(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 reporting from CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey)
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday against the landlords of the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located outside of Rantoul.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos appeared in Champaign County Court for a bench trial. They are accused of failing to connect sewer and septic systems for six out of eight apartment buildings on the Cherry Orchard property.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimated at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings.
Occupancy at the complex typically increases in the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. The complex has at least 48 family rental units, according to a 2007 migrant camp license application for the property.
The Ramoses are still not legally barred from renting the place out.
This is an ongoing concern of health officials, who helped relocate about a dozen tenants earlier this year after the Ramoses cut power and water to the property for about three weeks in December.
"It was a nightmare to get those families into apartments and there was just about every agency in town working on this," Pryde said. "If (Ramos) brings in a bunch more people up here and rents them and the judge throws them out then we have a bigger problem and fewer apartments out there to put people into.
"In reality unless the law and the ordinances give us any authority to do anything, there's really only so much you can do. We don't have authority to go in and shut them down," Pryde said.
Bernard Ramos declined comment for this story. Bernard and Eduardo have made previous agreements during the past year to vacate the property and legally repair the sewer system, but they have yet to follow through, public health officials said.
"That's what upsets me the most is we know there are problems ... we know there's issues with safety up there for people and there's nothing we can do about it," Pryde said.
Pryde said she helped one former tenant, Hermelinda Cruz, 51, find a new place to live. Cruz lived at Cherry Orchard for nearly two years after she and her husband separated.
Cruz and her family moved to Rantoul in 2003 from Rio Grande, Texas, in search of better jobs and better education.
For the past eight years, Cruz worked for agricultural companies like Syngenta and Pioneer between April and December.
After she and her husband separated, Cruz and her four children needed a place to live, and she found Cherry Orchard.
"At first I thought it was good because it was cheap and I wasn't working," Cruz said, speaking through her 14-year-old daughter, who interpreted for this interview.
Cruz said Bernard Ramos would allow her to pay the monthly $500 rent week by week.
He even lent her extra beds to use.
"When we first went to Cherry Orchard, it was tough," Cruz said. I had "no cars, no way to move. I had to start from the bottom up. I do appreciate Bernard because he let us borrow beds, stove (and) refrigerator. When I first moved to Cherry Orchard, I didn't have anything like that."
But they soon discovered mold on the walls and water dripping in from the ceiling, so Ramos moved them to another unit, which didn't prove to be much better.
The sewer would often back up into her shower, Cruz said, sometimes up to three days.
When the migrant workers would move in during the summer, Ramos would shut off the water for 12 hours at a time on a weekly basis, she said.
Moving out wasn't an option for Cruz because she had no place to go that would allow her to pay the rent by the week.
It wasn't until she received assistance from the health department, that Cruz and her family were able to move.
In February, Cruz and her four children found a three-bedroom apartment for $450 a month.
"I like it here because you don't see no cockroaches on the wall or hear the mice at nighttime," Cruz said.
Bernard Ramos and his family 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.
Their sole property near Rantoul, Cherry Orchard Apartments, is also currently under foreclosure, according to documents on file with the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The father-son landlord team has also faced hundreds of code violations from the City of Champaign on rental property they own that have also garnered repeated condemnations.
In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
"One of the biggest problems is I grew so big so fast, now I want to get smaller," Bernard Ramos said in 2009.
In court documents, Ramos cited 13 apartment units that were condemned under the management of one bank and alleged that the bank's property manager was intentionally "sabotaging" his properties so the agent could buy them at a lower price.
"My goal is to get my properties back and don't make the same mistakes as before," Ramos said in a 2009 interview.
Last year, Champaign County amended its nuisance property ordinances based on conditions at Cherry Orchard.
Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said his department forwarded its complaint to the Champaign County State's Attorney's Office for prosecution under the amended ordinances after the Ramoses failed to bring the property up to the new county codes.
Once filed, it will bring the number of county court cases against Cherry Orchard up to two.
"The nuisance ordinance was amended in the past year to include several more specific kinds of dangerous structures," Hall said. "Several of those new definitions of dangerous structures exist or at least we have evidence they exist at the Cherry Orchard apartments."
Hall said two notices have been sent to Bernard Ramos detailing the violations under the amended nuisance ordinances, which carry a fine between $100 and $500 per day.
"This case is a long way from being resolved and those buildings are a long way from being repaired," Hall said.
"I believe, in total, both cases can indicate that these buildings are a real safety hazard but I don't know how that's going to be addressed in court," he said.
"Had this have happened in Champaign or Urbana, the city can go in and take care of it. There's codes that they work under and they could take care of it. Had it had happened in Rantoul, they could have gone in and taken care of it, but because it was in an unincorporated part of the county, no one really had authority over it except for Champaign County Zoning and Planning, and they didn't have any ordinance," Pryde said.
With the prosecution resting its case, Pryde says Bernard will present his defense Monday at 9 AM at the Champaign County Courthouse.
Two men are in custody on in connection with a 4-year old triple homicide on Danville's east side. Authorities identified one of the two men charged Wednesday.
36-year old David Moore of Chicago and a 26-year old Danville man indentified in news reports as Jerome Harris were indicted late last month by a Vermilion County Grand Jury, and each faces 15 counts of first degree murder. Danville Publc Safety Director Larry Thomason says Moore was arrested by U.S. Marshalls in Chicago on Monday, and returned to Danville on Wednesday. Harris was arrested on an unrelated charge by Danville police on March 25th.
On the morning of March 25th, 2007, police were called to the 17-hundred block of East Main after a report of shots fired. The body of 30-year old Rodney Pepper was found in the roadway. Inside a home there, two other men were found shot to death, identified as 19-year old Madisen Levernz and 21-year old Taberyan McCullough. Both Moore and the other man are being held without bond.
Vermilion County State's Attorney Randy Brinegar says the case is ongoing, and wouldn't rule out other arrests, and that each man faces 20 years to life in prison. Thomason says at least 2 detectives were assigned to the case the past 4 years.
Members of state preservation group are trying to save ten of what they say are the most endangered places in Illinois. Most of the structures on the list are threatened with demolition as development projects expand. Some are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funds or mismanagement.
President of Landmarks Illinois Jim Peters says in the case of some structures, community meetings are being held to decide the building's fate.
"That's kind of an imminent threat, that doesn't mean it'll be demolished tomorrow, but there's a decision that could impact it's future," Peters said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that's the case with all of these; there's some kind of threat."
The vacant Sheriff's Residence and Jail in Ford County made the list of endangered buildings. County officials purchased the building a few years ago and may be planning a demolition.
Susan Satterlee of the Ford County Preservation Coalition says the building's more than 100 year history deserves protection.
"Up until 1992 it was used as a functional jail and our county sheriff actually lived there," Satterlee said. "At one point, the spouse of the sheriff was responsible for feeding all the inmates."
Satterlee says the combined use of the building in Paxton makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the state. It sits next to the Ford County courthouse. If demolished, the space it is on would likely be used for a new county building.
Also on the list is the Will Rogers Theatre in downtown Charleston, an Art Deco building from 1938. It was still showing movies until last year, when it was closed and sold. Tom Vance does historic preservation consulting, and recently helped with a petition drive to get the theater named to that list. He says the facility could ideally become an entertainment venue for different acts, much like the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.
"There may be somebody out there who has the investment capital to come in, buy it, and restore it," said Vance. "There are TIF (Tax Increment Finance) funds available to help with the exterior restoration of it, and put in a venue of performing arts and movies. That would be the ideal thing."
The current owners, American Multi-Cinema, is also looking to sell the theater and adjoining commercial block. Vance says if a buyer doesn't come forward, the other option is for a local non-profit group to form and re-open the theater. But he estimates the restoration would cost three quarters of a million dollars. The Charleston City Council has yet to decide whether to recommend the Will Rogers Theater for local landmark status, protecting it from further demolition.
Six years ago, voters in the Rossville-Alvin School District approved the deactivation --- that is the closing --- of their high school. And for the past five years, students from the rural Vermilion County district have attended high school in Hoopeston, to the north, and Bismarck, to the south.
But Rossville-Alvin voters indicated Tuesday that they're ready for a change. They voted 353 to 295 --- or by a 54% majority --- in favor of a referendum to reactivate their high school.
Rossville-Alvin School Superintendent Randy Hird says cost was a major factor. The district pays tuition to send its high school students to the neighboring high schools ...
"The tuition became a little bit more expensive, more expensive that has originally been planned," Hird said. "And there was just some question on the school board's mind what the input of the community would be. So the whole purpose of the vote was to gauge what the community support would be to reactivate the school or not."
Hird says they've been paying about $7,000 per student per year to send the district's high school students to other schools. The total cost to the Rossville-Alvin district has been 700-to-900 thousand dollars annually. Hird says a study prepared for the district by consultants from Eastern Illinois University concluded that the cost of tuition and the cost of hiring staff to reopening the high school was "about the same".
Hird says he expects the Rossville-Alvin school board will seek more detailed information over the next few months about the costs of reopening the high school. But he says if they decide to do so, it would be the fall of 2012 at the earliest before classes could resume.
The Rossville-Alvin high school building is located across the street from Rossville-Alvin Elementary School in Rossville. Hird says the building is still being used, for pre-school and daycare programs, while its cafeteria is used by the elementary school at lunchtime. He says the high school gym is also used for musical programs and graduation ceremonies.
In just a couple of years, Urbana is expected to have a new outdoor aquatic center at Crystal Lake Park.
There's been talk about building a new outdoor pool in Urbana ever since Crystal Lake pool closed in 2008. Voters that year rejected a 25-cent property tax increase that would have helped fund a new outdoor aquatic center. But on Tuesday night, voters backed an 11-cent property tax increase supporting one.
The Urbana Park District's Executive Director Vicki Mayes credits the success of this year's referendum to outreach for the project.
"The money in the taxes that people will pay will be right here in this community, and it will benefit them directly," she said. "So, it's something that they wanted, and it's something that they really would be willing to pay for."
The property tax increase will provide enough funds for the park district to sell and pay back bonds to finance the project's construction and maintenance.
The new aquatic center priced at $7.725 million will include three pools - one that's shallow, one that's deeper, and one reserved for fitness. It will be built where Crystal Lake pool once operated. The design for the center begins this spring, and it is expected to open sometime in 2013.
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access. He reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
(English language voice over by Jenn Kloc)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey and A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer brushed back three challengers to his office on Election Day, winning with 42% of the vote.
Eisenhauer beat Vermilion County Board member James "Mouse" McMahon, who received 34%. Rickey Williams Junior received 13% of the vote, followed by David Quick with 10%.
Eisenhauer says he was overwhelmed to see the support he got in his third bid for mayor. He says it was good to see that "although the community certainly doesn't like everything you do as mayor ,they at least have confidence in our team to appreciate what we've done for eight years, and more importantly the confidence that we've been moving the city in the right direction and will continue to do that over the course of next four years."
new aldermen will join the City Council under Eisenhauer, including longtime State Representative Bill Black, who retired from his post late last year. He soundly defeated incumbent 7th ward alderman Ron Candido. Kevin Davis, Michael O'Kane and Thomas Stone won seats, joining victorious incumbents Rick Strebing and Jon Cooper. City Treasurer Linda Monson defeated challenger Carol Nichols.
University of Illinois employee Don Gerard will become the next mayor of Champaign, defeating three-term incumbent and retired police officer Jerry Schweighart.
Gerard picked up 51% of the vote in a race that at times had turned testy over budget issues and campaign funding.
"It's all been a process of being prepared. To see it to fruition is just remarkable," Gerard said after his win. "I think it's a real testament to our team and to the community. People really got out and supported us and worked really hard. I think we had a lot of numbers pushed up in a lot of different places, and I think we really made a statement."
Speaking by phone after the vote count, Schweighart blamed lack of union support and very low turnout in Champaign, which he called "pathetic."
When asked if he had any words of advice for the new mayor, Schweighart responded, "He's smarter than I am. I'll let him figure it out."
There was also one Champaign City Council seat left open by resignation -- state economic development official Paul Faraci has won that seat, defeating two other write-in candidates. Faraci received 787 votes to Cathy Emanuel's 518 and James McGuire's 415.
Just hours to go before polls close, the Brookens Center in Urbana lost power, but power has now been restored.
On his Twitter page, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said all election operations after 7 PM will occur at Brokens as planned. For a short time, Hulten had said the outage may affect the release of unofficial results, but that doesn't appear to be the case anymore.
Ameren has not yet released a cause for the outage.