Race, poverty and politics: Obama halts deportations; Rahm backs decriminalizing small amounts of pot; CTU vote means hot summer ahead; Cook to boost set-asides

President Obama bypassed Congress Friday and announced the U.S. will stop deporting undocumented immigrants who are currently under 30 years old, who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here at least five years. To be eligible, they also can't have a criminal record, have earned a high school diploma or remained in school, or served in the military. The new policy is expected to impact 800,000 people. While it doesn't provide a path to citizenship, it does remove the threat of deportation and allows them to work legally for two-year periods. As the New York Times reported, the move is being done by executive order so no legislation is required. "This is not immunity, it is not amnesty," said Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary. "It is an exercise of discretion."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also announced early Friday that he is backing a tweaked version of a 2011 proposed ordinance that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The ordinance, originally put forth by 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, would carry fines of $100-$500 for persons caught with 15 grams of pot or less.

It looks like Chicago is in for a hot, cantankerous summer after members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted 90 percent in favor of giving its leadership the power to call a strike. If a strike were to happen, it wouldn't begin until the fall, and after a fact-finding panel had issued its recommendations, reported Catalyst. The overwhelming vote results blew through the 75 percent threshold needed to authorize a strike, according to a 2011 law. The CTU is the nation's third-largest teachers union, meaning that it will likely be a nationally watched labor battle.

An immigration detention center slated for the village of Crete, just south of Chicago, has been rejected by the village board. The proposed center would have been run theoretically under an agreement between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Crete, but a white paper from the village showed that the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America was slated to build, run and profit from the center. The news was greeted with great cheer by activists who said pressure to fill the 700-bed center would lead to increased detentions and deportations of immigrants who had not committed crimes, something that the national Secure Communities program has come under fire for doing. Crete's mayor, Mike Einhorn, said that the deciding issue was money--the village would not get as much compensation from CCA as was originally anticipated, he told the Chicago Tribune.

The latest TIME Magazine cover story looks at a group of immigrants that are becoming increasingly vocal, in a story with the headline “We Are Americans," underneath which it says: “Just not legally”. In it, Jose Antonio Vargas, the former Washington Post reporter who came out as undocumented in 2011, says that he is a legitimate American citizen, regardless of whether he has the correct documentation. By not recognizing this, argues Vargas, the broken immigration system is keeping many that see America as their home "from residing in the country legally." Along with other undocumented youth that come out as not having papers in the Time issue, Vargas writes that he hopes to spur a debate on "this very controversial and misunderstood issue." Looks like that debate has begun.

A study by the Federal Reserve found that between 2007 and 2010, middle class families saw 40 percent of their net worth disappear, widening the income gap in America. The drop in home values were a significant reason for this, and while the report says the stock market has rebounded, homes owned by many middle class families remain underwater. And, as is often the case, the report found that the poorer a family was to start with, the harder they were hit in the recession.

On Thursday Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law five bills that will reportedly plug a $2.7 billion hole in the state's Medicaid program. The cuts mean 25,000 working parents will lose state-funded insurance. Medicaid will also no longer cover visits to chiropractors, and only patients with diabetes will have their visits to podiatrists covered. Medicaid recipients will only be eligible for one pair of eyeglasses every two years through the program. Only four prescriptions will be available monthly, without prior approval from the state. The Medicaid overhaul also axed the state's Illinois Cares Rx program, which helped nearly 200,000 needy senior citizens purchase prescription drugs. One critic blasted Quinn for fixing the state's fiscal woes "on the backs of the most vulnerable." Meanwhile, Quinn also signed legislation that gives tax breaks to investor-owned hospitals, and another law which broadens the definition of charity care so non-profit hospitals can still receive valuable property tax exemptions. The $2.7 billion in cuts come in the form of a $1.6 billion reduction to the Medicaid program and a $1 per pack tax increase on cigarettes. There are currently 2.7 million needy Illinoisans who rely on Medicaid.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Wednesday that the county is stepping up efforts to make sure women- and minority-owned businesses get more government contracts. In order for that to happen, more set-aside businesses are going to need additional capital. Enter the banks. Preckwinkle asked a number of big banks to commit to additional lending to enable small businesses to effectively compete for county business. The additional capital is necessary for small businesses because the county isn't always timely in paying contractors--it has gotten better under Preckwinkle, though. Preckwinkle promised that $200 million of the county's $800 million in planned capital projects--or 25 percent--will go to set-aside contracts. What's more, Preckwinkle said the county will also step up efforts to fight contract fraud.

The city's Committee on Housing and Real Estate convened a meeting Wednesday to discuss the provisions of a national bank foreclosure settlement that netted 49 states a total of $25 billion. The meeting was an informational, said 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts, who drafted a resolution calling for the hearing. Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other city and state officials were on hand to provide council members with information that they, in turn, can pass on to their constituents. The settlement stemmed from a lawsuit which alleged that the country's five largest mortgage servicers--Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Bank, formerly GMAC--were involved in widespread "robosigning" and other fraudulent mortgage practices while providing loans and foreclosing on borrowers. The money will be used to provide troubled homeowners with legal assistance and other help to stay in their homes. Mitts said the most important task now is educating struggling homeowners on how they can access some of the money; Madigan said in April that Illinois would get at least $20 million of the money.

On Wednesday, the Illinois House finished appointing members to the Select Committee on Discipline, which will decide what if any punishment to hand down to indicted 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith. The panel consists of 6 Democrats and Republicans. The GOP members include state Reps. Chapin Rose, Michael Connelly, Renee Kosel, Sidney Mathias, Chris Nybo and Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford). The Democrats are Reps. Barbara Flynn-Currie, Eddy Acevedo, Greg Harris, Al Riley, Camille Lilly and Kimberly du Buclet. Seven of those members would have to vote "aye" to send Smith's case to the full House, which needs to approve any disciplinary action by a two-thirds vote.

In other Derrick Smith news, the lawmaker accused of taking a $7,000 bribe announced this week that he plans to hold a "free legal advice clinic" at his West Side office, 2532A W. Warren Blvd., on Saturday, July 21 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., The Chicago Journal reported. And, finally, the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Smith wants the criminal history of the pesky informant the FBI used in the bribery sting against him to be made public.

-Nick Moroni contributed to this piece

© Community Renewal Society 2012


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