ISU Prof Helps Students Capture the Tastes of Culture

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

Archana Shekara lives where art, culture, and social justice intersect. This semester, she helped Illinois State University students nourish an appetite for cultural identity and a hunger for social justice and inclusion.   


Shekara’s spring course, Art 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, explored multicultural perspectives and social issues through visual artwork. The associate professor, a native of India, assigned her 17 students a trio of daunting projects: Bringing vision and creativity to issues of cultural stereotyping and marginalization; developing soon-to-be-released new posters and related graphic materials for Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN) Not In Our School anti-bullying/anti-bigotry programs; and Food For Thought, an examination of individual cultures and their histories through their cuisine.

Food and culture are inextricably intertwined – the staples and delicacies of global societies reflect their geographies and climates, their agriculture and economic lifeblood, their beliefs and folkways. As part of the ISU Food For Thought exhibit, which ends Monday at ISU’s Milner library, created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients, and relevance.

“When you break bread together with people who don’t look like you, all of a sudden, something fascinating happens,” said Shekara, a NIOTBN Steering Committee member.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language and art. Subjects included German pfannkuchen (pancakes) and landjaeger (sausage), Greek saganaki (flaming cheese), Lebanese hummus, Italian cannoli (a sweet confection stuffed with ricotta cheese), Irish colcannon (a hearty potato/cabbage/onion/bacon dish), and Polish pierogi (dumplings).

Senior Larissa Summers highlighted Cherokee Bean Bread, an indigenous staple that embodies the indigenous American struggle against cultural appropriation and dilution.

“My Cherokee heritage is very close to me,” the native Oklahoman relates. “I did bean bread because I didn’t know about it, I hadn’t tried it before, and I wanted to get more in touch with something I was not familiar with. I have two different versions of the bread in my piece – the original version of the bread, which is just mashed-up corn and beans; and the kind of recipe you find now. It’s kind of like cornbread with beans in it. It’s very ‘westernized.’ The Cherokee used to have simplistic meals, simplistic lives, and then (non-native settlers) came over, and everything started getting more complex.They started getting moved around; their food started being influenced. There’s flour in it now, milk, honey. I wanted to show the journey not only of the food, but of Native Americans, as well.”

Rock Island’s Evan Morris meanwhile explored his Scottish ancestry through haggis, which blends ground sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with oats, cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. While according to Morris the unique dish was once considered “a poor man’s food,” he noted haggis today is celebrated as a culinary symbol of Scottish nationalism and pride – his poster incorporated the verse of Scots poet Robert Burns, whose piece “The Address to Haggis.”

“I found out my ancestors came over probably about 200 years ago – that’s when there was a huge emigration from Scotland because of the Highland Clearances (a mass eviction of tenants across the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th Century),” reported the senior, who applied his research as well in Shekara’s stereotyping/marginalization project. “I still have to do some more digging on it. I’m going to try to go on and trace everything back.”

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

NIOTBN Continues to Seek Welcoming Message

Gabe Pishghadamian


The discussion continues in Bloomington to make the city a welcoming place for immigrants. 

Local groups for immigrant protections and rights are coming forward to pressure city officials to continue the conversation about a potential ordinance. 

The groups say city council members aren't listening. 

Bloomington PD say it's their job to serve and protect all under the law, but local activists involved with "Not in Our Town" say they want their city to be safe for everyone, including so-called Dreamers. 

"The main motivation is to build a positive relationship between city services and the immigrant community," says Mike Matejka, Not in Our Town.

Bloomington is home to colleges, busy streets, local shops and Dreamers. 

"Not it Our Town" has always stood for an inclusive community," says Matejka. "Everybody is a part of the community. Everybody should be respected. Everybody should be welcome."

The group believes city leaders are not having the conversation of protecting immigrants after dropping the topic from their agenda. 

"Too often our immigrant community lives in the shadows and even though they are very much a part of daily life," says Matejka. "They need the full protections and the full involvement that's available to them."

The Illinois Trust Act is a state effort to make Illinois a welcoming place for immigrants, but there are citizens who do oppose the idea saying the ordinance would go against federal law.

"If you pass this, you will handcuff the police even further."

There will be demonstrating outside city hall in Bloomington this Sunday at 6 pm and again on Monday.

Activists also plan to fast as part of their demonstration. 

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner says no one has been deported by his department since before he became chief. 

ISU Academy Programs Begin This Week

Illinois State University’s Academy of Seniors programs begin this week and continue through May, with sessions focusing on community building, women's rights, and immigration.

The classes are sponsored by the Senior Professionals organization and will be held at the ISU Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main St., Normal.

Academy classes are $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers for four sessions, and $15 for individual session walk-ins, where available. Mornings classes are $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers for five sessions, and $15 for individual sessions. Participants can preregister for full sessions or pay at the door for individual sessions.

To register, visit for online registration or printable registration form. Call 309-438-2818 for more information.

Academy classes include:

“Building our Community,” 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 6, 8, 13, 15; various topics and instructors; walk-in available.

“More than the Vote: Women’s Rights Activism in the United States”; 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 20, 22, 27, 29; Kyle Ciani, associate professor of history and core faculty for women’s & gender studies, ISU; no walk-ins.

“Immigration: Political, Legal, Moral and Human Implications”; 9:30-11:30 a.m. May 8, 10, 15, 17; various topics and instructors; walk-in available.

Two-Day Conference to Address Trump-Era Environment, Microaggressions

The two-day Social, Ethnic, and Racial Boundaries on Campus and Community in the 21st Century, Feb. 9-10 at Illinois State University, will examine race, ethnicity, and microaggression both on campuses and communities, in light of the new political developments in the United States, both local and national.


The gathering, beginning at 8:15 a.m. Feb. 9 and 9 a.m. Feb. 10 in the Bone Student Center's Prairie Center Room, will offer insights from international scholars, keynote speakers, and local community leaders, as well as discussion panels and roundtables dialogues and films.

The program is free and open to the public.

The Feb. 9 program is dedicated to “Race and Immigration Under the Trump Administration,” with Saturday examining “Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

Here are highlights of the Feb. 10 itinerary:

9-10 a.m.: What is Microaggression?: How is Microaggression Different from Racism, Sexism, and Age-Segregation?
Chair: R.J. Rowley (Associate Professor of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, ISU)

Yolanda Flores Niemann (Professor of Psychology, University of North Texas)
Title: Microaggressions in the Classroom: What We’ve Learned from Student, Faculty, and Staff Responses to the Microaggressions in the Classroom (video)

Brea Banks (Assistant Professor of Psychology, ISU)
Title: Intersectionality and Microaggression


10:10-11:10 a.m.: Sexism, the LGBTQ Community, and Microaggressions
Chair and Moderator: Tom Gerschick (Associate Professor of Sociology, ISU)

Tanya Diaz-Kozlowski (Instructional Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, ISU)
Title: Micro-aggressions, School Climate, and Educational Equity: A Critical Praxis Approach

Presenters: Dave Bentlin (President, Prairie Pride Coalition), Liv Stone (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, ISU), Jacklyn Weier (Graduate student in Anthropology, ISU), and Diane Zosky (Director of School Social Work, ISU)


11:20 a.m.-1:20 p.m.: Lunch Banquet
Introduction: Mayuko Nakamura (Coordinator of Faculty Development, Instructional Technology and Media in Teaching, Learning, and Technology, ISU)

Keynote Address by Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann (Professor of Psychology, University of North Texas)
Title: Subjective Experiences of Microaggressions from the Lenses of Others: Being an Ally and Developing Alliances Across and Within Demographic Groups

1:30-2:30 p.m.: The Social, Emotional, and Academic Cost of Campus Microaggressions: What Institutions of Higher Education Can Do to Promote a Positive Campus Climate for all Students.
Chair and Moderator: Lou Perez (Emeritus Professor of History, ISU)

Doris Houston (Co-director of African-American Studies, and Associate Professor of Social Work, ISU) and Rocío Rivadeneyra (Director of Honors Program)
Title: Enhancing the Campus Climate through Diversity in Curriculum: What All Students Need to Learn About Power, Privilege, and Equity in The United States

Presenters: Multicultural Student Panel from ISU


2:40-3:40 p.m.: Workshop: Aging Within a Youth-Oriented Community: Age-Segregated Programs and Places, and Potential for a Fulfilling “Third Age.”
Chair and Moderator: Maria Smith (Professor of Anthropology, ISU)
Presenters: Chris Wellin (Director of the Gerontology Program in Sociology and Anthropology, ISU); Mindy Morgan (Director of the City of Normal Activity and Recreation Center, [ARC]).

3:40-3:55 p.m.: Closing Remarks
James Stanlaw (Professor of Anthropology, ISU)

Sponsors for the conference include Illinois State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Multi-Ethnic Cultural and Co-Curricular Programming Advisory Committee (MECCPAC), the School of Social Work, the Department of History, the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, the Department of Politics and Government, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute, Milner Library, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), and the Harold K. Sage Fund and the Illinois State University Foundation. The event is organized by the Ethnicity and Ethnography Laboratory and Research Center (EELRC) at Illinois State University.


City Managers Raise Concerns About Welcoming Ordinances

Mike McCurdy and Charlie Schlenker


The Bloomington and Normal city councils will likely see a draft of dual ordinances that would stop local police from working with federal immigration authorities on deportation—even if Normal’s city manager says it’s bad public policy.

Photo by Baylee Steelman/WGLT

Photo by Baylee Steelman/WGLT

Local civil rights advocates have lobbied for a so-called Welcoming City ordinance for months in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election. Nearly 300 people turned out for a recent Bloomington City Council meeting on the issue.

During a joint GLT's Sound Ideas interview alongside Bloomington Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen, Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said he realizes undocumented immigrants might fear going to police out of worry they will be reported to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. But he said that’s only perception.

"There is virtually no collaboration with federal immigration officials," said Peterson. "There may be a situation out there that it's in our best interest to cooperate." 

Peterson said it’s bad policy to create legislation refusing to cooperate with a federal agency. Rasmussen pointed out that any restrictive law on the books would have to be enforced. Peterson said such cooperation would have to be extremely specific about some criminal enterprise, such as human trafficking.

Peterson said he knows Mayor Chris Koos is surveying Normal Town Council members about their views on such an ordinance and expects an on-the-record expression from the council soon. Koos and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner have talked to each other about the issue, according to the city managers.

Peterson said he is not aware of advocates for a Welcoming City ordinance approaching his staff. He said that an ordinance could be viewed as a solution in search of a problem.

"I don't support it. I think it's bad public policy to suggest that under no circumstances we won't deal with (a) federal agency," said Peterson. "I can tell you that as a matter of course we typically don't deal with immigration officials. It's rare. They don't call us. We don't call them."  

Rasmussen thinks those in favor and against a Welcoming City ordinance will both be unhappy with the end result.

"Either side is going to want it to be more stringent on their side than the other side," said Rasmussen. "That makes it very, very difficult to craft something that walks the middle ground."

Immigrant Targeting Spurs Fear Among Local Scholars

Judith Valente


When this 21-year-old Illinois State University senior walks anywhere, he says he constantly looks around him to see if there are any law enforcement officers nearby.

“I barely do anything. I try to walk to school very carefully every single time. Even if you get into an accident and it’s not your fault, the police can still pick you up. You can be a victim of a car accident and you would the one sent back (to your home country),” he said.

The young man is one of the undocumented students currently enrolled at Illinois State. The university doesn't keep official statistics on the number of undocumented students; there is no immigration status box that has to be checked for admission. However, those who work with the immigrant student community estimate there are at least 100 at ISU.

For most of those students, the campus is one of the few safe havens they have, said Juliet Lynd, interim director of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies program.

Lynd was one of the organizers of an all-day workshop last Friday that sought to address the legal challenges and threat of deportation those students face.

The workshop at Marriott Conference Center was sponsored by CAUSA, the campus Committee to Assist Undocumented Student Achievement.

Finding Safe Haven

The ISU student came to the U.S. legally from Mexico as a 17-year-old, but his visa is no longer valid. He asked that his name not be used for fear of being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Lynd said the university campus is one of the few safe havens undocumented students feel they have.

“Having a place where students can go and they know they can find somebody they can trust and get reliable advice” is one of the roles of the university, Lynd said.

“I recently heard the story of student whose parents can’t help her move to campus because they are concerned should they be pulled over on the freeway that they can run into problems,” Lynd added.

Many students experience emotional stress, she said, “Particularly in the current climate—threats of intimidation, deportation concerns, and just anxiety.”

The young man said even when his visa was still valid, “It was so hard to live” as an immigrant.

He could not obtain a driver’s license, and he feared to fill out forms for health insurance.

“When I was still in high school, one single bill that would have been $20 with insurance was like $500 my family had to pay," he said.

Lynd said despite widespread misconceptions, there are few public benefits available to undocumented immigrants.

She said financial aid isn’t available to those students, so CAUSA tries to identify scholarships and other financial resources for the students.

“For you to apply for the most basic benefits from the government, you have papers. We don’t get Social Security, we don’t get Medicaid, or stuff like that," the ISU senior said.

"You live however you can, you get a job and take whatever they pay under the table."

The student said that to obtain a student visa legally, he would have to document that he has access to $40,000 in savings.

"I don't know many middle class families that have that amount in the bank," he said.

Struggle To Survive

The student described his life as a constant struggle to survive. He said he recently was forced to move out of an apartment because his landlord learned he is undocumented.

This week, President Donald Trump and members of Congress began seeking a solution for so-called Dreamers, young people who were brought to this country illegally as children and have grown up here. They number about 800,000 nationwide.

Last year, Trump ended the Obama era policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed those young people to remain in the country legally, saying he wanted Congress to address their status.

On Tuesday, a U.S. district judge in San Francisco issued an injunction preventing the federal government from removing the protections for childhood arrivals. However, it remains to be seen how far-reaching the ruling will be.

The ISU senior said he knows of many students who were brought here as children, and remain concerned they may be deported if their DACA status ends.

“You’ve been in this country for so long, you’ve were here since you were so little. Everything you know is this culture and this place,” the student said.

“Then all of a sudden because you don’t have a single paper, you are told you don’t have any rights … you can deported, and when you are sent back, you are sent to country that you don’t know with a language you might not even speak, with no resources.”

Lynd, of the Latin American studies program, said ISU isn’t officially a “sanctuary campus,” which refused to cooperate with immigration authories, but added, “There is a lot of good will on campus and desire to be welcoming and to take measures to show our support of our students."

"In general, the whole atmosphere at ISU is really good," the student said. "Once you get to know each person, it is easier to see all this prejudice is not founded.

The student, who is majoring in Spanish, says he was given a job by an employer who knows of his undocumented status.

"As a single income student trying to survive, I had to find a way," he said. The manager was OK with the situation and he told the owner who was OK with it as long as I am hardworking and honest."

"Access to higher education is a civil rights issue, and everybody deserves the opportunity to work," Lynd said.

The student said he doesn't know what the future will hold for him after graduation. "Getting a job will not be easy," he said. Nor does he hold out much hope he will obtain legal status any time soon.

The system is "all black or white," he said. "You either have papers or you don't."

Immigration Project Helping Save Thousands of Illinoisans DACA 'Dreams'

This week, nearly 80,000 young students, workers, and householders who’ve spent much or nearly all their life in the U.S. learned that over the next 2 ½ years, they could lose their adopted home.

“This is really going to hurt our economy; it’s really going to hurt all these individuals and their families,” warns Charlotte Alvarez, executive director of Normal-based The Immigration Project, which is working to help thousands of Illinois “DREAMers” cope with the White House-announced phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Under the announcement, individuals whose DACA designation expired prior to Sept. 5 cannot file a new program renewal application, and are effectively “terminated,” Alvarez reported. Those with pending renewals can still be processed -- The Immigration Project is helping ensure client applications are processed in a timely manner.

Currently, those facing DACA expiration between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, must file a two-year renewal application with receipt by immigration officials before Oct. 5 or lose their shot at renewal.

“In this state, we have about 10,000 young people who must file renewal applications within the next month,” Alvarez advised. “We’re recommending that if anybody in our service area – in Central or Southern Illinois – needs to file a renewal, and their DACA expires between Sept. 5 and March 5, they should contact our office as soon as possible. We’ve had a lot of panicked DACA clients calling us up wondering what this announcement means to them, what will happen to people who have DACA once their work permit and their permission to remain expires.”

In fact, the Project has dedicated a staff member, Thalia Novoa, to focus on DACA renewal, and callers (309-829-8703) can listen for a specific DACA renewal extension to begin the process. If applicants prefer to handle the process themselves or decide they need legal consultation, the Project can identify resources or clarify the process.

“One of the things that’s a challenge for people is affording the application,” Alvarez noted. “The application in each case costs $495 to file. I know people whose DACA expired, and they saved up enough money to pay the fees again, but they’re now not able to. And now we have all these people who either were saving up money por planning to renew in the future who suddenly have to renew in the next month.”

Some applicants thus have launched Gofundme or similar campaigns to raise the money necessary to renewal, and The Immigration Project is seeking organizations that might be willing to provide financial support for clients.

DACA, signed in June 2012, stated that the government would not deport those who arrived here before the age of 16 and are under 31 years of age on June 15, 2012; who are in school or possess a high school diploma; who have lived here for at least five years; and who have not committed serious crimes.

DACA supporters are pinning long-term hopes on congressional intervention. Two federal immigration proposals – the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy) Act and the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act – propose to address concerns by creating what Alvarez terms “a real path to citizenship.”

The Project joined Tuesday with “a fairly sizeable crowd” of DACA supporters in an Uptown Normal rally, requesting that Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, whose office is in Uptown, meet with those affected by new DACA rules and support either bills. As of Thursday, no meeting date had been scheduled.

At the same time, attorneys general of 15 states and the District of Columbia, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, have filed a lawsuit alleging the administration’s action violated the due process rights of the young immigrants by failing to safeguard the personal information they initially gave the government in order to enroll in DACA.

“The solution is, either the administration reconsiders this policy, or Congress acts and creates a law and protections for these kids,” Alvarez said. “A lot of the DACA kids we have came to the country when they were two or three. They barely remember or don’t remember the country they were from. We’ve had clients who have gotten bachelors degrees, relying on DACA to be able to work. I have clients who are nurses, who are students, who are professionals. This is just going to pull the rug from beneath their dreams. It’s a real blow for them.”

For more information, visit The Immigration Project at


May 1 March Aimed at Unity With Immigrants

The Day of Resistance/Keep Families Together March, 5:30 p.m. May 1 at the McLean County Historical Museum, marks a day of solidarity with immigrants and their families aimed at resisting human rights abuses, racism, and oppression.

The event will be hosted by the Immigrant & Refugee Support Network of Central Illinois, Illinois People's Action, and YWCA McLean County.

"Most of us never have to think about what our children would do if they arrived home from school and we weren’t there — just vanishing from their lives," event organizers state. "But that is the reality for some members of our community. Just last year, 53 people were transferred to immigration custody directly from our county jail and many more have been torn apart by deportation."

The new administration’s immigration policies are placing families under increasing threat of being "devastated by an unjust immigration system, and immigrants in our community are living in constant fear," they report. "As a community, we must stand up with and for our neighbors and take action to ensure immigrant families are protected in McLean County. March with us for justice, dignity and freedom for all!"

Museum, ISU Spotlighting Latino Writer, Anthropologist

Illinois State University’s Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the McLean County Museum of History are teaming up to host a community reading group. First up: Dr. Sujey Vega’s book, Latino Heartland: Of Borders and Belonging in the Midwest, in preparation for Vega's visit to Bloomington-Normal.

Vega, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, will speak on the Illinois State campus on Thursday, February 23 at 7:00 p.m., Old Main Room, Bone Student Center. On Saturday, February 25 at 1 p.m., Mclean County Museum of History will hold a community “charla” with the author.

Latino Heartland offers an ethnography of the Latino and non-Latino residents of a small Indiana town, showing how national debate pitted neighbor against neighbor—and the strategies some used to combat such animosity. It conveys the lived impact of divisive political rhetoric on immigration and how race, gender, class, and ethnicity inform community belonging in the twenty-first century.  

Copies of the book can be borrowed from both the Bloomington and Normal public libraries and they are available for purchase at the museum, Babbitt’s Books, or Barnes and Noble. Both speaker programs are free and open to the public thanks to the Sage Foundation Fund at Illinois State.

Solidarity Rally Addresses National Concerns

The Pantagraph

Josh Knight of Normal said he brought his 8-year-old son to a Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal rally Wednesday night in Bloomington to show him how to be an American.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

"I wanted to show him that we treat all people equally and that we instill in him the values of American culture that we believe in and that is freedom for all people and to be an open and welcoming person," said Knight.

Nadia Khusro, a Normal Community High School senior, said she was born in the United States but has Muslim relatives living in South Asia. 

"They might not be able to visit us because they are not Christian and they are not white," she said. "It makes me scared and it also makes me a little angry.

"They are my family, and they should have as much of a right to visit this country as anybody else."

They were among about 1,200 people who filled the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts auditorium to capacity in a show of support for their immigrant neighbors and to protest President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, making the rally one of the largest in recent memory in the Twin Cities.

Imam Sheikh Abu Emad Al-Talla of Masjid Ibrahim, a Bloomington mosque, was the first of many speakers who brought the crowd to their feet when he said, "On behalf of all Muslims all over the world: We love you guys. We are part of the United States of America."

NIOT organized the event following Trump's order on Friday banning entry to the United States citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and people from Syria indefinitely.

On its Facebook page, NIOT asked the public to come “stand with our Muslim and other neighbors.” It also asked elected officials to attend, affirm the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion stand against a registry of people based on their faith.

Five people stood outside the BCPA to show support for Trump's immigration policy, including Ward 3 aldermanic candidate Gary Lambert.

Julia Reinthaler said the group was "demonstrating our support of President Trump in his efforts to improve our national security by putting together a system that will fully, thoroughly vet any immigrants coming into this country.

"We believe in immigration and we're pro-immigrant, but we are very much supportive of this administration's efforts to overhaul our system and better serve the national interest," she said.

In the event, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he had mixed emotions about the event.

"I am so thrilled to see this room packed," he said. "I am saddened that we have to be here to try to defend the idea that all people are created equal."

Speaking of the United States as a nation of immigrants, Normal Mayor Chris Koos spoke of his family's Irish and German roots.

"They came here because they left a hellish environment where they could no longer thrive," he said. "So they traveled halfway around the world to find a place where they could better their lives and their family's lives and the lives of their descendants.  

"So today if you come to our community from South Asia, from Mexico, Central America, from Sudan, from Libya and the five other now-named countries, and you come here to find a better way for you and your family we welcome you.

"If you choose us, we choose you. Welcome home," he added, drawing a standing ovation.

The crowd continued to applaud and stand as the two mayors and Al-Talla clasped raised hands in a show of solidarity.

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington urged residents not to live as strangers.

"During the past several generations many of my people have lived as strangers in lands not ours," she said. "On occasion we were treated well. Most of the time not.

"There was a time when our nation closed its doors on Jews escaping persecution. While some found safety in other countries, many were refused and ultimately perished in the Holocaust," said Dubowe, adding, "We cannot make this mistake again."

Mandava Rao of the Hindu Temple Bloomington-Normal read some Hindu mantras, and the Rev. Molly Ward, an Episcopal priest, closed with a prayer.

"This meant a lot to us — such tremendous support and tremendous energy from the whole community regardless of their faith, regardless of their ethnicity," said Mohammed Zaman, president of Masjid Ibrahim, at the conclusion of the  90-minute event.

"This shows that when a community gets together they can fight any evil, whether it's national, international or on any level."

Hanna: The Immigration Project Undertakes 'Compelling' Mission

Amid global poverty and violence and current U.S. rhetoric, many individuals and families are seeking basic safety or stability in the U.S.

Hanna Tarbert, AmeriCorps VISTA communications and development coordinator with the Normal office of The Immigration Project, is committed with Project attorneys and volunteers to helping provide it.

The Immigration Project provides quality citizenship and other legal assistance for immigrants in 85 counties across downstate Illinois, from Kankakee on the east to Moline on the west and on a north-south line from Fairmount City to Carbondale. Statewide, the Project serves an estimated 53,000 undocumented immigrants.

Tarbert previously worked for six months with refugee resettlement in Dayton, Ohio, where she met several immigration attorneys and became interested in legal advocacy for those who’ve sought a better or simply safer life in the States.

“There are people fleeing conflict; they’re fleeing for their lives,” she related. “From a human element, I don’t think there’s anything more compelling than that. Refugees have literally lost everything, and they’re starting over.

“We did get a lot of people coming out of Central America who were fleeing gang violence. There were people there leaving poverty, or they were reunifying with family. There are a lot of good reasons to work in immigration and help people get status here.”

The Project’s largely rural-regional approach includes regular local information clinics with staff attorneys and partnerships with area groups who set up permanent webcam sites to facilitate long-distance interviews and case preparation. An August 19 clinic is set for Bloomington-Normal.

Tarbert – who graduated with a Master of Arts in International and Comparative Politics and a Master of Arts Certificate in Women’s Studies from Wright State University in 2015 -- must grapple with a variety of “huge misconceptions” particularly about undocumented immigrants. “A lot of people don’t think immigrants pay taxes, and they do,” she said, noting Project clients must document that “they have been contributing.”

In fact, unauthorized immigrants in Illinois paid $499.2 million in state and local taxes in 2010 alone, according to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. That includes $85.4 million in state income taxes, $45.8 million in property taxes, and $368 million in sales taxes.

Further, the 2012 purchasing power of Illinois’s Latinos totaled $46.1 billion — an increase of 422.2 percent since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $28.7 billion — an increase of 463 percent since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

While U.S. immigration debate focuses largely on Latino populations, The Immigration Project deals with immigrants from across the globe, including a growing influx of French-speaking arrivals from Togo and other African countries and Canadian and European immigrants.

Immigrants who currently must remain in the legal shadows effectively are “living in limbo,” Tarbert said, limiting work or educational opportunities. On a national level, she argued the Immigration Project and similar groups would benefit from a U.S. Supreme Court re-review of the currently court-deadlocked case challenging President Obama’s immigration reform plan, which had reflected elements of a stalled bipartisan Senate package. The 2012 purchasing power of Illinois’s Latinos totaled $46.1 billion—an increase of 422.2% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $28.7 billion—an increase of 463% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

The case, United States v. Texas, concerned a 2014 executive action by the president to allow as many as five million unauthorized immigrants who were the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation and provide them with work permits, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

“Just having those programs implemented would go a long way toward helping a lot of people,” said Tarbert. “It would really have made a lot of things easier for a lot of our clients.”

Project clinics in 2014 and 2015 nonetheless covered a range of issues beyond DAPA, including citizenship application assistance. The group also assists in visa petitions, consular processing for family members, and waivers of inadmissibility, and provides immigrant crime victim support addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.

“We tend to be more service-based than advocates,” Tarbert advised. In 2015, 37 percent of client “intakes” involved those seeking naturalization and citizenship. Nearly 30 percent of clients sought support for childhood arrivals.

Clients pay an initial $25 consultation fee, though many other services are free or charged based on a sliding financial scale based on case type, family size, and household income.

The Project also taps a healthy volunteer base, which provides English/Spanish/French translation, case follow-up management, or coordination of legal clinics and area citizenship workshops.

“There are a lot of people who want to support the attorneys,” Tarbert noted.


The Immigration Project receives no federal funding, depending instead on low legal fees, donations, and grants. Those who wish to support the Project can check to see if their employer is eligible for Matching Gift Programs to match personal donations or offers any Volunteer Grant Programs which allow an employee to volunteer a set number of hours.  Amazon donates 0.5 percent of the price of an eligible purchase to The Immigration Project for every purchase made through AmazonSmile when the buyer opts to make it the charitable organization of their choice. And PayPal enables donors to use their credit card without making an account.

Nuns on The Bus: Heal Gaps, Heed Immigrant Contributions

The Pantagraph

Sister Simone Campbell has a simple message for the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

"We need Bloomington-Normal (residents) to do their part to help heal the gaps in our nation," she said. "It's our same message at all the towns we go to, because if we all get engaged in it, we can heal."

Campbell is one of 19 sisters on the Nuns on the Bus tour of the the Midwest and Northeast. With a theme of "Mend the Gaps," they will spend more than two weeks asking America to promote family-friendly workplaces, living wages, tax justice, and access to citizenship, democracy, health care and housing.

While the group's agenda mirrors traditionally liberal political priorities, Campbell said the sisters are focused on how to bring people together rather than dividing them.

They started Monday in Madison, Wis., and will travel through Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, New York, the New England states and New Jersey before ending in Pennsylvania. Stops will include small cities like Bloomington and big ones like Cleveland and Philadelphia, where they'll visit the Republican and Democratic national conventions. 

"What I'm hoping is we can see similarities in what worries ... and gives hope to Republicans and Democrats so we can begin to speak of where we meet," said Campbell, who organized Nuns on the Bus and is executive director of Network-Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.

About 75 people came to YWCA McLean County in Bloomington for the afternoon stop.

Attendees heard speeches from the sisters and got the chance to pledge their support and sign the bus. Many chanted "mend the gaps" during a group photo.

The sisters also visited Unitarian/Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal on Tuesday evening.

This is their fifth annual bus tour; they visited Illinois State University’s Alumni Center and New Covenant Community, both in Normal, in 2013.

"We're big fans of Sister Simone," said Margaret Rutter of Normal, who attended the YWCA event with other New Covenant members.

Rutter spoke of the need for respecting immigrants: "It's terrible how many people have lived here for many years doing horrible jobs and paying taxes and we won't let be citizens."

Policy priorities for the sisters include tax reform that makes "corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share"; "significant minimum wage increases"; "paid family leave and paycheck fairness for woman"; "congressional districts that are fairly and accurately drawn"; universal health care; and "a just and inclusive federal housing policy."

"We have a torn fabric in our society with all the name-calling, the violence, the fear. ... We're better than that," Campbell said. "This is about the divides that have grown in our whole nation, and that's why we're on the road."

Advocate for 'Hidden' Homeless Receives Peace Prize

Judith Valente

WGLT Radio

The recipient of this year's Grabill-Homan Peace Prize is the Reverend Kelley Becker, associate pastor of First Christian Church in Bloomington. Becker is being recognized for her work with the homeless and several community groups.

Joseph L. Grabill, right, Becker, and Gerlof D.  Homan

Joseph L. Grabill, right, Becker, and Gerlof D.  Homan

The annual award is named for former Illinois State University Professors Joseph L. Grabill and Gerlof D.  Homan, who established ISU's peace and conflict resolution studies program.

Becker said that her friendship with many homeless people began by accident, when she was working as a youth director at First Presbyterian Church, which had some extra sandwiches to give away.

"My son, Andrew,  and I went to all different places in town looking for people who were hungry and needed a lunch," Becker recalled. "In the process of that, we found people who were living outside in tents that I had heard about,  but had never been face to face with, had never heard their stories or learned their names. And I knew at the end of the week I couldn't pretend I didn't know they were there any longer."

That experience led Becker to arrange for a cadre of volunteers, including herself, to cook and deliver meals four days a week to the people she calls the "hidden homeless."

Becker said many homeless people are forced to sleep outdoors because the community's two shelters, Safe Harbor and Home Sweet Home Ministries, are often full.  During the night, some set up makeshift tents on commercial property, disappearing again in the daylight. 

"Of course the community is uncomfortablewith seeing people who clearly live outside and so we have a tendency to push people who live outside into the shadows," she said. "We have done that pretty well in Bloomington-Normal."

Businesses, she added, are often reluctant to allow the homeless to remain inside their establishments during the day. "So they get a lot of move along, move along,  and gradually we shift themout, away for us. The unfortunate part of that is that any time we push people into the shadows, we make them feel like the other. And my ministry is a lot about saying nobody is the other."

Becker said much of her pastoral work involves "being present," but she also has officiated at a funeral for a homeless man she got to know, and on occasion has brought communion to people she met living on the streets. "And they will call me when a crisis happens," she said. "I'm very aware of the fact that I don't know what would happen to me if I lost my job, and my family and friends gave up on me, and I lost my home," Becker said.

One bright spot , Becker said, is the local "Tiny House" effortin which small, inexpensive structures, often sponsored by churches, can provide shelter for individuals currently living outdoors.

"We're currently discussing if there a way for us to secure some land and get some zoning worked out so we can have some tiny homes positioned in a part of our community that would have bus access and enable people who are currently homeless to truly be part of the community," Becker said.

One such "tiny house" has already been built at a cost of $6,000. It was placed for a time in the First Christian Christian parking and later the parking lot at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington.

Plans are under way to construct an additional house. "A lot of this needs to come from the faith community, to say you know what, everybody needs a roof over their head and what can we do to help?" Becker said. "Certainly if our faith communities each sponsored a person who is chronically homeless, we would not haveanyone living outside." 

Becker is also faith andoutreach chair for Not In Our Town, a group that seeks to foster relationships between people of different races and faiths. Becker helped arrange open house events at two of Bloomington's mosques and its Hindu Temple. A similar event is planned for the Mose Montefiore synagogue. "'Our goal is to make Bloomington Normal a place where people of any faith or no faith feel welcome." Becker said.

"I really feel the key to peace and living together in a welcoming, inclusive community is understanding one another and hearing the stories of our neighbors. When I was a youth minister one of the things I did with kids was talk about the difference between tolerating other people and embracing other people," she added.

Becker also helps oversee the annual West Side Back to School Block Party, a mult-church event that provides school supplies for local children. She has also worked on LGBT issues and an improving police-community relations. Becker will receive her award at a reception Monday evening at the ISU Alumni Center. The award includes a donation to an established scholarship or program at Illinois State chosen by the recipient.


NIOTBN's Becker To Receive Peace Prize

What is a community activist? In the case of the Rev. Kelley Becker, it is one who attempts both to lead her spiritual community in support of the human community at large and also to serve that larger community and the too-often forgotten and neglected communities within it. 

Becker is this year's recipient of the Grabill-Homan Community Peace Prize. She will be recognized at a Monday reception.

As associate minister with Bloomington First Christian Church Disciples of Christ, the city’s oldest congregation, Becker assists in imparting a message of compassion and inclusivity and overseeing an outreach program that has included FCC’s now 17-year-old, multi-church Westside Block Party and construction and promotion of the Tiny House, a modular mini-home that could prove a key solution in transitioning people who currently are homeless into a socially and economically sustainable life.

The Tiny House exemplifies Becker’s commitment to the disenfranchised of the Twin Cities. She has ministered to local people who are homeless on a personal level as well as through the church, and helped communicate with local police authorities and highlight the plight of homeless persons following last spring’s eviction of individuals from an outdoor encampment on Bloomington’s Market Street.

Becker also is attuned to the challenges facing the Twin Cities Latino community and issues confronting immigrants caught up in political controversy. She has traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border, witnessed federal deportation “show trials” in the Southwest, and through photos, stories, and sermons has helped illuminate complex issues of immigration, border security, and human rights.

Further, at a time when events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago underline concerns about police-community relations particularly along racial lines, Becker continues to communicate regularly with law enforcement officials, to affect greater understanding of community needs and police perceptions. In the pulpit and in the community, she has worked to uphold respect for and inclusivity of the LGBT community – she helped organize First Christian’s new One and All progressive service, which provides a worship opportunities for those who may not have felt welcome or accepted at other area churches.

Her commitment extends to supporting solutions to mental health issues that can exacerbate the challenges of poverty, substance abuse, crime, and East Side/West Side relations, as a board member with Bloomington’s non-profit INtegRIty Counseling. Last year, Becker agreed to chair Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s fledgling Faith and Outreach Subcommittee, which is devoted to fostering interfaith understanding and aiding area churches in efforts to address bigotry and attaining social justice for all Twin Citians. She played a key role with local Jewish and Islamic leaders in a December interfaith solidarity event in downtown Bloomington aimed at countering anti-Islamic sentiments.

Study Shows Undocumented Workers Significant Tax Contributors

Undocumented workers often are criticized as a burden on the state and the nation, and presidential campaign debate has spurred controversy regarding the issue.

However, a recent report maintains these workers contribute $794 million in tax payments to Illinois government. According to Undocumented Immigrants' State & Local Tax Contributions, authored by the non-profit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $11.84 billion in 2012. 

Contributions ranged from less than $3.2 million in Montana, with an estimated undocumented population of 6,000 to more than $3.2 billion in California, home to more than 3.1 million undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants’ nationwide average effective state and local tax rate (the share of income they pay in state and local taxes) in 2012 is an estimated 8 percent.  The top 1 percent of taxpayers pay an average nationwide effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.

Granting lawful permanent residence to all 11.4 million undocumented immigrants and allowing them to work in the United States legally would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2.2 billion a year, the institute estimated. Their nationwide effective state and local tax rate purportedly would increase to 8.7 percent, which would align their tax contributions with economically similar documented taxpayers.

To read the study, visit


Greening Of The Prairie Illustrates Ugliness of Anti-Immigrant Prejudice

It was a contentious time and a contentious issue. A nation of immigrants wary of a new group of foreign refugees, workers, and families flowing into their communities. Doors barred to these newcomers, ugly propaganda painting these new arrivals as criminals, ne'er-do-wells, and even as subhumans. People indentured into a virtual servitude, and occasional acts of violence and terror committed in the name of fear and hatred.

The King of A-Shantee, a cartoon from an 1885 edition of the then-popular magazine Puck's,  illustrates the bigotry of the time toward the Irish. The cartoon is one of several pieces of anti-Irish propaganda and prejudice on display at the McLean County Museum of History.

The King of A-Shantee, a cartoon from an 1885 edition of the then-popular magazine Puck's,  illustrates the bigotry of the time toward the Irish. The cartoon is one of several pieces of anti-Irish propaganda and prejudice on display at the McLean County Museum of History.

Rough times for the Irish families that settled in Central Illinois in the 19th Century -- they experienced bigotry, discrimination, and suspicion that resonates in today's contentious immigration debate. The McLean County Museum of History's Greening of the Prairie exhibit, on display in downtown Bloomington through January 16, explores how one group, now prominent in Twin Cities business, politics, and community life, faced and eventually overcame deep-seated public prejudice.

The exhibit features historic objects, photographs, and maps about Irish-Catholic famine immigrants who came to this area in the early 1850s to escape the Irish famine brought on by widescale potato blight . They worked to build the railroad and opened early black-dirt prairie farms, following on the heels of Protestant Scots-Irish pioneers.

This exhibit examines why they left Ireland, the challenges they faced once they arrived, their successes and failures, and the impact their presence has had on our community. The Irish-Catholic immigrants faced major local hostility -- the anti-Catholic American Protective Association and the Ku Klux Klan were active in the region; KKK members reportedly included a number of local professionals and leaders.

Museum Curator Susan Hartzold muses grimly about the sweeping bigotry of the time -- an anti-immigrant sentiment "that's still going on" as Americans debate over Mexican labor and Syrian refugees.

"There are things we're not proud about in our history, but we don't want to sweep them under the rug," Hartzold acknowledges. "We had lots of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic sentiment in this town. It's important that people become aware of those things so they don't let them happen again."

However, the Irish overcame bigotry and were embraced by a growing number of residents. Irish farms became common in the Merna and south Downs area.

The exhibit highlights many notable McLean County Irish families, including: the Costigans who were grocers, lawyers and a judge; the Irvins, who started the Bloomington Pepsi bottling company; and the Quinns, who launched a gas station that still exists today. The Boylans became renowned for their candies and soft drinks. And by 1913, local clothing store Costello and O'Malley's sponsored a baseball team in the popular Catholic Forester's League.

Bill: Compassion Toward Refugees Humanizing Opportunity

Bill Fike

WJBC Forum

Europe, the Gulf States, and the “West,” including the United States, have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to destroy ISIS, with the influx of tens of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The entire civilized world by humanely and compassionately, accepting these casualties of “radical Islam” into our respected countries, will demonstrate to all Muslims worldwide, that Christians and Jews are not the “Great Satan” as declared by the propaganda spewed out by likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Even Pope Francis has recognized the importance of this opportunity, by asking each Catholic Parish in Europe to sponsor at least one refugee family.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that the United States will host up to 70,000 worldwide refugees this year, 85,000 next year, and approximate total of 100,000 in 2017. He went on to explain that most of these immigrants will be Syrian.

In order to start their new lives in the United States, all refugees are fingerprinted and must pass both a security check and a medical exam before entering the country.  Upon arrival, the U.S. government expects working age immigrants to find a job within 6 months of arrival.  (Resettlement organizations often have employment specialists to help refugees find employment.)

Through my research*, I also found that our government gives new LEGAL refugees:  housing assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, and a small monetary stipend for at least 8 months to help with their integration into our society (Note: illegal immigrants DO NOT receive such benefits!).  And after one year in our country, a new refugee may apply for the much sought after “Green Card.”

I know my hard line Conservative friends are totally against taking in any Muslim refugees, and I understand their concern. But if these refugees are properly vetted so as to protect our country from possible embedded terrorists, this act of American hospitality and kindness, and the compassion shown by other countries throughout the civilized world, will help plant the seed of ISIS’s destruction in the Middle East, saving many American lives in the long run.


Bill Fike owned and operated Winnie’s of Bloomington, Inc., (Winnie’s Menswear) from 1973 until his retirement in May of 2009. Bill also owned Churchill’s Formal Wear, LTD. from 1996 until he sold Churchill’s to James Carroll in March 2007. Bill and Cheryl just celebrated 40 years of marriage this past June 12, 2011 and they have one son, Joseph, and one daughter, Carmen. Bill was in the second graduating class of Illinois Central College in 1971, and then went on to Clark School of Aviation-Flight, obtaining both VFR and IFR flight certificates. Bill has been able to trace his family heritage back to his great, great, great grandfather’s family, A.C. Herron’s, (on his grandmother’s side), who was one of the original settlers of Bloomington.