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. 

Fast Designed to Bring Council Back to The Table


Twin Citians on March 25 & 26 will fast in solidarity with undocumented families "who don’t have a seat at the table" and call on  Bloomington City council to come back to the table to pass the “Welcoming City” ordinance.

"Immigrants in our community are living in fear," event coordinators advise. "Some are workers who endure exploitation from bosses, who use their immigration status as a threat. Others are children, who from a very young age, know the risk and fear that their parents might be torn from them at any moment. Others are dreamers, brought to the U.S. as children, living in D.A.C.A. limbo, watching their dreams fade away as the program expires. Some are women, who suffer in abusive relationships but are too afraid to call out for help. But ALL are human beings who deserve to live and love in safety and in the abundance of a community that truly welcomes them."


Across many faiths and social movements, fasting has been used as symbol of sacrifice for a moral purpose; and food, as a way of bringing community together. After his 25-day-fast with the United Farm Workers in 1968, Cesar Chavez expressed, “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.”

Starting on Sunday, March 25 at 6 p.m., community members across McLean County will come together outside of Bloomington City Hall to begin a fast in solidarity with undocumented families, and in support of the “Welcoming City” ordinance. The fast will continue into the following day. On Monday, March 26 at 6 p.m., they will invite Bloomington City Council members to “come back to the table” with a commitment to work with us to pass a “Welcoming City Ordinance” and "break the fast."

To become involved, visit https://keepfamiliestogether.wixsite.com/home/take-action.

Local Students Join National Walkout To Address Gun Violence

The Pantagraph

Photo by Mary Aplington

Photo by Mary Aplington

Students at several Central Illinois schools joined their peers across the nation Wednesday by walking out of their classrooms to send a message about gun violence.

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

The nation-wide walkout began at 10 a.m. and lasted for 17 minutes.

The event was organized to occur exactly one month after 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., by a former student wielding a semi-automatic rifle.

In wake of the massacre, students have risen to be some of the loudest activists for stricter gun control.

Hundreds of students at Normal Community High School, Normal West High School and Bloomington High School participated in the peaceful protest. Several schools in neighboring communities also joined.

“I am so moved by the students in our community,” Bloomington-Normal Not In Our School coordinator Mary Aplington said. “Their voices, their actions, their messages today have power and inspiration beyond their schools.

At NCHS, nearly 400 students left their classrooms and crowded on the sidewalk behind the building. Their event was organized by the Not In Our School group, Social Studies Club and Peace and Justice Club.


Senior Faithe Wenger spoke to the crowd, reminding them of the 2012 shooting that happened in a classroom at NCHS.  The shooter was a student. No one was injured and the building was evacuated.

“NCHS remembers. Our town remembers. When the practice tornado siren goes off the first Tuesday of every month, we shake,” said Wenger. “For the first 10 seconds our hearts drop to our feet. For that short period of time, we feel the fear that was present at Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando. How can we make government feel that?”

Junior Tristan Bixby told the crowd how her brother was held hostage in the classroom at NCHS by the shooter six years ago.

 “I consider myself lucky. I still get to see my brother every day. I get to be a part of his life. That is not always the case in this country. It terrifies me to think that thought could have been a reality within my own community,” said Bixby.

As for future change, Bixby said “start small.”

 “Talk to leaders, send an email, sit down and have those difficult conversations. Find kids who don’t have anyone and be there for them,” said Bixby. “Before today we were just kids, but we are the future and we will be the change.”

As she encouraged her peers to vote and speak up, Wenger’s hand shook but her voice was strong.

 “We still need stricter background checks, need to raise the age to 21 for all guns, not just rifles, we need to focus on mental illness and protecting student lives and all lives,” said Wenger. “This is just the beginning for us, the generation of change.”

The students ended the event by chanting “spread love, not hate, we just want to graduate."

For the final minute of the walkout, the crowd took a moment of silence to honor students killed by gun violence.

Nearly 300 students at Kingsley Junior High School also participated.

Before the walkout, Kingsley eighth-grader, Sam Gathright, said she planned to hold a sign and have conversation with her peers to understand their views on the issues.

She said she chose to join the national walkout because “our generation has some of the most lives lost due to school violence and suicide.

Normal Community junior Ajitesh Muppuru, 16, organized students Wednesday in a demonstration in support of stricter gun laws following the deaths of 17 people in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.

I’m not so much thinking about me and my peers, but for every generation after me that will benefit from my actions,” she said.

Students at BHS participated in a different way, leaving their classrooms to line the halls and stay silent for 17 minutes.

"It was a somber mood," said Fiona Ward Shaw, junior. "There's a time and a place for sitting in remembrance but we have to take action through legislative changes."

Freshman Jaylyn Haynes said it is "inconsiderate" for older generations to not take the students seriously because of their age.

"You're never too young to learn and express an opinion. That's one of the reasons behind so many of these shootings; people feel like they have to go to horrible lengths to get attention because they feel their voices aren't being heard," said Haynes.

School officials in some parts of the country have told students they will be disciplined for participating in the walkout.

But superintendents at Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5 said students weren't disciplined for practicing free speech without seriously disrupting the school day.

Young Voices From B/N Want to Shape Gun Debate

Ryan Denham


Ellie Diggins and her friends can’t drive a car. They can’t vote. They’re not even in high school yet. But they want to influence the public debate over gun violence.

Diggins is an eighth-grader at Kingsley Junior High School in Normal. Along with friends Ari Whitlock, Courtney Sims, and Maddie Beirne, they’re planning a school walkout demonstration March 14 as part of a nationwide movement sparked by the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida. They were inspired in part by the young Florida survivors who’ve lobbied publicly for stricter gun control.

Beirne said she moved to act after seeing the names and ages of those killed in Florida. Many of them were 14, just like her.

“I’m just kind of watching and wondering if my school is going to be the next one that’s going to be shot up or terrorized in some way,” Beirne said. “And I feel like I shouldn’t be afraid of that. I feel like I should be worried more about my next social studies quiz or what high school is going to be like next year, as opposed to whether or not I’m going to die when I walk into (school).”

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, the four friends and other students say they will walk out of class, then out the front door at Kingsley. They’ll hold signs during a mostly silent protest (so they’re not disruptive) focused on more gun control.

They want to see universal background checks, a full ban on bump stocks and assault weapons, and additional measures to stop those with mental illness from buying weapons, said Whitlock. They also hope to attract the attention of state lawmakers like state Rep. Dan Brady and Sen. Jason Barickman, who’ve visited their school before.

“We’ll be high schoolers next year, and after that we’ll be adults, and we’ll be voting,” said Diggins, who created an online RSVP for the event. “And right now we can’t hold office. But we want to change things that people in office can change.”

Sims said she wants to make a difference, regardless of her age, noting the impact the Florida survivors have had on the public debate around guns.

“I personally think it’s quite inspiring to see kids as young as we are stand up for themselves and try to make a difference in the world,” Sims said.

Whitlock agreed. During an interview with GLT, Whitlock name-dropped several court rulings and laws that she says gives the students precedent to act.

“I feel that the youngest generation can always make the most change. We’re taking control of our futures. Just because we’re not old enough to vote yet doesn’t mean we have no say,” Whitlock said. 

Ellie Diggins’ mom, Aleda, said she was very proud of what her daughter was doing.

She said they’ve talked about what happens if she’s disciplined for organizing the walkout. (Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said last week that peaceful protesters who are not disruptive will not be disciplined, calling it a learning opportunity.)

“She has decided it’s worth it. And I back her on it,” Aleda Diggins said.

Demonstrations are expected at both Unit 5 high schools as well as Bloomington High School on March 14. Another rally on gun control is planned for March 24.

Heartland Students, Faculty Debate Gun Violence

A gun control protest brought proponents on both sides of the debate to Heartland Community College in Normal on Monday. The protest is a prelude to a national walk out on March 14th. Some H.C.C. faculty and students say it's important to take action now.

Armed with neon signs it was hard to miss the messages about gun control from a small group of students and faculty at Heartland Community College on Monday.

"I don't personally own a weapon. I wouldn't have one in my personal life. So the idea of being asked to have one in my professional life is very concerning. I wouldn't feel comfortable. I wouldn't feel like I was the expert in that," said Heartland Community College employee Jenny Crones.

"I'm retired military. I just don't see any place that high velocity or assault weapons have any place in the general public's hands," said Heartland Community College faculty member Mark Finley.

But not everyone attending the protest want to see tougher gun control laws.

"I think that we have the right to own the guns, what guns we want when we want, that says it in the constitution and the bill of rights second amendment and that's the whole argument for everybody," said Heartland Community College student Garrett Conaty.

Faculty member Ericka Hines organized the protest ahead of the national walkout scheduled for March 14th. She also reminded students of their right to vote in the upcoming elections.

"A lot of people didn't vote in the last presidential election, 49 percent and that as a nation is pretty pitiful. I hope a lot of kindness and common sense gun laws come out of it. The world can be a lot more kind and we could be better educated about guns and background checks could be better," she said.

Another national protest will take place March 24th in Washington D.C.

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."

The Citiesscape Part 5: B/N's 'Social Vulnerability' Exacerbated by State Proposal?

Social vulnerability is defined as “the weakened resilience of communities when confronted by external stresses on human health,” such as natural or human-caused health issues or disease outbreaks. Higher social vulnerability levels often track with racial diversity, low SES, old age, limited transportation, low-quality housing, and population density.

A recently released Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal study by Illinois State University students and ISU’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development cites numerous points of vulnerability for a key segment of the Twin Cities populace.  

And according to Louis Goseland, director of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans’ Caring Across Generations (CAG) campaign, nationwide trends, federal and state budget debate, and gubernatorial proposals to retool and cut funding for major Illinois home care could mean even greater vulnerability for low-income, senior, and diverse other Central Illinoisans.

CAG is a national movement of families, caregivers, people with disabilities, and aging Americans working to “transform the way we care in this country.” The movement uses online action, grassroots organizing, and “innovative culture change” work to improve health policies and practices, with an emphasis on “shifting how our nation values caregiving” and calling for solutions “that enable all of us to live and age with dignity and independence.”

Currently, Goseland and Co. are focusing on the Community Care Program, which provides home care services to nearly 90,000 seniors across Illinois, enabling them to remain at home and or in their communities instead of being forced into more costly nursing homes. The services provided by home care aides through the CCP include help with meals, laundry, housework, and errands, and costs to maintain individuals in the CCP program are $10,000 annually, versus nursing homes which cost in excess of $55,000.

But while the program has enjoyed bipartisan support, budget concerns have prompted Gov. Bruce Rauner to propose moving non-Medicaid seniors into a new “Community Reinvestment Program,” potentially imposing new hardships and costs especially on lower-income seniors and their families. Beyond slashing state funding for homecare services by $120 million, the governor’s plan would call on seniors currently accustomed to home care aides providing transportation to doctor’s appointments instead to take an Uber or other unfamiliar and questionably reliable transportation “from strangers.”

Proposals like that raise a variety of issues, from seniors’ technical capabilities and physical limitations to potential inconvenience and added costs for poorer working families. Overall, the CRP "really creates a more complicates system of care for people who aren't enrolled in Medicaid."

Goseland , who relocated from Kansas to Bloomington nearly two years ago, knows firsthand how dramatic health care/home care shifts can devastate a family.

“I have kind of a personal interest, because of the experience my family had when my grandmother fell ill, just realizing how just how much a lack of access to care impacts not just the person who is in need of that care, but also the entire family structure,” relates Goseland, who served as a professional community organizer for nearly 11 years, working on political campaigns, with college students, and in research into Trump administration appointees, before discovering CAG.

“When I was about 13, my grandmother, who had problems breathing, was in need of care, but in Kansas, there just wasn’t access to a sufficient sort of state-funded home care program. So my mom, who’d been happily employed at a union job, making a good wage, ended up having to drop that and move us to a rural part of the state in order to care for my grandmother. My mom had to take on whatever she could in terms of employment just to keep food on the table, but the work opportunities were so bad that she ended up taking on multiple jobs. My mom, who was part of what’s called the ‘sandwich’ generation, cared for her mother as much as she could while needing to be a mother herself and taking on multiple jobs just to try to make thing work.”

Goseland sees Illinois as fortunate in having the Community Care Program (“I wish we’d had that in Kansas”). It has grown by more than 105 percent over the past 10 years, and “demonstrates the critical need for the state to invest more into its aging population.”

But Rauner’s untested Community Reinvestment Program would remove 36,000 non-Medicaid seniors from CCP care and shifts many home and community-based services to regional or privatized systems which according to CAG would diminish quality of service.

All that with a “complicated system of vouchers and a revolving door of service providers,” and no guarantee funding would be available for non-Medicaid seniors in need of services, Goseland warned. The Illinois Department on Aging would be given unlimited authority to make program cuts at any time.

Instead of enabling home care aides to make healthy meals for seniors, the CRP would provide meal vouchers that might not provide some older Illinoisans reliable daily nutrition. Instead of a home care aide doing housekeeping and laundry, the state would contract new and unfamiliar laundry and housekeeping  services.

The Community Reinvestment Program lacks basic provider standards the Community Care Program imposes to protect senior safety and prudent funding use. It requires no licensure or certification requirements nor basic disclosure requirements for providers necessary to monitor or maintain quality of care.

And from a taxpayer standpoint, CAG argues Rauner’s plan could incur higher long-term statewide costs. “For every senior who is forced into a nursing home, the state could end up paying $15,600 or more annually than it would pay for that senior to remain in the Community Care Program,” Caring Across Generations maintains.

That’s amid what CAG sees as an already “unprecedented Elder Boom” -- every eight seconds, another baby boomer turns 65. That’s four million Americans per year and almost one in five Americans by 2025. By 2050, the number of Americans who will require some form of long-term care and support will double to 27 million.

Aside from "countless" Medicaid-eligible Illinois seniors who aren't enrolled, cost of care is expected to increase significantly for those whose income stream precludes Medicaid eligibility. "They're still facing a significant economic hardship" under the CRP, warned Goseland, who argued CCP funding "if anything should be supplemented" before the state institutes a privatized, voucher-based system.

"This is also a question of values," he said. "Are we as a state going to treat the growing longevity of our citizenry as a burden or a blessing?"

Not only seniors and families are impacted by the ongoing health care crunch -- the home care workforce makes a meager average $13,000 a year, leaving many caregivers to rely on public assistance.

The ISU/Stevenson Center study cites “overrepresentation of (health) services on the Eastside of Bloomington-Normal and the clustering of services along Veterans Parkway, Main Street, and Market Street.” Immanuel Health Center on Morris Avenue currently is the only health clinic located within Bloomington’s West Side.

West Side residents “in general are further removed from services than their East Side counterparts,” the team concluded. Public transportation can deliver residents to those services, but these trips often require seniors to make multiple transfers and can represent an additional economic and time cost “some residents cannot afford,” researchers concluded.

“Health care services in Bloomington-Normal were classified as hospitals, clinics, minute/quick clinics, psychiatric hospitals, orthopedic doctors, optometrists, dental offices, physical therapy centers, cancer care centers, and assisted living (including nursing homes and hospice),” the study details. “This abundance of services is helpful for the Bloomington-Normal residents, but there is a clear disparity in access to these services for all citizens.”

At the same time, the ISU report notes a higher prevalence of industrial sites and sources of pollution on the Bloomington-Normal’s west side. Most of Bloomington’s black population lives within the most vulnerable areas, subjected to more acute environmental hazards and sources of noise, smell, and air pollution.

Further, many areas of West and Southwest Bloomington are at a higher risk of flooding, while a major railroad junction runs through West Bloomington, surrounded by a number of industrial facilities and exacerbating both safety and health risks.