Illinois Public Media News
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)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.
Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.
The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.
Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.
He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:
"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.
"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."
The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.
A Chicago-based scientist says he's grateful to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for siding with legislation that backs stem cell research.
Kirk on Monday called for congressional action to codify an executive order on the research issued by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Dr. John Kessler directs a stem cell research institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says Kirk is backing legislation that's "absolutely essential for the field'' because uncertainty over federal funding discourages young scientists from doing research on stem cells.
Kirk says stem cell research offers "the best promise'' to cure certain diseases. The Illinois Republican says, if senior Democratic senators choose not to move the stem cell legislation in this Congress, he will. He says court challenges to taxpayer-financed stem cell research make legislation necessary.
A survey on the greatest health needs in Champaign County has been broken down into four general areas.
The state requires the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to complete a local assessment of needs plan every five years. After more than 11-hundred replies last year, priorities were identified as access to care (or paying for medical, mental and dental health), accidents (including DUI crashes and those in the home), obesity, and violence (including alcohol-related abuse and domestic violence.)
CUPHD Epidemiologist Awais Vaid says the county's current Community Health Plan was narrowed from 10 categories five years ago. He says public health is given no specific guidance on how to come up with the priorities.
"It's basically the community partners, the community leaders that get together and decide one what should be included," said Vaid. "But the last time we identified 10 of them, it became too much to address each of them, because each takes time and resources."
Vaid says community coalitions are being put together to address the four areas, each of them involving members of the public health district.
"The last time we finished the process, and thought as time goes by, some group will start addressing each one of these. It didn't happen," said Vaid. "So most of them were not addressed the way we were expecting to. But this time we do have specific groups that have a vested interest."
Yearly progress on the surveyed areas will be posted on the CUPHD's website.
Quinn Approves Legislative Redistricting Map
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn gave his approval on Friday to new lines for state legislative districts that stay in place for the next decade.
President Obama's administration took its first stab Wednesday at reversing Indiana's controversial ban on funds to agencies offering abortion services, primarily Planned Parenthood.
Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent a letter to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. Berwick said the law improperly bars Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving services from a qualified provider, as federal law requires. Indiana could face penalties if the law is not changed, he warned.
But Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said the state intends to fight for the law.
"We are reviewing the Center for Medicaid Services letter with our client, the Family and Social Services Administration to determine our client's options, but we will continue to defend the statute," he Corbin.
The Republican-led Indiana General Assembly approved the bill in late April. It was signed in early May by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, even though Daniels had sought a "truce" on social issues. The law bans $3 million the state receives from going to any agency that provides abortion services or to agencies that deal with Planned Parenthood.
The law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
At the time, it was thought that Daniels signed the legislation to appease conservatives as he contemplated a run for the Republican nomination for president, which he ultimately decided against. Daniels explained, however, that he supports the law because a majority of Hoosiers oppose abortion. He said women can obtain health care needs from providers other than Planned Parenthood.
Daniels said agencies that lost funding can have them restored if they cut ties to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Planned Parenthood officials say 9,300 low income Hoosier women will or have lost coverage because of the new law.
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The University of Illinois will spent the next several months researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line between Chicago and Champaign.
Governor Pat Quinn on Thursday announced the $1.25 million study for 220-mph trains. Such a line could also include cities like St. Louis and Indianapolis, and is meant to compliment an already planned 110-mph network connecting Chicago to other Midwest cities.
U of I President Michael Hogan says such a train can have a huge impact on regional economic development throughout the Chicago area. Hogan says this is also an area where the U of I can make a huge difference in the world of freight and passenger rail.
"The possibility of a high-speed rail link, bringing our two campuses closer together, facilitating that kind of big science and collaboration, and not just in engineering and hard sciences, but in the medical sciences as well," said Hogan. "The impact that could have in tranforming an already great university into a super power university."
The U of I, Illinois Department of Transportation, and a special advisory group will provide input throughout the course of the study. The Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Rick Harnish, sits on the panel.
"Turkey is already running bullet trains," said Harnish. "There's 4,000 miles in Europe. There's 4,000 miles in Asia. And there's been bullet trains in Japan since 1964. All of those countries are enjoying faster, lower cost, and more reliable travel than we are today. This is what keeps U of I on the global map."
The study will involve the U of I's Rail Transportation and Engineering Center and the Department of Economics on the Urbana campus, and the Department of Urban Planning on the university's Chicago campus. The results from the study are expected late next year.
School lunches and breakfasts are sometimes a lifeline for children whose families face problems affording healthy food. School officials understand that and are extending school meal programs into the summer.
Starting Monday, Champaign Unit 4 food service crews will bring breakfasts and lunches to four community centers - they'll be available free to children under age 18.
Unit 4 food service director Mary Davis says the federally-funded program is there to fill the gap when school lets out and children on free or reduced-price lunches still need food.
"Especially now where jobs are hard to find and so money isn't coming into a household like it was, this is going to help all those households," Davis said. "It'll take a worry off their mind because it's both breakfast and lunch. So it does help."
Davis said people at the sites won't ask for proof of need. She said she expects the nine sites across the Champaign area will give out about a thousand breakfasts and up to two thousand school lunches every weekday through the end of July.
Six of those sites are open to anyone - the sites at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (201 E. Park Ave.), First Presbyterian Church (302 W. Church), Douglass Community Center (512 E. Grove) and Jericho Church (1601 W. Bloomington Rd.)open Monday. Sites at Carrie Busey and Stratton schools open June 13th.
On Friday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is expected to visit another school meal program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Decatur's Boys and Girls Club is one of several sites in that city where the Summer Food Service Program is also taking place.
State Representative Jason Barickman says he is running for the State Senate in the newly redrawn 53rd Senate District --- and for the seat held by his processor in the House --- Onarga Republican Shane Cultra.
During a tour of towns within the new 53rd district borders, Barickman, a Champaign attorney and chair of the Champaign County GOP, said he wants to straighten out Illinois' business climate, which he calls a national laughing-stock.
"Our business policies in the state are a disaster for small and mid-sized business owners," he said. "This state needs a different approach to how it governs and how it attracts businesses to come here rather than to leave."
If Barickman wins the 2012 senate race, it would be a first for him. He was appointed to his statehouse seat last fall following Cultra's move to the senate. Cultra had replaced Dan Rutherford, who is now state Treasurer.
Cultra said he will make his own campaign plans known later. He said pending legal challenges to the proposed redistricted maps could change their ultimate design. But Barickman said he believes that the maps passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature will go into effect without changes, noting that House Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet has already indicated he'll run in the re-drawn 51st Senate District that includes all or part of 10 counties. Meanwhile, Republican House member Dan Brady of Bloomington said he will run for re-election in the newly redrawn 105th House District, which makes up half of the new 53rd Senate District.
The proposed 53rd district includes parts of McLean, Livingston, Ford, Woodford, Iroquois and Vermillion counties. Barickman's family has farmed in Livingston County since the 1830s. Barickman would have to move into the district from Champaign County if elected, and he said he plans to relocate somewhere between Normal and Pontiac.
"I have long talked about my interest in coming back towards McLean County, Livingston County where we farmed, and that is certainly on the horizon," said Barickman. "That's long been our intention, and we look forward to fulfilling that."
(Photo courtesy of Jason Barickman)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the new head of the Chicago Public Schools plan to save $75 million by trimming administrative and non-classroom spending from the district's budget.
Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced the cuts Thursday.
The mayor's office says $16 million in savings will come from limited layoffs, eliminating some open positions and other reductions at the district's Central Office. Another $44 million in planned savings would come from minimizing debt servicing costs.
Emanuel says he's trying to cut bureaucracy so the schools can focus resources on supporting students and teachers.
Brizard says he wants to make the system more efficient so he can spend every dollar he can in the classroom.
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