WBEZ | Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois-coalition-immigrant-and-refugee-rights Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Health care tax rules trip up some immigrants http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Immigrant-Obamacare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The deadline&rsquo;s coming to file tax returns, and aside from the usual headache, this year it&rsquo;s proving particularly thorny for undocumented immigrants. That&rsquo;s because, for the first time, there are penalties under the Affordable Care Act for those lacking health insurance.</p><p>But the law is complex, and when it comes to people living in the U.S. illegally, many are getting slapped with fines they shouldn&rsquo;t have to pay.</p><p>Adalberto Martinez, a mechanic at an auto body shop in Chicago, is one of them. Like many undocumented immigrants, Martinez pays income taxes, using an IRS-issued taxpayer identification number, called an ITIN. But this year, he noticed something different when he sat down with his tax preparer.</p><p>&ldquo;They told me that there&rsquo;s a box where you have to answer whether you have insurance or not,&rdquo; he explained in Spanish. &ldquo;So she put down that I didn&rsquo;t have insurance. She didn&rsquo;t explain to me exactly why, just that there was a box there and I didn&rsquo;t have insurance.&rdquo;</p><p>Afterwards, Martinez found he was hit with a $200 fine for not having health coverage in 2014. The official name for the penalty was the &ldquo;shared responsibility payment.&rdquo;</p><p>Most lawful U.S. residents are required to have health coverage under Obamacare, and those who don&rsquo;t will have to pay the penalty. But under the law, undocumented U.S. residents, like Martinez, are exempt from all that. But Martinez&rsquo;s story is not unique.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve heard from at least 10 to 15 organizations that have been hearing this issue in the community,&rdquo; said Luvia Quinones, health policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.</p><p>Quinones said it&rsquo;s not clear how many undocumented immigrants may have improperly paid the fine, but she said thousands in Illinois could be at risk.</p><p>&ldquo;We know that in the state of Illinois, there&rsquo;s about 310,000 undocumented, uninsured individuals in addition to about 70-80 thousand DACA youth that are eligible also to get their work permit,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>DACA youth, also known as DREAMers, are immigrants that arrived in the U.S. as children and obtained temporary relief from deportation under President Obama&rsquo;s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They have valid Social Security numbers, which could be used to file tax returns. This puts them at particular risk for mistaken penalties, because while their Social Security numbers may suggest that they are lawful U.S. residents, and therefore subject to the health care penalty, Obamacare explicitly excludes them from the health coverage requirement.</p><p>Quinones said in some cases, she believes immigrants are being entrapped in fraudulent schemes by unscrupulous tax preparers who are pocketing the penalties themselves. An advisory from the IRS indicates that the federal agency is aware and concerned about these reports as well.</p><p>But often, Quinones said, these instances are mistakes, where tax preparers are unclear about the new law.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Graciela Guzman found when she was forced to tackle the issue. As a health care navigator at Primecare Community Health, a bilingual clinic in the city&rsquo;s Wicker Park neighborhood, she helps people enroll in health insurance plans.</p><p>Technically, Guzman&rsquo;s job has nothing to do with taxes, but recently patients whom she&rsquo;d told were ineligible for health coverage under Obamacare started showing up at her clinic. They&rsquo;d prepared their tax returns, and they were mad at her.</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you told me I was not going to get penalized,&rsquo;&rdquo; Guzman recalled them saying. &ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you educated us and you said we are not going to get penalized, and we got penalized. Why?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman realized lots of tax preparers were making mistakes, so she and her colleagues decided to educate them.</p><p>On a recent weekday afternoon, she canvassed Fullerton Avenue in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on foot, carrying a bag of informational flyers.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll hit a new corridor every two or three days,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll probably hit 10 to 15 income tax places per corridor, so we&rsquo;ve probably hit about 120 income tax places.&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman pops into tax preparers&rsquo; offices, as well as check cashing sites, speaking briefly in Spanish to explain her purpose, and to leave a stack of papers. The sheets detail, in English and in Spanish, how undocumented immigrants should claim an exemption from the penalty.</p><p>Guzman said the penalty can be a hardship for many people at her clinic. It&rsquo;s at least $95 per adult who&rsquo;s not insured. But in most cases it&rsquo;s a lot more, depending on the family&rsquo;s income.</p><p>&ldquo;A penalty of $300-$400, it can absorb half if not more of what they would have gotten back in refund,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to get it right? One reason is that none of the information you provide on your tax return is an absolute indicator of your residency status. Not everyone who files taxes using an ITIN is undocumented; conversely, not everyone with a Social Security number is a lawful U.S. resident.</p><p>There are different opinions on how tax preparers should handle this.</p><p>&ldquo;If they are using services of a tax preparer, they should tell preparer directly that immigration status is that of someone not in the U.S. legally,&rdquo; said Enrique Lopez, a CPA in Chicago. In fact, Lopez said that his office will refuse to file a tax return for a client who does not disclose his or her residency status.</p><p>But others worry that this might backfire.</p><p>&ldquo;I think not only is it going to create more fear in the community, but it could also affect the likelihood of undocumented individuals or DACA youth wanting to file taxes,&rdquo; said Quinones.</p><p>Instead, Quinones recommended that tax preparers keep things general. Instead of asking whether a client is undocumented, he or she could ask if the client qualifies for any of a number of exemptions that fall under the same <a href="http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i8965/ch02.html#d0e1463">code</a>. That way, someone who&rsquo;s undocumented can indicate that they are exempt without disclosing the specific reason why.</p><p>As for Martinez, he was able to go back to his tax preparer and file a tax return amendment. He hopes he&rsquo;ll get his $200 back. In the meantime, he said he&rsquo;s doing a little outreach himself.</p><p>&ldquo;I started telling people,&rdquo; he said, through a translator. &ldquo;My cousin in Indianapolis, he came to Chicago, and he told me they charged him $300. I told him, &lsquo;Hey cousin, you need to find out what happened &lsquo;cause they shouldn&rsquo;t have charged you.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, immigrant advocates and others are warning the public that anyone who pays the penalty directly to a tax preparer, by cash or otherwise, may be a victim of fraud. The IRS recommends filing a <a href="http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14157.pdf">form </a>to report the activity. Consumers may also file a complaint with the &nbsp;<a href="http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.">Illinois Attorney General</a>.</p><p>In cases where someone has improperly paid the penalty to the IRS, they can file a tax amendment to get the money back. Get Covered Illinois advises anyone with questions about the health care requirement or the tax penalty to call its hotline at 866-311-1199.</p><p><em>Ivan Favelevic and Aurora Aguilar assisted with language translation for this story.</em></p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&#39;s North Side bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 Feds set to divert refugee funds to deal with unaccompanied minors http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/feds-set-divert-refugee-funds-deal-unaccompanied-minors-110594 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Refugee cuts 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Refugee assistance agencies in Illinois are steeling themselves for dramatic cuts in federal funding, which threaten to gut core services aimed at helping newcomers adjust and integrate to life in the U.S. The money instead is slated to go toward dealing with a crisis of unaccompanied minors streaming over the southern border, overwhelming temporary shelters that the U.S. is scrambling to expand.</p><p>&ldquo;This is really an impossible situation that we&rsquo;re being put in, in which we have to rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, and have to choose between two vulnerable groups of people,&rdquo; said Erol Kekic, chair of the Refugee Council USA and Director of Immigration and Refugee services at Church World Service.</p><p>&ldquo;This is happening against the backdrop of this incredible upheaval that is plaguing our world at this point in time with (the) refugee crisis getting way out of hand in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Somalia, etc,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;and (the) U.S. has to do its part to assist in this process.&rdquo;</p><p>In Illinois, resettlement agencies and refugee support organizations stand to lose a total of $2.7 million in funds from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The agency is responsible for services rendered to refugees from their point of arrival in the U.S., to up to five years after. Refugees, unlike unaccompanied minors, are legally present in the U.S., and have already undergone rigorous background checks by the Department of Homeland Security and immigration authorities before they are admitted to the U.S. by the State Department.</p><p>Statewide, the cuts represent $1.3 million in core programming for refugees, and an additional $1.4 million in discretionary grants which fund services for K-12 children, seniors, preventative health care, and intensive case management for refugees with particularly acute need of assistance. Currently, Illinois provides these services to about 3,500 refugees, according to Deborah Covington, Vice President of Planning and Allocation for Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. That organization is Illinois&rsquo;s prime contractor for distributing and overseeing the bulk of ORR refugee funds.</p><p>Covington said programs funded by the discretionary grants will be completely eliminated. The state&rsquo;s seven refugee resettlement agencies, and two additional resettlement support organizations, will have discretion as to how to accommodate the cuts in core programming.</p><p>&ldquo;When budgetary crises happen, and we have a humanitarian crisis that&rsquo;s going on on the border, it&rsquo;s inappropriate to pit one deserving group against another,&rdquo; said Covington. &ldquo;The pie needs to be expanded, not simply rearranging the pie that&rsquo;s there.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We would pretty much be gutting our services,&rdquo; said Melineh Kano, Executive Director of RefugeeONE, which resettles the largest number of refugees in the City of Chicago. &ldquo;We have nine programs. Of the nine programs, four would totally shut down, and two programs would be drastically reduced.&rdquo;</p><p>Kano said unless Congress passes an emergency supplemental funding bill that replenishes the cuts, she will likely have to eliminate core services as soon as October 1. Slated for the chopping block would be programs for youth, seniors, intensive case management, medical case management, and English language training. In addition, she will drastically reduce regular case management services with bilingual staff and employment services. Kano anticipates she will have to cut 10 of her 33 full-time employees, and 7 of her 11 part-time employees.</p><p>&ldquo;Now, what that translates into in terms of service provision is that you have to have intensive services to help single mothers, to help individuals who perhaps don&rsquo;t have significant literacy skills, to help individuals who have been warehoused in refugee camps for several years, to be able to adjust to life in Chicago and become self-sufficient,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Kano and others said cuts would also come at a time that refugees need them more than ever. In accord with a <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/10/02/presidential-memorandum-refugee-admissions-fiscal-year-2014">Presidential Determination</a>, which announces the number of refugees that the U.S. may accept in a given fiscal year, and from which area of the world, the U.S. has increasingly been taking refugees from countries such as the Congo, Iraq, Bhutan, and starting next year, Syria.</p><p>&ldquo;These are definitely individuals who have been through war and trauma,&rdquo; said Kano, &ldquo;and without the important programs that we are here to provide for them, they would really have (a) hard time to integrate into society here and become self-sufficient.&rdquo;</p><p>Refugee advocates are hopeful that federal lawmakers will reach an agreement on a supplemental funding bill to replenish the cuts by September 30. While a proposal by President Barack Obama to provide $3.7 billion toward handling the unaccompanied minors crisis would have made the refugee services whole, neither the House nor Senate have shown an appetite for such a large allocation. In particular, funding contemplated by House GOP leaders doesn&rsquo;t appear to come close to restoring the cuts for refugee services.</p><p>&ldquo;The House leadership is interested in passing legislation that provides much less funding and is much more focused on border enforcement and limiting the President&rsquo;s authority than they are in really solving the humanitarian crisis,&rdquo; said Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re still hoping that some kind of resolution will take place,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;but obviously the clock is running.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 17:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/feds-set-divert-refugee-funds-deal-unaccompanied-minors-110594 Durbin to undocumented youths: Watch out for unscrupulous lawyers http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-undocumented-youths-watch-out-unscrupulous-lawyers-101546 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Durbin4cropscaled.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 401px; width: 250px; " title="‘Don’t let them exploit you,’ the senator tells immigrants in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood Tuesday afternoon. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />Two U.S. congressmen from Illinois are warning undocumented youths not to pay steep fees to get help applying for a deportation reprieve under a new immigration policy.</p><p>Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, both Democrats, say most eligible youths can take advantage of the policy, known as &ldquo;deferred action,&rdquo; without a lawyer or any payment beyond a $465 fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency accepting the applications.</p><p>&ldquo;There are <em>notarios </em>as well as attorneys out there who are trying to take money away from these young people and their families,&rdquo; Durbin said Tuesday afternoon at a meeting with immigrants in Chicago&rsquo;s Pilsen neighborhood. &ldquo;They say, &lsquo;Oh, give me $1,000, give me $2,000, and I will help you.&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Don&rsquo;t let them exploit you,&rdquo; Durbin said.</p><p>Under the policy, announced by President Barack Obama&rsquo;s administration in June, undocumented immigrants can request permission to stay and work in the country by submitting a document starting August 15. The administration, which has not released that document yet, is expecting more than 1 million requests, according to an Associated Press report.</p><p>To qualify, immigrants must be 30 or younger, have arrived in the United States before turning 16, have lived in the country at least five years, and be in school or graduated or served in the military. They also must have no criminal record and pose no safety threat. The permission to live and work in the country lasts two years and is renewable.</p><p>The policy does not provide a path to citizenship &mdash; a key difference from stalled legislation, known as the DREAM Act, that Durbin has pushed for more than a decade.</p><p>Durbin and Gutiérrez urged immigrants who may be eligible for relief under the policy to attend an August 15 workshop at Chicago&rsquo;s Navy Pier, where the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is organizing hundreds of volunteers to provide information and help fill out the applications.</p><p>Gutiérrez added that the policy could lead to an overhaul that stretches far beyond the youths. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s incumbent upon us, now that we&rsquo;ve got this, to move on to their moms and their dads,&rdquo; the representative said. &ldquo;Comprehensive immigration reform is what is necessary and that&rsquo;s what we&rsquo;re going to work on next.&rdquo;</p><p>Conservative critics call the Obama policy a backdoor amnesty plan aimed at increasing the president&rsquo;s Latino support before November&rsquo;s election.</p></p> Tue, 07 Aug 2012 16:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-undocumented-youths-watch-out-unscrupulous-lawyers-101546 Senate OKs bill blocking Crete detention center http://www.wbez.org/story/senate-oks-bill-blocking-crete-detention-center-97714 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2012-March/2012-03-28/CCA facility in New Jersey SCALED.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved a bill aimed at blocking an immigrant detention center proposed for south suburban Crete, but the measure could face rougher going in the House.</p><p>Passed by a 34-17 vote, SB1064 would make Illinois one of the nation’s first states to ban local governments and state agencies from contracting with private companies to build or run civil detention centers. The measure would expand a state law banning privately constructed or operated state prisons and county jails.</p><p>The proposal in Crete is for the village to contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to build and run a 788-bed facility that would hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.</p><p>Crete officials have talked up the project’s expected jobs and tax benefits but have yet to approve the facility. Some village residents are rallying against it, saying it would hurt their community. The residents have aligned with immigrant-rights advocates who say CCA has provided poor conditions for its ICE detainees in other parts of the country.</p><p>“When you introduce the profit motive into corrections and detention, what you end up doing is ratcheting down conditions for detainees and for workers,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which is pushing the bill. ICIRR last year shepherded into law a measure that set up a state commission to oversee privately funded college scholarships for undocumented immigrants.</p><p>CCA disputes criticism about its detainee treatment. On its website, the company says its employees adhere “to the highest standards in corrections.”</p><p>Crete Village Administrator Tom Durkin said he hadn’t seen the Senate bill and declined to comment.</p><p>An ICE spokesman said his agency does not comment on proposed legislation.</p><p>Tsao acknowledged that Illinois would not be able to stop the federal government from contracting with private entities to build or run a detention center in the state. “What Illinois can do,” he said, “is control what the state itself does and what its political subdivisions — counties, townships and municipalities — do.”</p><p>In the House, the bill’s prospects are unclear.</p><p>“It’ll have difficulty if it ties the hands of the federal government in enforcing immigration law,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley). Pritchard voted against the scholarships measure.</p><p>Rep. Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream) said the detention-center bill sounded like a bad idea. He vowed to help lead House opposition to it and predicted that many downstate Democrats would be on his side. Last year Ramey introduced an ill-fated bill modeled after a controversial Arizona crackdown on undocumented immigrants.</p><p>House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) “probably has no position on the bill yet,” his spokesman Steve Brown said after the Senate vote. “I haven’t heard it discussed.”</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said he would not take a stand until the measure reached his desk. “It still has to go through the House,” Quinn aide Annie Thompson pointed out. “The governor will have to take a look at the bill he receives.”</p></p> Thu, 29 Mar 2012 22:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/senate-oks-bill-blocking-crete-detention-center-97714 Dart slammed for mulling release of inmates wanted by ICE http://www.wbez.org/story/dart-slammed-mulling-release-inmates-wanted-ice-89317 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-18/Dart-Craigslist-M-Spencer-JPG.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Supporters of tougher immigration enforcement are criticizing Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for seeking legal options enabling the county’s massive jail to quit holding some inmates wanted for immigration violations.<br> <br> Dart <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/sheriff-mulls-freeing-inmates-wanted-immigration-charges-89233">told WBEZ</a> last week his department was looking for a way to end its blanket compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests that detainees be held 48 hours beyond what their local criminal cases require. The holds, financed by the county, help ICE take custody and begin deportation proceedings. Dart says the jail’s role erodes community trust in local law enforcement, discouraging witnesses and even victims from cooperating with police.<br> <br> Ira Mehlman, spokesman of a Washington-based pro-enforcement group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is not convinced. “This idea that turning people over to immigration authorities — who have already been picked up on suspicion of some crime — is somehow going to cause this massive chill just doesn’t hold water,” says Mehlman, who accuses Dart of “putting politics ahead of community safety.”<br> <br> The WBEZ report has also led to a torrent of comments on the station’s Web site. The visitors have labeled Dart everything from a “fool” to a “traitor.”<br> <br> But Dart’s review is also winning praise. “Sheriffs throughout the country are revisiting their policies with respect to the ICE holds,” says Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “The criminal justice system already distinguishes between people who can be released with no threat to public safety and those who cannot.”<br> <br> San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey on June 1 <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/San_Francisco_policy_on_ICE_detainers.pdf">quit honoring</a> ICE requests for holds of inmates arrested for certain traffic infractions and other low-level offenses if a background check finds no felony convictions and meets other requirements. Since then, his department has released four inmates with ICE detainers, according to Eileen Hirst, the sheriff’s chief of staff.<br> <br> ICE officials acknowledge that local jails have no legal requirement to comply with the detainer requests.</p></p> Mon, 18 Jul 2011 18:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/dart-slammed-mulling-release-inmates-wanted-ice-89317 DREAM Act backers at odds over how to pass it http://www.wbez.org/story/adalberto-united-methodist-church/dream-act-backers-odds-over-how-pass-it <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//Dreamers3.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants the DREAM Act signed into law by year&rsquo;s end. But supporters disagree on how to advance the measure.<br /><br />The bill, passed by the U.S. House last week, would lay a path to citizenship for some undocumented youths who grew up in this country and attend college or join the military.<br /><br />Getting it through the Senate would depend on Republicans so the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is urging calls and letters to the state&rsquo;s Republican senator, Mark Kirk.<br /><br />But some DREAM Act supporters call that effort a waste of time. &ldquo;Kirk is not going to do anything independently of the Republican Party,&rdquo; said immigrant-rights activist Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist, a church in Chicago&rsquo;s Humboldt Park neighborhood.<br /><br />&ldquo;This is something that has to be worked out by leadership,&rdquo; Coleman said. &ldquo;Our pressure needs to go on Obama and it needs to go on the Democratic leadership, who&rsquo;ve been playing us for two years, to finally come through and meet their promises.&rdquo;<br /><br />Coleman said that would mean making the DREAM Act part of any deal with Republicans about taxes.</p></p> Mon, 13 Dec 2010 11:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/adalberto-united-methodist-church/dream-act-backers-odds-over-how-pass-it