CA Lawmakers Move to Protect Undocumented Workers

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media – If immigration agents show up at a worksite, employers don’t have to let them in.

That is one of the key messages immigrant rights advocates are sending out as a new bill that would increase protections for workers makes its way through committees in the California legislature.

Employers across the country already have certain rights, said Grisel Ruiz, staff attorney of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). “If an employer has ICE agents coming to their workplace, so long as the workplace is private property, they should also keep ICE agents out…unless they have an ICE warrant,” she said.

Ruiz spoke on a national press call this week hosted by New America Media and Ready California.

Proposed legislation in California would go a step further in protecting workers and helping employers navigate what happens when ICE agents show up at their business.

Under the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, AB 450 (David Chiu, D-San Francisco), employers would be required to ask for a warrant before they allow immigration enforcement agents onto the worksite. They would not be able to hand over any private information about workers, such as social security numbers, without a subpoena.

“We might not, in the state of California, be able to tell ICE what to do,” said Michael Young, legislative advocate with the California Labor Federation which, together with SEIU California, sponsored AB 450. “We can’t regulate federal immigration law. But we can regulate employer behavior. We can say that employers have an obligation to protect their workers and they have to take certain actions to make sure those rights are protected.”

Nearly 2.6 million undocumented immigrants live in California, and one in 10 workers in the state is undocumented, according to Young. In some industries, this number is even higher. Forty-five percent of agricultural workers and 21 percent of construction workers in California are undocumented.

This is a large number of people who “could be at risk from worksite raids, and these raids are already happening in the state,” said Young.

Increase in enforcement actions

The Trump administration’s “laser focus” on immigration enforcement has not been accompanied by a change in tactics, noted Ruiz of ILRC.

Cooperation between immigration enforcement and local law officials “continues to be the number one way that individuals are identified and placed in removal proceedings,” she said. ICE is also continuing individualized enforcement, for example going to the home of a specific person they are looking for, and then picking up other people in that home.

But it’s important to remember that everyone, regardless of immigration status, is protected by Constitutional rights, Ruiz continued, including the right to remain silent, to not allow agents into their home or work without a warrant signed by a judge, and to not sign anything before talking to an immigration attorney.

“Trump does not have the resources to go after and deport all 11 some-odd million undocumented people, plus, in the U.S.,” she said. “The likelihood of him picking up the random person, especially who’s never had contact with ICE, is actually quite low.” And even if they do get picked up by ICE, she said, “Many people will have a chance to fight their case.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to a palpable fear among immigrants, who may now be making decisions based on that fear.

“The irony of all of this is that for many people, that fear may be the greatest impact, in a way,” Ruiz said. “The fear is affecting people at all levels.”

Economic impact of fear

Cal Soto, national workers rights coordinator at the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) described the mood among day laborers as timid and cautious.

“What I’ve seen is a ton of people who regularly might have made health and safety or wage claims, or filed police reports, saying, ‘It’s not worth it for me,’” said Soto.

He added, “This has an impact on the wages they’re able to negotiate, and the wages of everybody in the community.”

It also may have a chilling effect on consumer spending.

“People are not buying homes. They’re not building their business,” said Mohan Kanungo, director of programs and engagement at Mission Asset Fund. “And that certainly has a large impact that I think remains to be seen for us to quantify.”

Soto described anti-immigrant rhetoric and intimidation as a “campaign to frighten immigrant workers into the shadows and out of the public eye.”

Instead of hiding, he said, immigrant workers must gain knowledge and defense strategies.

Three steps to take now

The Mission Asset Fund recently released a Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants, which gives families and business owners practical tips about how to protect their assets in uncertain times.

First, families can take action to protect their money. This includes opening or maintaining a checking account to have access to funds when needed; setting up online bill pay to make sure bills get paid on time, even if you are detained; different ways to share your checking account with those you trust; setting up online transfers so you can easily wire someone money if you need to; and making sure you are protected from overdraft fees.

Second, families can take steps to protect their belongings, including their car, property and business.

“People are coming to us, asking, ‘How can I give someone control of my business if I am detained?’” said Kanungo. “That’s where we talk a lot about powers of attorney … What can you do now to protect your property or give someone else the ability to make decisions over your property?”

Third, families can take steps to plan for an emergency by protecting their credit, and creating savings goals. So that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, Kanungo suggests starting by saving up a small amount, such as enough money for a month’s worth of groceries, and working up to putting aside enough money to pay for legal fees that one could incur in case of detention.

“It’s not just about the burden of the immigration-related costs,” said Kanungo, “but the dual burden that comes up with maintaining a household with a loss of income from a family member.”

Michael Young of the California Labor Federation hopes that California lawmakers will enact greater protections for immigrant workers in the state.

“We want to make sure we can get these laws and protections on the books as soon as possible,” he said, “to protect as many workers as we can.”

AB 450 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday with a vote of 5-2. It will next go to Senate Appropriations Committee in late August.

For more information about Mission Asset Fund’s Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants, go to: For information about Ready California, go to:

ICE Officers Told to Take Action Against All Undocumented Immigrants Encountered While on Duty

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.

In a February memo, Matthew Albence, a career official who heads the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE, informed his 5,700 deportation officers that, “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”

The Trump administration, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has been clear in promising to ramp up immigration enforcement, but has so far emphasized that its priority was deporting immigrants who posed a public safety threat. Indeed, Kelly, to whom Albence ultimately reports, had seemed to suggest a degree of discretion when he told the agencies under his command earlier this year that immigration officers “may” initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encountered. That guidance was issued just a day before Albence sent the memo to his staff.

A spokesman with ICE said Albence’s directive did not represent a break with Kelly’s stated aims, and was consistent with current agency policies.

“The memo directly supports the directions handed down in the executive orders and mirrors the language ICE consistently uses to describe its enforcement posture,” the spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement. “As Secretary Kelly and Acting Director [of ICE] Homan have stated repeatedly, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats; however, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.

However, Sarah Saldaña, who retired in January as head of ICE for the Obama administration, said the wording in the memo would have real consequences for undocumented immigrants.

“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” said Saldaña. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone above Matt Albence comes back and says, ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration.”

David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the fallout from the memo has been evident for months. “The memo explains what we have actually been seeing on the ground,” Bier said, asserting that immigrants without criminal backgrounds were routinely being arrested and ordered deported.

Since 2008, Congress had traditionally used its annual spending bill to instruct the secretary of homeland security to prioritize the deportation of convicted immigrants based on the severity of their crimes, but that language was left out of this year’s bill, helping to pave the way for broader enforcement.

In recent months, the number of undocumented immigrants arrested who are considered to be non-criminals has risen. (Under the law, merely being here illegally is not a crime. Rather, it’s a civil violation.) Between February and May, the Trump administration arrested, on average, 108 undocumented immigrants a day with no criminal record, an uptick of some 150 percent from the same time period a year ago.

For example, an Ecuadorean high schooler was detained by ICE agents who showed up at his home in upstate New York hours before his senior prom in June. Three restaurant workers targeted for immigration violations were arrested in May in Michigan after ICE agents ate breakfast where they worked. A Salvadoran man is facing deportation in Houston after voluntarily showing up to an ICE office for a routine check-in.

The ICE memo acknowledges that space in detention facilities limits the number of undocumented immigrants who can be detained upon apprehension. Still, it says ICE officials are mandated to begin deportation proceedings against all undocumented immigrants with whom they cross paths — even if those apprehended remain free as they face an immigration judge, a process that can take years.

Others may be swiftly deported if they are found to already have final deportation orders signed by an immigration judge. As of May 2016, there were 930,000 undocumented immigrants who had been ordered deported but remained freely in the country, according to ICE statistics.

“My concern is that what you end up doing is siphoning away resources that should go to the public safety threats,” said John Sandweg, who preceded Saldaña as acting ICE director.

The case of Oscar Millan shows ICE’s renewed focus on strict immigration enforcement. Under the Obama administration, agents had discretion in cases of immigrants with gravely sick children.

Under Obama-era guidelines, undocumented immigrants with no criminal record — but perhaps with a pending deportation order — could only be arrested if an agent’s supervisor determined their deportation “would serve an important federal interest.”

Homan has appeared to acknowledge the impact of the agency’s more aggressive approach even if he did not mention Albence’s explicit direction.

“There has been a significant increase in non-criminal arrests because we weren’t allowed to arrest them in the past administration,” Homan told a House committee. “You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.”

Both Homan and Albence are career employees who have worked for decades helping the government enforce immigration laws. Before Homan was promoted to lead ICE, he led ERO, with Albence as his assistant director.

“I expect that the agency believes that there is no one in the White House or DHS that is going to tell them ‘No. Don’t do this,’” Bier said. “And without an effective check in the administration we are going to see arrests being made without any regard to prioritization.”

Trump has yet to nominate a political director to lead ICE. In fact, all three immigration agencies under Homeland Security — ICE, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — are currently implementing Trump’s agenda while being led by career staff.

Homan has so far served as a vocal supporter of Trump’s ramped up immigration enforcement. Last week, he even made an appearance at a White House press briefing.

“Why do you think we got 11 million to 12 million people in this country [illegally] now?” Homan asked White House reporters. “Because there has been this notion that if you get by the Border Patrol, if you get in the United States, if you have a U.S. citizen kid, then no one is looking for you. But those days are over.”

Comienza el Juicio Contra Dos “Zetas” Acusados de Matar a un Agente de EEUU

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON –  Una corte de Washington inició el martes el juicio contra los mexicanos Jesús Iván Quezada Piña y José Emanuel García Sota, miembros del cartel de Los Zetas y acusados de asesinar en México en 2011 a un agente fronterizo estadounidense y de intentar matar a su compañero.

Los dos hombres podrían enfrentarse a una pena máxima de cadena perpetua si el Gobierno de Estados Unidos consigue demostrar que cometieron el asesinato del agente del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) Jaime Zapata y que, además, trataron de matar a su compañero, Víctor Ávila.

El juicio, que comenzó el martes, se celebra en la Corte del Distrito de Columbia y podría durar dos semanas y media.

Los encargados de decidir sobre la suerte de los dos hombres son las doce personas que componen el jurado y que este lunes fueron seleccionadas por la acusación y la defensa.

La sesión del martes comenzó con la presentación del caso por parte de la defensa y de la Fiscalía, quienes ofrecieron diferentes versiones sobre lo ocurrido en una autopista de México el 15 de febrero de 2011, cuando dos escuadrones de los Zetas tendieron una emboscada a los estadounidenses.

El fiscal aseguró que tanto Jesús Iván Quezada Piña, alias “Loco”, como José Emanuel García Sota, conocido como “Zafado”, jugaron un papel esencial en la muerte de Zapata y en el intento de asesinato de su compañero.

Afirmó que el objetivo de los acusados era robar a los estadounidenses el vehículo blindado de color azul en el que habían viajado desde la capital de México hasta San Luis Potosí para reunirse con otros agentes del ICE y recoger una serie de aparatos electrónicos.

“Los agentes iban de vuelta a casa, por la autopista, era un bonito día, pero de repente se toparon los sicarios”, dijo el fiscal, quien describió los hechos de una forma dramática, con numerosos silencios y paseándose, de vez en cuando, frente al banco donde se sientan los doce miembros del jurado.

Según describió el fiscal, los escuadrones de los Zetas estaban en el momento del asalto “buscando coches” para poder robarlos y reemplazar los vehículos que estaban perdiendo en su guerra contra otros carteles del narcotráfico y contra el Gobierno de México.

Entonces, los narcos interceptaron el vehículo de los estadounidenses, lo empujaron fuera de la autopista, lo rodearon por todos sus costados y abrieron fuego contra el coche y contra sus ocupantes, a pesar de que los estadounidenses habían puesto las manos en alto y les habían pedido calma.

Según el letrado de la acusación, las últimas palabras que escuchó Zapata fueron los gritos de su compañero: “¡Mantente despierto!” y “¡por favor, no te mueras!”.

“Eso es lo último que escuchó Zapata y todo porque los acusados querían robarles el vehículo, un vehículo al que dispararon por dentro y por fuera”, aseguró el letrado, quien mostró fotos del coche azul con numeroso agujeros fruto del impacto de las balas.

Durante el juicio está previsto que testifique el agente Ávila, quien sobrevivió, así como algunos miembros de Los Zetas que ya se declararon culpables de haber participado en la emboscada.

Entre los acusados que se han ofrecido a colaborar con las autoridades de EEUU, destacan cuatro: Julián Zapata Espinoza, alias “Piolín”; Rubén Darío Venegas Rivera, conocido como “Catracho”; José Ismael Nava Villagrán, también conocido como “Cacho”, y Francisco Carbajal Flores, alias “Dálmata”.

La defensa de los procesados atacó la credibilidad de estos hombres, que esperan obtener de su colaboración con EEUU alguna rebaja en su condena, que podría ser de cadena perpetua.

“Para esta gente mentir es tan normal como respirar”, dijo el abogado Robert Feitel, que ha representado a otros criminales de alto perfil, como el exparamilitar colombiano Hernán Giraldo Serna.

Para poder ser condenados, los doce miembros del jurado deben alcanzar un veredicto unánime.

Medida que convertiría California en “estado santuario” recibe respaldos

June 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

El proyecto de ley que busca convertir a California en un “estado santuario” recibió lunes el respaldo del jefe del Departamento de Policía de Los Ángeles (LAPD), Charlie Beck, y el exfiscal general de Estados Unidos Eric Holder, entre otras autoridades policiales y políticas.

En una conferencia de prensa conjunta, el promotor de la iniciativa SB54, llamada “Ley de valores de California”, el presidente encargado del senado Kevin De León, resaltó que “la SB54 hace las comunidades más seguras”, porque “estamos bajo la amenaza constitucional de la Administración Trump”.

La medida, que prohíbe a las autoridades estatales y locales dedicar recursos para cumplir funciones de inmigración, disminuirá los delitos, aseguró el legislador latino.

(Cortesía del senado de California)

(Cortesía del senado de California)

“Estamos enfocados en arrestar delincuentes peligrosos y encarcelarlos, no en detener inmigrantes”, señaló.

Además, el Gobierno “no tiene la habilidad para forzar a las autoridades locales a hacer cumplir leyes federales” y si lo hace sería inconstitucional, aseguró el exfiscal general de Estados Unidos, Eric Holder.

Por otra parte, Beck afirmó que la política del LAPD en este tema corresponde a las acciones de la agencia durante “las pasadas cuatro décadas en que vigorosamente hizo cumplir leyes criminales pero no leyes civiles, particularmente leyes de inmigración”.

La confianza de la comunidad “es lo más importante en el trabajo policial y el Acta de valores de California es absolutamente consistente con los valores del LAPD”, aseguró el jefe de policía durante su intervención en la conferencia de prensa en la cual participaron también el capitán James Beezley del Departamento de Policía de Sacramento y el sargento Bradley Johnson de la policía de Long Beach.

Linda López, jefe de la Oficina de Asuntos de Inmigración de la Alcaldía de Los Ángeles, y quien participó en la conferencia en representación del alcalde Eric Garcetti, anunció que la alcaldía respalda la medida.

“Estamos aquí con un unificado mensaje singular, todos tienen el derecho a ser protegidos y de confiar en las autoridades”, indicó.

“No queremos que nuestras abuelas no reporten los delitos por miedo a ser deportadas”, agregó.

La iniciativa, no obstante, ha recibido críticas y rechazo de la mayoría de los cuerpos de alguaciles del estado, incluyendo el Departamento Alguaciles del Condado de Los Ángeles (LASD).

“Cuando se mira lo que tenemos hoy en día, tenemos la Ley de confianza de California y la Ley de la verdad de California que determinan el comportamiento de las autoridades del ICE y el acceso de ICE a los detenidos”, declaró recientemente a un canal el jefe del LASD, el alguacil Jim McDonnell.

El alguacil argumentó que estas leyes “sólo permiten acceso de ICE a aquellos que han cometido delitos graves o delitos violentos”.

El sindicato de agentes, Concejo Nacional de la Patrulla de Fronteras Local 1613, criticó que la SB54 plantea “remover a las personas con estatus de inmigración de las cárceles de California y ponerlas en una instalación de detención fuera (del estado)”.

Según alegaron los representantes de los agentes de fronteras, en un comunicado enviado a EFE, la medida separa a los inmigrantes detenidos “de sus familias, sus comunidades y redes de trabajo y crea aún mayores dificultades para la unidad familiar”.

Pese a las críticas, tanto De León como Holder anunciaron el martes que planean continuar hasta la Corte Suprema -si es necesario- con una demanda legal si el Gobierno federal restringe fondos a California por su condición de “estado santuario”.

“Vamos a seguir trabajando para defender a las comunidades más marginadas del país”, afirmó De León.

Holder reiteró que es totalmente inconstitucional que el Gobierno federal retenga fondos para California.

La medida, que ya fue aprobada por el Senado a principios de abril, cursa su proceso en la Asamblea donde se espera sea finalmente aprobada este mes.

El gobernador de California, Jerry Brown, aún no ha manifestado si vetará o firmará la ley en caso de que sea autorizada por los legisladores.


Convictions Vacated for Father Facing Deportation

June 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

HIGHLAND PARK – A man whose daughter filmed his detention by federal immigration agents will likely avoid deportation due to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s concurrence with a judge’s ruling on the case, City Councilman Gil Cedillo said Wednesday.

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel while dropping off one of his daughters at Academia Avance in Highland Park on Feb. 28. His case gained widespread attention with the dissemination of video footage taken by another of his daughters, who filmed the incident while sobbing.

Avelica-Gonzalez was detained due to two prior misdemeanor convictions for receiving stolen property in 1998 and a DUI in 2008.

A state law that took effect in January allows the court to vacate some convictions if the person charged was not fully informed of the consequences to pleading guilty or no contest.

The DUI case was vacated by the judge last month, and on Friday, his 1998 conviction was vacated by a judge who ruled that a waiver form was not properly filled out as required by state law.

The City Attorney’s Office had previously argued that Avelica-Gozalez’s argument to have the conviction vacated had no legal grounds, but City Attorney Mike Feuer’s spokesman, Rob Wilcox, said Tuesday that the judge’s ruling had “focused on facts that hadn’t been presented earlier to the court,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The judge concluded, and our office agreed, that the waiver form was not fully consistent with wording required by state law,” he said, according to the Times.

“I’d like to thank City Attorney Mike Feuer for ensuring that Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez’s case was treated with fairness and all evidence considered in our pursuit of justice for this Angeleno. We said we were going to have a talk with the city attorney and we did,” said Cedillo, who represents the

Highland Park neighborhood where Avelica-Gonzalez was detailed.

“Romulo represents a movement for family unity and reunification, a cornerstone of our city’s values and immigration advocacy foundation,” he said. “We denounce ICE in our neighborhoods as well as the tearing apart of our families and communities. The ramifications of this arrest will endure long after this case is closed. Our people are living in fear of ICE every day.”


LAPD Chief Backs State Bill Barring Police from Helping ICE

June 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck endorsed a bill Monday that would prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws. Beck endorsed Senate Bill 54 during a news conference with former U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los
Angeles, at the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown Los Angeles.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order which threatened to cut off federal funding to states or cities that limit their cooperation with federal agents over immigration, although it was struck down by a federal judge in April.

Beck mentioned Special Order 40 during his remarks, which was enacted in 1979 and prohibits LAPD officers from initiating police contact for the sole purpose of determining an individual’s immigration status.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced his opposition to the bill in March.

“SB 54 prohibits my agency from responding to federal requests for notification when one of my jail facilities houses someone charged with a crime who might be the subject of an immigration enforcement action,” McDonnell wrote.

(Courtesy of California Senate)

(Courtesy of California Senate)

“State law, the TRUST Act, already governs when and how a local entity may detain a person subject to an immigration hold. The TRUST Act is sufficient and was passed in order to prevent the unlawful over detention of those subjects of immigrations enforcement action.

“Currently, when an inmate being released is subject to an immigration enforcement action, they are apprehended by agents in a safe and controlled manner during the release process at a county jail. SB 54 would not allow the safe transfer of custody, rather it would force immigration enforcement agents into our communities in order to search out and find the person they seek.

“While doing this, they will most surely cast a wide net over our communities apprehending and detaining those not originally the target of the enforcement actions. The result of this will be complete and total loss of trust and cooperation with any law enforcement agency.”

While SB 54 would allow a sheriff to notify the FBI when an inmate with past violent felony convictions serving a sentence for a misdemeanor is about to be released, McDonnell objected to its definition of a violent felony.

“SB 54 does not seem to acknowledge the following crimes as violent, but, I certainly do — assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an occupied dwelling, shooting at an occupied building, shooting at an occupied vehicle, or shooting at an occupied aircraft, rape where the victim is unconscious of the act, rape by intoxicating substance, residential burglary, assault with a
deadly weapon by a state prison inmate, or exploding a destructive device or explosive with the intent to injure, just to name a few,” McDonnell said.

“I think we can agree these crimes and many more are extremely violent felonies.”
The bill is also opposed by the California State Sheriff’s Association
over concerns it would impact public safety and put dangerous people back on
the street.

“(The bill) is absolutely consistent with the values of the Los Angeles Police Department,” Beck said.

SB 54 “is not a soft on crime bill” or “an anti-law enforcement bill,” Beck said

“This is a bill that displays courage — the courage of Californians, the courage of Angelenos to understand that when we stand together we are much more effective than when we stand apart,” Beck said.

Holder was hired by the Legislature in January to serve as outside counsel and advise it on the state’s potential conflicts with the federal government. Holder said the bill was constitutional.

“California is doing the right thing,” Holder said. “This is something that needs to be done.”

Lacey, Feuer Join Call to Stop ICE Courthouse Arrests

April 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES  – Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and District Attorney Jackie Lacey are among a dozen prosecutors who sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the federal government to stop its agents from making immigration arrests at local courthouses.

The letter was sent in support of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who first raised the issue in March in a letter to the Trump administration.

The letter followed a report by the Los Angeles Times that found Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado are arresting immigrants in the country illegally at courthouses.

ICE officials defended the tactic, saying they make arrests in courthouses only when all other options have been exhausted, according to The Times.

Cantil-Sakauye wrote that she worried about the “impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be.”

Feuer and Lacey were joined by 10 other prosecutors who signed the letter, including Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, Santa Monica City Attorney Joseph Lawrence and Burbank City Attorney Amy Albano.

“ICE courthouse arrests make all Californians less safe. These practices deter residents concerned about their immigration status from appearing in court – including as crime victims and witnesses – jeopardizing effective prosecution of criminals who may then re-offend,” the letter said.

Feds Raid Bell Gardens Bicycle Casino

April 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Bell Gardens relies heavily on revenue from the Bicycle Hotel and Casino, but today’s raid by federal agents could lead to a substantial economic hit to the Southeast city if the Casino is closed for a prolonged period, or shut down permanently.

Dozens of law enforcement officials with the Los Angeles High Intensity Financial Crime Area Task Force — which includes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE), IRS Criminal Investigation, the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Gambling Control and the United States Attorney’s office — executed a search warrant at the Casino around 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Federal task force raids Bicycle Hotel and Casino in Bell Gardens Tuesday morning. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez

Federal agents raid Bicycle Hotel and Casino in Bell Gardens Tuesday morning. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bell Gardens police, who have in the past taken part in other joint federal task forces, were not involved in today’s action, the department told EGP.

It is not yet clear what the task force was looking for because “The search warrant issued by a United States magistrate judge was filed under seal in relation to an ongoing investigation,” according to Virginia Kice of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Because the warrant is under seal, we are not able to comment on the scope or nature of the investigation.”

She said it’s “an ongoing investigation.”

Because the task force is known to target money laundering, there is speculation today’s raid could be related to organized crime.

A call by City News Service to the poker club’s legal department was not immediately returned.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

With the exception of a few hotel and casino managers, most employees were allowed to leave the premises.

A woman resembling Julie Coyne, executive director of the Bicycle Casino Community Foundation, was caught by a helicopter news camera being escorted by federal agents into the Casino early in the morning.

The task force is expected to seize financial documents from the Casino. No arrests have been made so far.

The Bicycle Casino – known to many poker players as The Bike – is expected to be closed to the public for the rest of the day, but hotel guests who could show a room key card were being allowed to return to the Casino.

News of the raid spread quickly through the small city, drawing people to stand outside the facility to get a closer look.

It also led to a lot of conversation amongst neighbors, with some speculating as to the reasons behind the early morning raid.

Jorge Gonzales, a longtime city resident whose mother at one time worked for the Casino, told EGP he believes federal investigators are looking into criminal activity he says has been going on for years.

“I’m not surprised, it’s actually about time they look into what’s going on here,” he said.

“This place was put up with gangster money,” he said, referring to the Casino’s history.

Founded in the mid-1980s, the Bicycle Club was seized in 1990 by the federal government after investigators said the club was partly built with laundered drug money.


(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A number of casino employees — who did not want to be identified for fear of putting their already uncertain jobs at risk —told EGP they had not been told if they should show up for their next work shift.

“Most people who work here are honest, humble, good people,” said one employee. “The people gambling are not from Bell Gardens,” he added, implying the raid may be targeting activity by foreigners.

Many Bicycle Hotel and Casino employees live in Bell Gardens. Several said Tuesday they are worried about their jobs.

“I can’t imagine what will happen if they close this place down,” said one worried employee, who hopes he will still receive his paycheck this week.

“It’s not beneficial for the casino or the city” for it to be closed down, interjected a woman in Spanish.

The Bicycle Casino Hotel opened with great anticipation in December 2015. Gov. Jerry Brown was at both the groundbreaking and grand opening of the $50 million, seven-story, 100-room hotel.

In years past, nearly half of Bell Gardens’ General Fund revenue has come from the Casino. It is expected to generate $13 million in funds for the city during the 2016-17 fiscal year that ends in June, an amount projected to be slightly higher in 2017-2018.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A long time closure or the revoking of the Casino’s license could have a negative impact on city finances. In 2012, when Casino revenue dwindled to an all-time low, Bell Gardens found itself with a budget deficit that took a toll on some city services.

Call to Bell Gardens officials for comment were not immediately returned.

The possibility of such drastic action – long time closure or revoking the Casino’s license – seem unlikely based on similar raids of other Casinos.

Federal authorities last year investigated the Gardena card club formerly known as the Normandie Casino for violating anti-money laundering laws.

The partnership that ran the Normandie was ordered to pay about $2.4 million to settle federal charges that the poker club failed to report large cash transactions to federal authorities, as required.

As part of an agreement with the government, the four partners agreed to pay a $1 million fine and to forfeit nearly $1.4 million for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and conspiring to avoid reporting to the government the large cash transactions of some of the casino’s “high-roller” gamblers.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, casinos are required to implement and maintain programs designed to prevent criminals from using the clubs to launder the large sums of cash that illegal activity can generate.

For example, casinos must record and report to the government the details of transactions involving more than $10,000 by any one gambler in a 24-hour period.

City Manager Phil Wagner does not believe the current Bicycle Hotel and Casino owners and management are the targets of this investigation citing reports that the probe is focused on individual gamblers that may or may not have used the casino to launder illegally obtained cash.

“Unfortunately for the many law-abiding customers of the Casino, its employees and the community which has suffered a great deal of negative publicity,” Wagner told EGP.

Wagner went on to criticize media reports that used today’s events as an opportunity to  bring to light “unrelated issues that happened 27 years ago when the casino was under completely different ownership and management.”

“That’s totally unfair to the Casino and to this community,” Wagner told EGP.

Even if not closed, heavy fines would hurt Casino revenue, losses that could in turn hurt the city’s budget.

The Bicycle Casino has always been the crown jewel in the working class city, longtime Bell Gardens resident Nury Balmaceda told EGP.

It “helped build all this,” she said, pointing to the surrounding development that now includes high producing retailers like Ross and Marshals and the newly opened Dunkin’ Donuts and Chipotle.

“It helped bring all these businesses here.”

Other residents were concerned by the presence of ICE agents in the Southeast city, home to a large immigration population.

“A lot of undocumented people may be afraid to come out,” noted Balmaceda, who hopes nothing bad comes out of the raid.

In addition to city revenue, The Bicycle Casino Community Foundation provides scholarships for local students, recognizes local businesses and hosts an annual Christmas celebration for low-income residents.

“This is hit for the people of Bell Gardens, in the end we are the ones who will pay for it.”

Information from City News Service was used in this report.

[Update 7:15p.m.] to include statement from Bell Gardens City Manager.

L.A. Expands Special Order 40 to Other Agencies, Departments

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday in support of federal legislation that would ensure individuals being held or detained at a port of entry or at any immigration detention facility would be guaranteed access to legal counsel.

The Access to Counsel Act was introduced by California Sen. Kamala Harris and comes after President Donald Trump issued two executive orders halting or limiting immigration from some Muslim-majority countries. Both of the orders have been blocked by federal judges.

The resolution was approved with an 11-0 vote

“As an immigrant, I’m appalled by the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for the values Americans hold dear,” Councilman David Ryu said.

The vote comes one day after Mayor Eric Garcetti signed Executive Directive 20 that prevents the city’s harbor and airport police and fire department from enforcing federal immigration laws, following a similar policy that has been in place by the city’s police department for decades.

It expands Special Order 40, the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy that prohibits officers from initiating any police activity for the sole purpose of identifying someone’s immigration status.

The mayor’s action Tuesday was part of the Cities’ Day of Immigration Action, which was organized by the United States Conference of Mayors. Sixty-five mayors from around the country took part in the day of action to help promote immigrants’ rights.

“This is a day I think when mayors are standing up for universal American values,” Garcetti said on a conference call with reporters and the 65 mayors. “We are standing alongside our police chiefs, our faith leaders, our legal advocates, our business leaders and community advocates to reaffirm our commitment to our immigrant residents.”

At a press conference later in the day at the Lincoln Height Youth Center, the mayor and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck emphasized that expansion of Special Order 40 is about ensuring public safety and keeping city resources from being used to do the work of federal immigration authorities.

Both the mayor and chief said recent ICE raids and the presence of ICE agents at courthouses have had a negative impact on crime reporting by Latinos.

Reports of sexual assaults and domestic violence in the Latino community have fallen this year significantly compared to last year, Beck said.

Sexual assault reports have fallen 25 percent, and domestic violence reports have fallen 10 percent.

Beck said there was a “strong correlation” between the decreases and fears in the city’s immigrant population about increased federal immigration arrests in the city. He also said the reduction “far exceeds the reductions of any other demographic group.”

“Imagine someone being the victim of domestic violence and not calling the police,” he said. “Imagine your daughter, your sister, your mother, your friend not reporting sexual assault because they are afraid the family will be torn apart.”

The vast majority of immigrants detained since Pres. Donald Trump’s executive order directing ICE to step up immigration enforcement actions and deportations have been from Mexico and Central America, leading activists to complain that Latinos are being profiled and targeted by immigration enforcement officers.

“Where are the arrests of people from Canada and Australia,” a woman in the audience who only wanted to use her first name, Ana, asked EGP following the press conference.

Councilman Gil Cedillo (CD-1) was with the mayor Tuesday in Lincoln Heights. He said Los Angeles has a long reputation of protecting immigrants, and said Garcetti’s signing of Executive Directive 20, means the city is not only “accepting of immigrants,” but also a city that “protects them.”

“Not too long ago, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was dropping off his kids at school, when ICE arrested him and detained him. For a child, that image of having your father taken away by an agent that has the words “POLICE” written on his jacket, goes against our efforts to instill trust and cooperation with our local law enforcement,” he told EGP in an email.

Both Beck and Garcetti expressed concern that immigrant families out of fear may be keeping their children home from school or from participating in after-school and other programs.

Cedillo said his office is “starting to see constituents call in for City services and being reluctant to give their name or address. This tells us that people are scared,” something he says is not only counterproductive to our service delivery efforts, but is also inhumane.”

Executive Directive 20 prohibits officers from initiating any police activity for the sole purpose of identifying someone’s immigration status. It also bars any city employee from assisting any federal agency where the primary purpose is federal civil immigration enforcement.

“All residents must feel safe and supported when accessing the vast array of city facilities, programs, and services available to them,” the order states.

Information from City News Service used in this report.


ICE Arresta A Padre Cerca de Escuela en Los Ángeles

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Defensores de inmigrantes en Los Ángeles denunciaron hoy que agentes de inmigración arrestaron a un padre de familia cuando se dirigía a dejar a sus hijas en sus escuelas.

El arresto de Rómulo Avelica-González, de 48 años de edad y oriundo de México, se dio este martes en la mañana cuando el hombre salió de su casa con su esposa y sus dos hijas, de 12 y 13 años, rumbo a las escuelas donde estudian.

Tras dejar a una de las hijas en su escuela, el mexicano se dirigió al otro centro educativo que queda a poca distancia.

En el camino, el inmigrante fue interceptado por dos vehículos sin identificación en el cual viajaban agentes del Servicio de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE).

“El arresto se dio muy cerca de la escuela y con esta acción los agentes de inmigración están retando a la comunidad, no podemos permitir que el ICE venga a nuestros vecindarios y siembre el terror”, declaró a Efe Emi MacLean, abogada de la Red Nacional de Jornaleros (NDLON).

No obstante, la portavoz de ICE, Virginia Kise, explicó a Efe que después de llevar a cabo la vigilancia para confirmar la identidad del sospechoso, los oficiales arrestaron a Avelica durante una parada del vehículo, aproximadamente a media milla de una de las escuelas.

MacLean advirtió que cada vez más los agentes de inmigración se están acercando a las escuelas y lugares públicos como hospitales e iglesias.

“¿Qué hubiera pasado si el señor Avelica estuviera solo manejando, donde queda su hija? Es muy preocupante que esté pasando esto en Los Ángeles y en todo el país”, apuntó.

La semana pasada en Texas, 16 indocumentados, sin antecedentes criminales, fueron arrestados en dos restaurantes en medio de un operativo del ICE.

Esta mañana en Georgia, agentes del ICE, mientras buscaban a otro individuo, levantaron a un indocumentado de su cama y lo arrestaron.

Brenda Avelica, una de las 4 hijas del mexicano, aseguró que las autoridades de inmigración están destruyendo a la familia y las están dejando sin la persona que les daba el apoyo económico y moral.

Avelica llegó a Estados Unidos en la década de los noventa y tiene una orden de deportación vigente y en su récord aparece una infracción por conducir bajo la influencia del alcohol o drogas (DUI).

La familia alega que el mexicano fue víctima de un abogado de inmigración que le prometió arreglar su estatus migratorio, pero no cumplió.

“Están colocando la etiqueta de criminal a todos los indocumentados, y este es el ejemplo de la nueva política de Trump y de sus acciones, no podemos dejarnos convencer, tenemos que resistir y denunciar estos arrestos”, insistió Pablo Alvarado, director de NDLON.

Avelica permanece en custodia de ICE, mientras que activistas están programando una protesta para los próximos días frente al centro de detención donde se encuentra.

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