on an interim basis, saying Champaign has two effective deputy chiefs. But LaDue says the city also has ample time to discuss this transition.

Meanwhile, a local activist sees Finney's retiring as an opportunity for a fresh start. Champaign County Board member Carol Ammons says she and other members of CU-Citizens for Peace and Justice have wanted Finney to step down since Carrington's death.

Ammons, who's been involved in the selection of last two police chiefs in Urbana, says that city marks the difference between a community led police chief and a militarization-led chief. She says the panel the city is organizing to name Champaign's new chief needs to be balanced.

"People that will bring a different perspective to the table, and people that might make you uncomfortable," said Ammons. "I would give you the example of the jury commission that was set up by (Champaign) County. A lof of people on that commitee have a totally different philosphy than, for instance, the chief judge. They've been able to work together in a very amicable way."

Finney was on the call of a break-in when Carrington died in October 2009. The officer whose gun discharged was placed on leave, but not charged with a crime, as the shooting was ruled an accident. But Finney remained on duty. Ammons says police-community relations in Champaign have gone downhill since that time.

If a new chief isn't named when Finney leaves the department, Ammons says she opposes naming an interim from within the department, claiming poor community relations go deeper than Finney.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

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

Ill. Judge Rules Against Catholics on Foster Care

A central Illinois judge has ruled that Catholic Charities does not have a right to state contracts for adoptions and foster care placements and Illinois officials may cut them off.

The state Department of Children and Family Services ended $30 million in contracts with Catholic Charities in July because the not-for-profit won't work with unmarried couples in placing children in adoptive and foster homes. Illinois authorities say that violates the state's civil union law.

Catholic Charities sued. But Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday that the not-for-profit is not entitled to the contracts because it doesn't have to accept them.

Schmidt did not address the question of whether the charity discriminates against gays and lesbians and other people in civil unions.

Categories: Community, Religion

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 18, 2011

Chicago Mayor Announces Foreclosure Stabilization Program

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday announced a new foreclosure initiative that relies on community groups to identify abandoned properties.

Standing in front of a rehabbed bungalow home in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, Emanuel laid out details for what the city calls the Micro-Market Recovery Program.

The MacArthur Foundation will provide up to $20 million in loans with the idea of leveraging millions more from the private sector. The goal is to collect a total pool of $50 million. The city will select neighborhood groups to find foreclosed properties. Those groups will use the funds to purchase and then rehab the homes, thus making them market-ready.

"It needs a comprehensive, integrated approach rather than home by home because the system is too big and too complicated for that alone. So we are targeting our resources, both public and private and nonprofit," Emanuel said.

The mayor said the program should get about 2,000 homes back on line within three to five years.

Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney said local groups can purchase the foreclosed properties by using the pooled startup money.

"The idea is straight forward. If we're really going to address the problem, we have to focus on local markets rather than one building at a time. We need to target our resources to help stabilize values, regenerate market forces and reoccupy foreclosed properties," Mooney said.

The city will start the program in nine neighborhoods: Humboldt Park, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, West Woodlawn, Auburn Gresham, West Pullman, Belmont Cragin, Englewood and Grand Boulevard.

Stan Smith, president of the nonprofit New Pisgah Community Service Organization, was on hand for Mayor Emanuel's announcement. Smith said his group hired local construction workers to rehab the bungalow that hosted the mayor, his staff and the press.

Smith said he'd like to participate in the new foreclosure program because in the past he received federal dollars to do rehab work, but that work was only piecemeal.

"We need to do a whole area, capture an area to focus in on it so you don't end up doing one house here and you have 12 more abandoned houses on the block," Smith said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2011

Lawsuit Seeks to Restart Process of Redistricting

The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.

The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.

In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."

Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.

But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.

But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2011

Settlement Could Lead to Big Park in Chicago for Mexican Neighborhood

The city of Chicago could be near the end of a five-year legal battle for control of a former industrial parcel with potential to help form a 24-acre park. If an eminent-domain settlement holds up, the space could be an asset for a Mexican-American area of the Southwest Side.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sanjay T. Tailor this week signed off on the deal, under which the city will pay $7.5 million for 19 acres owned by 2600 Sacramento Corp.

The money will go to the Cook County Treasurer's Office and remain there as the company's owner, Joanne Urso, tries to settle with her lender, Texas-based United Central Bank, which last year filed a federal suit to foreclose on the property.

"I don't get a penny," Urso said Friday afternoon.

Urso's property would combine with a 5-acre plot the city already controls.

Activists in the Little Village neighborhood hailed the settlement.

"We have not seen any park development in over 75 years," said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Wasserman's group has been pushing for the land to become a park for five years. She said the deal could inspire residents of other neighborhoods.

"Regardless of language and regardless of immigration status, as long as there is determination in these communities, we can continue to get the things that we need," she said.

The park concept has the backing of the local 12th Ward alderman, George Cárdenas.

The land was once the site of an asphalt and tar manufacturing facility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the plant operated from about 1918 to 1982. The agency eventually declared the land a Superfund site. The contamination included cancer-linked chemicals that turned up in nearby homes and yards. An EPA statement says Honeywell International Inc. finished a site cleanup last year.

The city filed its eminent-domain suit in 2006. Reaching an agreement became more complicated last year, when the foreclosure proceedings began.

The payment, due September 7, will consist of $6 million from the Chicago Park District and more than $1.5 million from city general-obligation bonds, according to Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The time-frame for turning the land into a park is not clear. Ownership will transfer to Chicago upon payment, but the city is not specifying a date for transferring the acreage to the Park District. Hoyle said that could possibly happen later this year.

Categories: Community, Environment, Health

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