Agree on the research, and also on the concerns about program variance. Were you able to find a research "fit" at all the PhD programs? I don't know enough about the programs to know how much overlap there is among faculty interests.
I don't know to what extent these papers you did for class will count as research experience. Can you elaborate at all on what it involves? Was this an honor's thesis where you designed an experiment, wrote up an IRB, ran your own participants, etc.? There are always exceptions, but the typical competitive applicant at schools like UIC will have anywhere from 2-4 years of working at least 10 hours a week (and often full-time for part of it) on major grant-funded studies run by a faculty member. I would not bother submitting to undergrad journals.
Your stats are good. Certainly good enough to be competitive for some great programs. I can't tell to what extent the research piece is there or not, but that is critical. Your odds for the PhD programs seem slim, but worth a try. If not, you can always get more research experience and try again in a few years. I don't know what obligations you speak of and if your situation might be different by then, but the geographic restriction is a pretty big handicap given it sounds like your research experience (arguably the most critical piece) might be lacking.
Not trying to dissuade you from applying. As long as you can afford it, there's no harm in trying. However, I think its important to realize that there is a relatively good chance you won't get in given the circumstances, and that this is okay, the reasons why you might not get in can be corrected, and you will be in good company among the legions of applicants who don't get in on the first try, but still end up at good schools and do great things.