Ogden Latinos, immigrants brace themselves under Trump

Sunday Feb. 26, 2017

Employees from Beto's Mexican Food in Ogden pose outside the restaurant on Feb. 16, 2017, Day Without Immigrants. By Tim Vandenack

Employees from Beto’s Mexican Food in Ogden pose outside the restaurant on Feb. 16, 2017, Day Without Immigrants. By Tim Vandenack

I’m now reporting from Ogden, Utah, for the Standard-Examiner, the local paper here. A big change from The Elkhart Truth in Indiana, but it’s exciting to be here and there’s plenty to write about.

I’m writing about the sizable Latino population and immigration — a particularly hot topic with President Trump‘s focus on the issue.

Here’s what I’ve written on the matter:

Another unfolding story, in a decidedly different vein, has been the case of an expensive house built atop a rise in south Ogden that is gradually disintegrating, putting the home at risk.

Here’s what I’ve written:

Just last Friday, I visited a small community north of Ogden, Garland, to see how people there are coping with flooding, brought on by a particularly heavy accumulation of snow and quick melt-off last week when temperatures rose:

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Cooper ‘wanted to live the American Dream;’ Gary was fleeing gunfire; Hixson recalled after death

Sunday Dec. 18, 2016

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer's office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer’s office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

In recent weeks, I’ve covered the death of a woman killed by a stray bullet shot into her home, an officer-involved shooting and a former Elkhart man’s push for exoneration in a violent robbery. Pretty grim stuff.

I traveled to Chicago last month to meet with Keith Cooper, the former Elkhart man who says he was wrongly convicted in a 1996 robbery, which left another man with a gunshot wound.

I’d written about his case. Though now free, he’s seeking a new trial in Elkhart Circuit Court, hoping for exoneration. He’s also sought a pardon from Gov. Mike Pence, so far unsuccessfully.

But I hadn’t met him, so took the opportunity, when I happened to be going to Chicago anyway, to hear from him directly, about how the case has impacted him and what exoneration would mean. There’s some pretty compelling evidence pointing to his innocence.

“I want the world to know that I’m Keith Cooper. Not Keith Cooper the criminal. I’m not a felon. I’m a decent human being who just wanted to live the American Dream,” Cooper, now living outside Chicago in Country Club Hills, told me at his lawyer’s office. “They ripped it from me.”

Here’s the story and a sidebar citing evidence Cooper uses to make his case:

Program from Norman Gary's Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

Program from Norman Gary’s Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

An Elkhart man, Norman Gary, died in an officer-involved shooting on Dec. 4. It remains under investigation by Indiana State Police, and the source of the bullet that killed Gary remains unclear. A shoot-out of some sort was taking place when police happened upon the scene in south Elkhart. Officers fired during the melee as well.

Gary’s legal guardian, Margaret Johnson, who considers the man her son, and Sandy Holt, Johnson’s daughter, say Gary wasn’t threatening anybody when the gunfire took place, that he didn’t have a gun and that he was trying to drive away from the chaotic scene to safety. A very confusing situation. I spoke with Johnson and Holt, who grew up with Gary and considers him her brother, last Friday, after Gary’s funeral:

Teketa Hixson, killed after a teen allegedly fired a gun intoher home, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson died after a 14-year-old fired a gun into her south-central Elkhart home. It’s not clear why the teen, who faces a charge of felony reckless homicide,  did what he did. He was acquainted with Hixson’s family and had spent time at their home.

Whatever the spur, it’s a sad situation. She leaves behind four kids and a fifth she had been caring for. I spoke to Hixson’s mom and sister to learn more about the woman:

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Elkhart Latinos respond to Trump and other post-election coverage

Monday Dec. 4, 2016

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill's term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill’s term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Election coverage didn’t end with the counting of votes the night of Nov. 8.

I kept busy in the days afterward as well, analyzing and understanding the results and what they meant.

In Elkhart County, the election of Donald Trump as president alarmed some Latinos and immigrant advocates, and they gathered to mull the implications of his selection:

The election of Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill as Indiana attorney general was noteworthy in the context of racial politics. He’s the first African-American GOPer, near as I can tell, and one of only a handful of African-Americans ever elected to statewide office in Indiana, but race seems to have factored little in his contest.

“I’d like to believe that we’re at a point in 2016 where there are just people. There are Hoosiers. There are Americans,” Hill said in an interview with me.

Here’s the story:

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski resoundingly won a third term and the GOPer was pretty ecstatic about the prospects, in combination with Trump’s victory.

“Now I see a path forward,” she said, alluding to hope for repeal of Obamacare, more aggressive action against ISIS extremists in Syria and an end to what she sees as stifling federal overregulation.

Here’s the story:

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT's Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT’s Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Just last Friday, I covered the caucus of Elkhart County Republican Party committeemen to pick someone to fill the unfinished term of Hill, who’s term as prosecutor still has two years. They tabbed Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker and also picked replacements for two other officials elected to higher office last November. The story was pretty straightforward (look here), but it offered the chance to flex some tweeting muscles and I reeled off 17 of them, reporting all the action — and Becker’s naming — in real time.

As in other cycles, I appeared on “Politically Speaking,” the political show on local public station WNIT, as a wonk, discussing and analyzing the election results:

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Walorski, Coleman battling it out for U.S. House seat

Monday Oct. 31, 2016

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Locally, one of the big races has been the race for the 2nd District U.S. House seat.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, a GOPer, is going after her third term, challenged by Democrat Lynn Coleman and Libertarian Ron Cenkush. Among the points of contention have been Walorski’s unwillingness to debate, outside a radio debate in a more rural part of the district, and the incumbent’s thoughts on Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT's Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT’s Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

I helped analyze the race for WNIT, the South Bend-based public television station, in a program aired Oct. 23 that featured the three candidates (look here).

There’s a debate between Coleman and Walorski next Tuesday and more’s bound to occur ahead of Election Day, Nov. 8. But here’s some of what I’ve written of late:

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Elkhart man’s fight to fend off deportation enters new phase

Sunday Oct. 30, 2016

Armando Paez, second from left, continues his fight to remain in the United States. Pictured, from left, with daughter Maria, wife Martha and son Juan. By Tim Vandenack

Armando Paez, second from left, continues his fight to remain in the United States. Pictured, from left, with daughter Maria, wife Martha and son Juan. By Tim Vandenack

Armando Paez has fought for years to stay in the United States.

He’s still here, having successfully fought off deportation. So far. His efforts are entering a new phase, though, after U.S. immigration officials last month rejected his latest request to put off a pending order to return to his native Colombia.

I’ve written extensively about Paez and his family, who came here from Colombia in 1999 with visas, but overstayed them. They filed for political asylum, citing fears they’d be persecuted by leftist guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But that request was denied and they’ve been fighting for a way to stay.

Here’s the latest in the efforts:

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PETA blasts duck treatment, the Elkhart high school saga, Main Street rubble

Monday Oct. 17, 2016

Top right: Jan Hardy surveys the rubble remaining from the Main Street building next door to his, which burned down last July. Top right: Elkhart police investigators peer into the car containing the bodies of two children allegedly killed by their mother. Bottom: Elkhart school officials discuss the proposed reorganization of the district. By Tim Vandenack

Top left: Jan Hardy surveys the rubble remaining from the Main Street building next door to his, which burned down last July. Top right: Elkhart police investigators peer into the car containing the bodies of two children allegedly killed by their mother. Bottom: Elkhart school officials discuss the proposed reorganization of the district. By Tim Vandenack

Never a dull moment.

With our bare bones staff, I cover a lot of territory — animal rights activism, the double murder of two kids by their mom and moves to radically reshape the Elkhart school district, to name a few topics of late. To wit:

Inhumane duck treatment: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video depicting harsh treatment of ducks at a duck farm in Elkhart County and the agency asked Indiana State Police to investigate its contention that workers violated Indiana animal cruelty laws, “PETA charges Middlebury-based Culver Duck Farms with inhumanely treating ducks,” Oct. 13, 2016.

Fallout from the killing of two children: I was winding down my day on Sept. 26, 2016, when a strange, scary message came across the scanner — two dead kids had been found in a car. Turns out it was behind the police department and a woman had flagged down an officer to inform him of the children in the back seat of her auto. She later confessed to killing them, authorities say, and she now faces two murder charges. I spent around five hours that first day camped out behind the police department, where the cordoned-off car sat, awaiting any scrap of news from police. I ended up helping dig into the sad, tragic story, among many on the staff, and attended a memorial for the children, Liliana Hernandez, 7, and Rene Pasztor, 6, both of Fort Wayne. For one story, I spoke to family from the father’s side of the family, also from Fort Wayne, who spoke of the hard feelings they felt and their suspicions surrounding the case, “After kids found dead in Elkhart: pain, sorrow and anger for family left behind,” Sept. 30, 2016.

School reorganization: Talk has been swirling for months about merging the two high schools here in the Elkhart school district, creating one super high school. A preliminary proposal came out last April and then officials in late September, after months of debate and discussion, solidified the plan with a more formal plan, which still has to be ratified. I wrote a story detailing the new proposal, published just ahead of its unveiling, “Elkhart high school consolidation still on table in latest draft of reorganization plan,” Sept. 28, 2016, then did a follow-up story that same day after the formal announcement, “New unified Elkhart high School could open in 2019, per proposal.”

Torched building: I’ve followed the seemingly slow process to remove the rubble of a building that burned down last July on Main Street in the heart of the downtown area. For my latest installment, I focused on the efforts of the next-door neighbor, the operator of a bar, to get his building back into shape and reopen the business, pulling together a quick update, “Hardy’s Bar owner anxious to reopen as clean-up of burned building next door edges forward,” Oct. 6, 2016.

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Theft of Elkhart man’s identity by undocumented immigrants leads to headaches, bankruptcy, frustration

Wednesday Oct. 5, 2016

In this archive Elkhart Truth photo, an Elkhart police officer holds false identity cards confiscated by the department.

In this archive Elkhart Truth photo, an Elkhart police officer holds false identity cards confiscated by the department.

Stealing IDs takes a toll.

I wrote late last month (look at this blog entry) about an undocumented immigrant arrested for identity theft, Candida Rosete. She was brought here as a child by her parents, and she defended her place here, saying the United States is her country, even if she doesn’t have papers to be here.

It was in the context of a spate of arrests by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department of people who used fake IDs to get work and calls for tips about other suspected undocumented immigrants. The sheriff’s department actions generated a lot of criticism from immigrant advocates.

Last week I went for the other side of things and spoke to a man, Joshua Buelna, whose identity had been stolen by an undocumented immigrant. Life has been terrible for him, and he ultimately had to file bankruptcy because of all the debt incurred illegally in his name. Others used his Social Security number to rent homes, get cars, acquire mobile phone contracts and more and he was left to deal with the fallout after they skipped out on the bills.

As with the first story about Candida, the story about Joshua generated a strong response, many sympathetic with his plight:

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Ex-Elkhart man’s advocates turn to Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill in push for pardon

Thursday Sept. 29, 2016

Screen grab of online Sept. 22, 2016, Elkhart Truth story about Keith Cooper.

Screen grab of online Sept. 22, 2016, Elkhart Truth story about Keith Cooper.

The Indianapolis Star and Chicago Tribune have followed the case of a former Elkhart man seeking exoneration in a 1996 armed robbery here, recounting the the twists and turns that led to his unjust conviction and, ultimately, his release in 2006.

The trial and fight for his release all occurred before my time here at The Elkhart Truth and I’ve not done much crime stuff, in general, until the last year or so.

But when I learned of a new push by Cooper’s advocates to get him pardoned, I figured it was time that we, as the hometown newspaper where everything went down, look into the story. I didn’t repeat the digging done by the Indianapolis Star or Chicago Tribune — they’ve done some intense work — but I quickly got up to speed, reading their archives, talking to one of the advocates, looking into recent turns in the push.

Gov. Mike Pence also came out, saying he wasn’t prepared to pardon Cooper, who was let go from prison early based on proof pointing to his innocence but never exonerated. It turned into a pretty decent story, I think:

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Elkhart County push against undocumented immigrants stirs controversy

Monday Sept. 26, 2016

Candida Rosete was one of several suspects arrested by the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department for charges related to identity fraud for using false documents to get work. The arrests have generated criticism from immigrant advocates. By Tim Vandenack

Candida Rosete was one of several suspects arrested by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department for charges related to identity fraud for using false documents to get work. The arrests have generated criticism from immigrant advocates. By Tim Vandenack

With a sizable population of Latino newcomers here, many from Mexico, immigration is a big topic in Elkhart County.

There are many advocates for Latinos and, on the flip side, many who clamor for stronger action against undocumented immigrants. Thus, when the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department started cracking down on suspected undocumented immigrants, asking for tips via Facebook, the issue escalated.

We in the newsroom had been noticing a steady stream of arrests of people allegedly using fake and fraudulent identity cards and we jumped on it, tying it to the Facebook posts. Many in the Latino community had also noticed, and I pulled together a story, contrasting criticism of Latino advocates who saw the law enforcement action as overzealous and Sheriff Brad Rogers, who defended the moves as upholding the law and standing up for victims of identity theft:

I got a lead on one of the women arrested, Candida Rosete, and followed that story with a piece on her, offering up her viewpoint of being undocumented. Now, 36, she was brought here when she was 6-years-old, has a 15-year-old U.S.-b0rn son and sees the United States as her home:

Even Univision, the Spanish-language television, jumped on the issue.

I’m now working on a story offering up the perspective of those who have had their identities stolen, the hassles and problems they face.

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Ex-President Bush visits Elkhart to tout Young’s Senate bid

Wednesday Sept. 14, 2016

Ex-President George W. Bush waves to the media on leaving a fundraiser for U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Young at The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart. By Tim Vandenack

Ex-President George W. Bush waves to the media on leaving a fundraiser for U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Young at The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart. By Tim Vandenack

Another president, ex-president anyway, came to Elkhart.

Former President George W. Bush traveled here on Sept. 12 for a fundraiser for Todd Young, the Republican U.S. House member now seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate. It wasn’t quite as intense as President Obama’s visit here last June (look here). Not as many people were paying attention.

Still, he’s a former president and it was a rush, trying to catch a glimpse of him, trying to piece together the trip. Media weren’t allowed into the fundraiser and Bush didn’t speak with the press, aside from a few shouted greetings.

The day started with a press conference with Young. Then it was a matter of standing outside The Lerner Theatre and waiting for Bush to arrive. Us press types, three TV crews and I, were directed across the street. I dashed to the office, wrote up a story to post online after Bush arrived and entered, then returned to The Lerner to glimpse Bush leaving.

After that, I called a few Democrats and tracked down participants to get their take on Bush’s presentation. Here’s the final written product:

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