L.A. Could Re-Open City Hall Office to Assist Immigrants

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service

The Los Angeles City Council, hoping to breathe new life into the city’s dormant Office of Immigrant Affairs, directed staff Wednesday to determine how much it would cost to bring back the department, which was first established within former Mayor James Hahn’s office eight years ago.

City Council members who spoke in support of the motion said this would be an opportune time to re-establish the office, with lawmakers in Congress debating the details of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The council, still attempting to chip away at a projected $200 million budget deficit, voted 12-0 — with two members absent — to direct staff to look into setting up a new Office of Immigrant Affairs to assist undocumented immigrants should a “pathway to citizenship” be established by the federal government.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, who authored the motion, said he wants to make Los Angeles “the very first big city in the nation to step forth with a dedicated initiative to guide our immigrant residents through President Obama’s new pathway to legal status and citizenship.”

According to Garcetti’s legislative deputy, the office was first proposed by Garcetti in 2002 and established in 2004. It has not been staffed in recent years, but Garcetti said given the possibility that there could be an immigration reform bill approved by the end of the year, the city of Los Angeles needs to be prepared.

Even with financial limitations, “we here at the local level have to be ready to take action,” Garcetti said, adding that he was confident existing resources could be pulled.

“I know in these budget times we’re not calling for any funds meant for something else and to cut existing resources,” the mayoral candidate said, adding that he hopes the office would be able “to have authority over all of our departments, to look at how our departments are serving immigrants.”

The council also voted in favor of Garcetti’s resolution supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of a comprehensive reform bill.

“Frankly, the council has been on record many times supporting comprehensive immigration reform,” Councilman Jose Huizar said. Since the last presidential election, even some Republicans who have “fought off efforts to have comprehensive immigration reform, have come to realize … the importance of embracing our immigrants in this country … The timing is right,” Huizar said.

Garcetti said the country and the city have “much to gain” from a comprehensive immigration reform bill, including “new taxes … people who are going to be able to get scholarships to go to college … individuals who would be able to work, whether it’s picking our vegetables or making our clothes…

“It’s time to end our hypocrisy on immigration in recent years and re-embrace our pathway as an immigrant nation,” he said.

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February 21, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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