A Voice in Spanish for Immigrants During Challenging Times

February 2, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I started working in Eastern Group Publications in the middle of the 1990’s, the decade when voters in California wanted to deny immigrants a public education, health care, and to allow authorities to stop and question anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally.

Yes, it was the time of Pete Wilson’s governorship, Prop. 187 – to eliminate social services for immigrants – and Prop. 227 to make California an English Only state.

It was a time of upheaval and change, some of it good, some of it – not.

It was the decade when some of the cities in Southeast Los Angeles County with majority Latino populations saw major changes in their leadership. Latinos swept into office in Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Bell, South Gate and Maywood. It was all happening as South Los Angeles, Inglewood and Compton started a demographic transformation as more Latinos moved in.

Because of the continued growth of the Latino community in Los Angeles, mainly from Mexico and Central America, the need for information in Spanish in this region was fundamental, so Eastern Group Publications Inc. (EGP) became the only bilingual publication in many of those areas.

Even though the newspaper’s circulation was mainly in East Los Angeles, EGP always published information that affected the Latino community as a whole and it wasn’t rare to cover events in South/Southeast Los Angeles, West Los Angeles and of course East L.A.

At the beginning of 1990, 85% of the population in Southeast L.A. was Latino, but still most of their political representatives were white, in part because of people’s apathy to getting involved in politics and because only 45% of the population was registered to vote.

In 1991, Bell Gardens, a city located nine miles south of downtown Los Angeles, where more than 90% of the population was Latino, a recall effort led by one woman, Maria Chacon, to oust four white city councilmembers and replace them with leaders that reflected the population succeeded.

For the people of Bell Gardens there was great hope that things would be different.

Chacon and other leaders with political ambitions in the city worked the political system and for the next decade were involved in political battles to maintain power. Sadly, while some things got better, the improvements came with charges and convictions for corruption.

This situation wasn’t unique to Bell Gardens. In 1994, other surrounding cities like Cudahy, Bell and Maywood went down similar roads, and EGP was there to report it.

Working at EGP gave me and the newspapers’ other reporters an immediate connection to the people in the area. Many times we were the first media outlet to carry stories from those cities and neighborhoods, which would later be published in the mainstream media.

Save Our State

In response to the growing number of Spanish speaking immigrants in California, new laws against undocumented people began to emerge in Sacramento.

Proposition 187, known as Save Our State (SOS), was approved by California voters in 1994, prohibiting access to education, healthcare and welfare benefits by undocumented families. Even though it never took effect, the courts ruled it unconstitutional, it still had an enormous impact on Latino families, particularly immigrants.

I recall writing stories about people not wanting to go to the supermarket because they feared being stopped and asked to prove their citizenship. Parents would not take sick children to the doctor because they feared the information they shared would sooner or later lead to deportation.

More than twenty years have passed, and those fears are as real today.

On the flip side, we offered extensive coverage on the growing activism in the Latino community, among citizens and the undocumented, to support and protect the most affected and vulnerable groups, including the more than 1.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the state.

They were always fighting inequality, fighting for better salaries, lower rent, and the right to educate their children in the language of their choice, whether it was English only or in a bilingual program.

There were so many issues affecting people’s quality of life. After the 1992 riots, many people decided to leave the area, creating an opportunity for a new group coming from south of the border to move into what were once predominately African American neighborhoods. Gang violence flared up and devolved into racial war zones between African Americans and the Latinos moving into their neighborhoods in search of cheaper housing, as well as in other parts of the city where Latinos were the majority.

EGP’s editorial staff was small. We didn’t have the resources of many large newsrooms, still we managed to report on so many issues and the many good things taking place in the communities we served. We got the stories because we were dedicated, ambitious and connected to the community; they would call to let us know what was going on in the neighborhood, the good and the bad. They wanted to be heard, and trusted us to listen and to tell their stories accurately.

An important aspect of EGP that I want to highlight is that in the seven years I worked for the paper, neither my editors or the owners of the company ever censured my stories; even the ones that weren’t too popular with the system or an advertiser.

The freedom to write or pick a topic to report on was what I most value about EGP. That’s why, when I heard a few months ago that the Sanchez family was going to sell, I felt sad. I knew that without the Sanchez family it would be hard to continue reporting to the community with that same level of commitment, especially now, in Trump’s era.

Special Thanks

As a reporter and member of the community, I just want to thank the Sanchez family for being there for the people for the past four decades. But also, because during my time working for the paper, I always felt part of the family, even now, as the years have flown by. Every time we have a chance to talk, it’s as if no time has passed.

I want to thank Publisher Dolores Sanchez, and her late husband, COO Jonathan Sanchez, for giving me the opportunity to begin and develop my career as a journalist in Los Angeles. I will never forget that through EGP, I was given the opportunity to serve the community for a better future.

Trump Ends Temp Status for Nicaraguans

November 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to push back against the Trump administration’s move to end Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Nicaraguan immigrants.

Nicaraguans with provisional residency — some of whom have been allowed to remain in the country since 1998 — have been given 14 months to leave the U.S., a decision that Supervisor Hilda Solis said would tear families apart.

“The Trump administration’s decision to end the TPS designation for more than 5,000 Nicaraguans with provisional residency is needless at best and callous at worst,” Solis said. “This action will tear apart families and upend the lives of hard-working immigrants who have contributed so much to our
country for so long.”

Temporary Protected Status has been granted to immigrants unable to return home safety due to armed conflict, environmental disaster — such as an earthquake or hurricane — an epidemic or other extraordinary conditions.

The protections are temporary by design and in the case of Nicaragua were related to catastrophic damage wrought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the conditions caused by the deadly hurricane no longer exist.

The administration delayed a decision on immigrants from Honduras, saying more time was needed to assess conditions in that country, and extended protections to July. It did not mention Salvadorans, Haitian or Syrians, whose status is set to expire in January or March, depending on the country.

Solis said she believed DHS was preparing to make additional announcements on Monday.

More than 200,000 Salvadorans live in the U.S. with provisional residency, making them the largest such group. An estimated 86,000 Hondurans and 59,000 Haitians have protected status.

Immigrants from Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen also have protected status with expirations scheduled later next year, with the exception of South Sudanese nationals whose status extends through 2019.

The board voted to send a letter to Trump and congressional leaders denouncing the decision to end TPS in Nicaragua and any pending termination as to Hondurans, Haitians and Salvadorans and demanding a permanent legislative solution.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also highlighted Los Angeles County’s amicus brief in opposition of the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Childhood Arrivals program.

The “friend of the court” brief — in support of lawsuits filed by California and the University of California — alleges that the administration violated the Constitution and federal laws when it rescinded the DACA program.

“Los Angeles County is home to the nation’s largest concentration of DACA recipients,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We cannot turn our backs on them, as they are part of the fabric of our society, making significant contributions to our culture and economy.”

Immigrant rights groups decried the president’s action and vowed to fight the deportation of immigrants with TPS status. They pointed out that many of the countries from which TPS recipients hail are still in turmoil and unsafe.

Many regions in Central America are very violent and “people with TPS” can’t return to “that violence,” Martha Arévalo, executive director of Centro de Recursos Centroamericanos (CARECEN-Los Ángeles), told the EFE news service.

CARECEN will use all its energy to put pressure on legislators to come up with “permanent legislative solutions” for these immigrants, Arévalo said.

City, County, State Take Up Fight to Defend DACA

September 14, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
initiative, has sparked a whirlwind of activity at the city, county and state level, all aimed at thwarting the president’s action and to push Congress to adopt a permanent solution for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

The protests and promises of legal battles is not surprising given that one in four DACA recipients – or about 200,000 of the young beneficiaries – live in California.

Speaking in Los Angeles Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra vowed to fight the decision “on every front.”

Becerra, joined by the attorneys general for Minnesota, Maryland and Maine, filed a lawsuit Monday in San Francisco against the administration, arguing that the federal government violated the Constitution and federal laws when it moved to rescind DACA.

“The DACA initiative has allowed more than 800,000 Dreamers — children brought to this country without documentation — to come out of the shadows and become successful and productive Americans,” Becerra said following a roundtable meeting with immigration advocates in downtown Los Angeles. “I’ve never seen a time in our country when we punish kids for coming out of the

Last week, the University of California filed suit against the administration on grounds that the decision would violate the due process rights of thousands of immigrant UC students. That same day, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar introduced a motion directing the city attorney to either file his own lawsuit or to join the state’s lawsuit being promised by Becerra.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors added their voices, adopting a measure to support the lawsuits brought by other government bodies and to pursue a financial boycott of sorts of states “unfriendly” to DACA by banning county employees from traveling to those states on county business.

California’s Attorney General Tells Dreamers to Reapply

According to Becerra, with the help of the state’s 200,000 DACA recipients, California has become “the sixth largest economy in the world.”

Federal immigration officials are no longer accepting new requests for DACA, but the agency is hearing two-year DACA renewal requests received by Oct. 5 from current beneficiaries whose benefits will expire before March 5.

Flanked by representatives from immigrant rights groups, Becerra said Tuesday that financial help is available to cash-strapped Dreamers who don’t have the $495 renewal fee. “If you have the opportunity, submit your paperwork,” the attorney general said. “We don’t want anyone to be deprived of the chance to reapply.”

Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, urged recipients not to “make money an issue.”

Added Martha Arevalo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center: “Don’t let financial concerns be a reason not to reapply. We can find solutions.”

Becerra said the DACA phase-out indirectly affects millions of residents, as well as businesses, nonprofits, and the state’s towns and cities.

“We’ll do whatever we can to win,” he said.

Fifteen other states have also filed a lawsuit challenging the end of the DACA program.

UC Is First University System to Enter Legal Battle

The UC’s lawsuit filed Sept. 8 in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its acting secretary, Elaine Duke, is the first of its kind to be filed by a university. The lawsuit alleges the Trump administration failed to provide proper notice to the impacted population as required by law.

”As a result of the defendants’ actions, the Dreamers face expulsion from the only country that they call home, based on nothing more than unreasoned executive whim,” the complaint reads. UC President Janet Napolitano, who was secretary of DHS from 2009 to 2013, spearheaded the Obama administration’s creation of the DACA program in 2012, setting in place a rigorous application and security review process, according to the lawsuit.

Applicants for DACA were only approved if they were in or had graduated from high school or college, or were in the military, or an honorably discharged veteran. They cannot have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

“Neither I, nor the University of California, take the step of suing the federal government lightly, Napolitano said. “It is imperative, however, that we stand up for these vital members of the UC community.”

The lawsuit asks the court to set aside Trump’s  action because it is “unconstitutional, unjust, and unlawful.”

L.A. Councilman Calls for City Attorney to Join Lawsuits

Roughly 100,000 DACA recipients are believed to live in the Los Angeles area. A motion introduced last week by L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar states, “These Dreamers were brought here as children and have proven themselves to be lawful residents contributing to the social fabric and diversity of the United States.” It also instructs City Attorney Mike Feuer to pursue legal action on behalf of the city to defend their presence.

When asked to comment on the motion, Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said, “Our office is already in discussions with other government entities on how best to maximize our impact on fighting the removal of DACA.”

County to Support Lawsuits, Boycott DACA-unfriendly States

County supervisors voted Tuesday to institute a travel ban on DACA-unfriendly states and to support legal challenges to Trump’s order ending the policy.

Supervisor Hilda Solis championed a one-year restriction on county government travel to nine states that threatened legal action to end the program, saying it could “cost the United States approximately $460 billion in GDP.”

Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia will be subject to the travel restriction, which will not apply in the case of emergency assistance for disaster relief or critical law enforcement work.

The vote was 3-1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger dissenting and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining, though they both support DACA and voted in favor of related measures.

The young adults nationwide affected by the administration’s action are contributing to America’s economy, not taking from it, said Sonja Diaz, founding director of UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.

“Ninety-one percent of DACA recipients are employed. DACA is a net positive for the U.S. economy” and ending it would cost California alone $11.3 billion,” Diaz told the board.

David Rattray, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, promised the support of business leaders in any fight to restore the program.

Employers have invested in hiring and training so-called Dreamers and are “dumbfounded about how stupid this is, frankly,” Rattray told the board.

Barger, the only Republican on the non-partisan board, said the county should take an aggressive, hands-on role in pressing Congressional representatives to craft new legislation.

“We need to be at the table and we need to push as hard as we can,” Barger said. “This is bipartisan, this is about doing what is right,” quoting then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 remarks saying DACA was “a temporary stopgap measure” to give Congress time to act.

“Congress needs to get to work, they’ve had over five years to do it,” Barger said. “If Congress does not act in six months, shame on them.”

Ridley-Thomas proposed having county lawyers file “friend of the court” briefs in support of several states suing the Trump administration.

DACA recipients are entitled, Ridley-Thomas said, to “the right to privacy, the right to work, the right to move within the halls of government and elsewhere without wondering if someone is going to report you or snatch you.”

The vote on amicus briefs was 4-1, with Barger dissenting.

Based on Solis’ motion, the board will also send a letter to the president and Congress demanding legislative action, a move that garnered unanimous support. The board also directed the county’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to help existing DACA recipients renew their status by Oct. 5.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion to add immigration to a county list of policy priorities, which currently include homelessness, child protection, reform of the Sheriff’s Department, integration of county health services, and environmental oversight and monitoring.

The board’s vote in favor of the new priority was unanimous.

Move To End DACA Leaves Some Young Immigrants Fearing For Their Health

September 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES — For 26-year-old Paulina Ruiz, having legal immigration status is about more than going to school or holding a job. It’s about staying healthy.

The University of California-Los Angeles graduate, whose parents brought her from Mexico to the U.S. illegally two decades ago, has cerebral palsy, a neurological condition diagnosed shortly after birth.

In the past, Ruiz said, she relied on emergency rooms for her health care and rarely could see specialists. She developed kidney and back problems after years of inconsistent medical care and using an inappropriate wheelchair.

But in 2012, she qualified for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily protected her from deportation. In California, that meant she could get Medi-Cal, California’s version of the Medicaid insurance program for low-income Americans, and regularly see a doctor.

The Trump administration’s controversial decision on Tuesday to scrap the DACA program does more than put nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” in fear of deportation and losing their jobs. It threatens the health care of thousands of young adults like Ruiz, who either have job-based insurance or whose incomes qualify them for Medicaid in California and several other states.

“I am very upset,” said Ruiz, who organizes for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and lives near the city. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to my health.”

The decision is set to take effect in six months, unless Congress comes up with an alternative plan. Trump has said the program, started under President Obama in 2012, rewards lawbreakers who hurt Americans by taking their jobs and depressing wages, a claim some economists dispute. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the program was unconstitutional because it was a unilateral executive action on a proposal that had been repeatedly rejected by Congress.

Trump, who has suggested he has conflicting sentiments about the program, left open the door for Congress to change it. “I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” he said, according to The New York Times. But the newspaper noted that he did not call for bipartisan legislation to restore its protections.

The program allows immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31 who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive work permits and temporary protection from deportation. Those who qualified were explicitly barred from receiving federal health benefits through Medicaid, Obamacare exchanges or other programs.

Many DACA recipients now have jobs with health insurance. In addition, California, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and the District of Columbia have used their own money to cover low-income Dreamers through Medicaid, according to Tanya Broder, a Berkeley, Calif.-based senior staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.

There are an estimated 220,000 DACA recipients in California, the largest number in the country. Those who meet income requirements — 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $33,534 for a family of four — can qualify for coverage under the state’s “Permanently Residing in the United States under Color of Law” eligibility category.

That coverage is now in question. In California, those at risk of losing Medicaid are 19 and older, because the state under a separate law decided to cover all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, through age 18. That decision was not connected to the DACA program.

With the federal government’s action, “nobody will lose coverage in the Medi-Cal program immediately,” said Ronald Coleman, director of government affairs for the California Immigrant Policy Center, an immigrant advocacy group. But Coleman worries about what happens after March 5, when DACA’s protections will end — unless Congress takes action to protect the program.

The Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal, could not provide a comment on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday that she expects DACA recipients to start losing their job-based health insurance. Hincapié said she is particularly concerned about the effect of the president’s decision on the mental health of DACA recipients.

“The need for mental health services will only be greater,” she said.

At a protest in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday against the Trump administration’s decision, Jocelin Reyes made a similar point. She said DACA’s protections had helped put some young immigrants’ fears to rest, as they were able to get jobs, attend college or graduate school and come out of hiding.

“A lot of people don’t understand how much fear we had” about being deported, said Reyes, 19, who is about to start school at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “Now that fear has tripled.”

Another demonstrator, DACA recipient Maria Garcia, 22, said that losing her job as a hotel receptionist would mean the end of her job-based health insurance — coverage she relies on for physical therapy for a knee injury and any time she gets sick.

“If they take away my DACA, I’ll get fired,” she said. “And then what will I do for health insurance?”

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said ending DACA would only hurt “the well-being of these American children who have played by the rules.” And they could end up having to go to costly emergency rooms for medical care.

Lara, who led the charge to get all undocumented children covered by Medi-Cal, said one possible solution in California would be to increase the age limit for Medi-Cal coverage for kids from 18 to 26.

“We have to answer this call to ensure that our DACA students and workers are not pushed aside,” he said.

The California Medical Association said that terminating DACA could indeed hurt the health care workforce.

“Our nation’s health care system has the largest percentage of foreign-born and foreign-trained workers of any industry in the country. Already facing a national shortage of physicians and other health care professionals, revoking DACA could also undermine patient care and disrupt medical schools and hospitals for decades to come,” said California Medical Association President Ruth E. Haskins in a statement.

Ana B. Ibarra contributed to this report.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Supervisors Urge CA Members of Congress to Support ‘DREAM Act’

August 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors threw its support Tuesday behind a Senate bill that would allow some young immigrants to earn legal permanent residence and a path to citizenship.

Supervisor Hilda Solis championed the move, asking her colleagues to send a letter to the county’s congressional delegation, Senate and House leaders and President Donald Trump in support of the DREAM Act of 2017.

“For many years, the DACA program has brought hope and security for thousands of young people throughout the nation,” Solis said of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program introduced during the Obama administration. “We can never forget about our DREAMers who have proven their ability to make significant and positive impacts on the county of Los Angeles and every community throughout the country.”

The DREAM Act of 2017 — sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina — would allow more than 1 million young people who came to the U.S. before they turned 18, often known as “Dreamers,” to gain legal status. Applicants must be longtime residents with a high school diploma or GED certificate or working toward those goals and meet other eligibility requirements.

The proposed legislation would go beyond DACA to offer a path to permanent legal residency and citizenship and would allow applicants to gain that right through either higher education or work experience.

“Our immigrant communities are working day in and day out to succeed in this country. Programs such as DACA truly help our young immigrants continue to provide support to their parents and the idea that brought them to believe in the ‘American Dream,”’ said Alessandro Negrete of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.

The Trump administration has allowed the DACA program to remain in effect for the time being, despite campaign promises to revoke it.

Republican state officials have threatened to challenge DACA in court if it is not rescinded by Sept. 5.

Then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in July that it might not survive that challenge, the Washington Post reported.

The DREAM Act legislation would provide a long-term solution.

At a July 20 news conference to introduce the bill, Graham said he hoped to persuade the president to protect immigrants who were brought to America as children.

“President Trump, as you fix a broken immigration system, remember that you have the power to fix lives as well. Use that power,” Graham said.

An April survey by Morning Consult and Politico found that 78 percent of registered voters believe “Dreamers” should be allowed to stay in the country. Of those who voted for Trump, 73 percent agreed.

Outside Washington, A ‘More Powerful’ Immigrant Rights Movement Emerges

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media – Immigrant rights advocates say that despite the cloud of fear hanging over communities in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there is also a growing and increasingly organized resistance.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people apprehended for removal,” Melissa Chua, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told reporters on a national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California. “It’s not just growing infrastructure [for future deportations]…we’re seeing it in reality.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, a third more than during the same period in 2016, according to numbers requested by The Washington Post. The figures include 5,441 non-citizens with no criminal record, double the number during the same time last year.

The statistics reflect a shift in priorities from the Obama administration, which sought to prioritize certain criminals and recent arrivals for deportation. Under Trump, the deportation priorities have expanded so much that they can be used to target almost any undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant and refugee rights advocates say the effect on immigrant communities is palpable.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), described it as “one of the most horrendous periods in American history for immigrant families.”

“What we’re seeing,” explained Salas, “is just a harsher way by which DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is dealing with all matters of immigration, especially when it comes to stays of removal or requests for relief.”

Over 38 percent of the individuals detained in the Feb. 9 ICE raids in Southern California, for example, had only minor infractions, many of them from years ago, according to Salas.

“The other thing that we’re seeing,” she said, “is that they’re being harsher when it comes to individuals who had … stays of removal.

“ICE enforcement is going back and making decisions about those cases,” Salas explained. “Instead of continuing their stays of removal, they’re challenging their stays of removal, their administrative closure.”

Since taking office, Trump has signed executive orders that call for “sweeping changes on immigration,” said Chua of IRC, adding, however, that “many of these proposed changes face some real, significant hurdles.”

Some, like the construction of a border wall, can’t be implemented without funding. Others have been blocked by the courts, including the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities; and both versions of Trump’s “travel ban,” which aimed to curtail travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries and lower the number of refugees allowed admission into the United States.

“While many of the changes proposed by the administration may threaten refugees, immigrants and their families,” said Chua, “there still exist some real barriers to implementation, offering some real avenues of hope for immigrant communities.”

Advocates say many of these signs of hope lie outside of Washington.

“The immigrant rights movement is getting more organized, more powerful,” said Salas, pointing to local and state efforts that seek to protect the rights of immigrants across the country.

“What is incredible is the many cities and schools defending immigrants,” she said.

On May 1, she noted, about 30,000 people marched in the streets of Los Angeles to defend the rights of immigrants.

“California is moving forward a different vision, a different agenda,” said Salas. The state legislature has proposed various bills that seek to defend immigrants’ rights, from Senate Bill 54 (the California Values Act), introduced by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), which would prevent state and local resources from being used to cooperate with deportations, to Senate Bill 6, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would provide funding for legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

By contrast, Texas’ state legislature is moving further to the right on immigration. Texas Republicans just passed Senate Bill 4, a new law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, which threatens law enforcement with jail time if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“In the mid-90s, California looked a lot like Texas does today,” said Salas, when California voters passed Prop 187. That ballot measure helped get its supporter, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, elected. But it led to an even bigger backlash against the GOP in the state, and is largely credited with the mobilization of Latino voters who have changed the face of California politics.

“Our community [in California] became engaged,” Salas said.

Texas, which has the nation’s second-largest Latino population after California, could see a similar backlash. “What we’re seeing in Texas is the same kind of mobilization,” she said.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates are helping their communities stay informed.

“There are many families that are afraid,” said Adriana Guzman, immigrant outreach coordinator with Faith in Action Bay Area. “Our message to them is that there are steps they can take right now.”

Guzman said she is encouraging individuals to talk to a trusted legal services provider to see if they qualify for immigration relief, to make a family preparedness plan, including who will take care of children if something happens to their parents, and to carry the number of a trusted immigration attorney they can call in case of an emergency.

Most importantly, Guzman said, individuals should know that they have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of their immigration status. These include the right to remain silent, the right to not open the door to agents without a warrant signed by a judge, the right to speak to a lawyer and make a phone call, and to not sign anything they don’t understand or that isn’t true.

“Thousands of community outreach workers are spanning their communities, delivering Know Your Rights presentations,” said Salas of CHIRLA. From helping eligible immigrants become citizens and register to vote, to protesting in the streets and supporting legal challenges in the courts, she said, immigrant rights advocates have been able to “make a statement in these very difficult days.”

If You’re Against Immigrants, You’re Against My Grandma

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One day in a Latvian town more than 100 years ago, when my grandmother wasn’t much more than a girl, she heard that the czar’s “recruiters” were coming to conscript men into the Russian army for 20-year terms.

Two days before they came, a handsome young man she’d known only slightly told her he was going to America instead, and asked her to come along as his bride. She agreed.

Their travels weren’t wholly lawful. Lacking proper papers to enter Germany, where they planned to embark on a steamer to New York, they were smuggled across the border at night, in a cart.

Some 40-odd years later, when I was a small child, my mother would take me to Brooklyn to visit them. I recall grandma as a short, ancient grownup, her face square and her cheeks jowly. Despite having lived in New York for decades, she still spoke little English — only enough to make halting jokes. I don’t think she ever became a citizen.

She and grandpa faced hardship and discrimination. They’d been called “kikes” and “Jew bastards.” They’d been asked, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?”

But they stayed, and their children and grandchildren — including my brother, a journalist, and myself, a lawyer — climbed the ladder to success.

My grandparents come to mind when I meet my young friend — “Jesús,” let’s call him, a pro bono client.

Jesús, too, is an immigrant. But he recalls little of coming to America, and less of Mexico, his birthplace. He was only 7 when his mother, hoping for a better life and lacking proper papers, carried him here.

Jesús grew up in East Palo Alto, California — a small city not far geographically from the prosperity of Silicon Valley, but a world away socio-economically. Plagued by poverty, drugs, and crime, the town was once the murder capital of America.

When he reached high school, Jesús found himself behind the kids from the richer towns. But he enrolled in the school’s computer science track, applied himself, and ultimately won a nationwide “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” competition.

The school offered him little guidance about a path to college, but he found his own mentors. Eventually, he earned a B.S. from a small local college, paid for by soccer and academic scholarships — and hard work.

Jesús meanwhile devoted himself to diffusing conflicts among Latino and black gangs in violent neighborhoods. “When asked about putting himself in harm’s way,” a counselor informed me, “Jesús said he didn’t want to live in a world where people hate each other based on the color of their skin.”

For some people, this is all irrelevant. All we need to know about Jesús is that he’s “illegal” — and so should be deported.

This would be fundamentally unfair. Jesús, like many others whose parents brought them here, had no say in whether or how he entered the United States. But also like those others, he’s lived an entirely American life.

I assisted Jesús with his ultimately successful application for DACA status.

This Obama-era program (in full, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) offered a little security to youths like Jesús who arrived as children. If they were in school (or graduated) and had no criminal record, they were eligible to remain in the U.S. for a renewable two-year period.

With an anti-immigrant administration coming into office, however, many of these good kids fear being exiled to a land alien to them. I hope Trump has the decency to let them be.

Jesús is now 24 years old and works at a tech start-up. He has an American wife, son, and baby daughter. His aspirations, like my grandparents’ were, are to educate his kids, work hard and prosper, and continue to inspire others to set aside despair and reach for the stars.

How American those ambitions seem to me.


Mitchell Zimmerman is an intellectual property lawyer who devotes much of his practice to pro bono work. Distributed by OtherWords.org. 


Supreme Court to Take Up Immigration Case

January 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

East Los Angeles resident and immigration rights activist Isabel Medina woke up Tuesday to a text message saying the Supreme Court would review President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
“I was so excited, I woke up my kids and told them about the good news,” Medina told EGP in Spanish. “I called my husband at work and we celebrated one more step forward to legalization.”

Her two U.S. born children—ages seven and nine—didn’t quite comprehend the importance of the decision, she said. “But they were happy and said, ‘Mom, now you can go visit grandma [in Mexico]’” recalled Medina with tears on her eyes.

Lea este artículo en Español: Tribunal Supremo toma el Caso de Inmigración 

The Supreme Court justices’ decision to review the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans’ ruling in Texas v. United States gives hope to Medina and as many as five million immigrants in the country illegally who could get temporary relief from deportation under the president’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DAPA) programs.

Announced by Obama in November 2014, DACA and DAPA would allow undocumented parents of U.S. born children and lawful permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants who arrived to the country as children and were over the age of 31 in 2012, to obtain protection against deportation and to receive a work permit and social security number.

On February 16, 2015—two days before expanded DACA would take effect— 26 predominately Republican states led by Texas filed a lawsuit to block the programs, claiming that Obama’s executive orders enacting the programs exceeded his authority under the US Constitution.

A Texas judge and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans agreed, stopping the programs from going into effect.

The Obama Administration and 15 states – including California -appealed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

Isabel Medina (center) and other activists celebrate the decision from the Supreme Court to hear the cases of DACA and DAPA. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Isabel Medina (center) and other activists celebrate the decision from the Supreme Court to hear the cases of DACA and DAPA. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“We know it’s legal, we know it’s common sense. We know it’s just a lawful exercise of executive discretion that has been legally used by presidents in both parties; [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, [Ronald] Reagan, [George W.] Bush, [Bill] Clinton and of course Obama,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) during a press conference responding to the announcement Tuesday morning.

“[Immigrants] are not hiding, they work hard every single day to support their families and to support this country’s economy…we need to stop deporting men, women and children who work hard,” added Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president for immigration, civil rights and diversity with UNITE HERE.

Justices will likely hear arguments in April; a final decision is expected in June.

In California, about 1.5 million could benefit from DACA and DAPA with about half a million in Los Angeles County, according to Salas.

If the Supreme Courts rules in favor of the Administration, unauthorized immigrants eligible under DACA or DAPA could be faced with a short timeframe for applying for the programs before Obama leaves office and if a Republican replaces him as president January 2017.

Immigration rights activists have been urging people who could qualify for the three-year reprieve from deportation and the right to work legally to gather the documents they will need to apply if the Supreme Courts rules in their favor.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), who said she was among those who first urged the president to issue the executive orders, said via a teleconference call Tuesday that the fight continues because “it is the right thing” to do.

“We know we are in the right legally, morally and we stand behind the president’s actions,” she said.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-34) said in a statement that the president acted “well within his authority” in proposing commonsense immigration measures.

“For Americans harmed—or simply frustrated—by our broken immigration system, this could be a sign of good news to come,” he said. “I am confident that the Supreme Court will rely on the Constitution and precedent to affirm his actions.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis supported the president’s efforts by advocating for the formation of a county DACA/DAPA Task Force to implement the president’s orders and to allocate more local resources to assist youth who qualify for DACA.

“Last November, the County Board of Supervisors signed onto an amicus brief urging that the U.S. Supreme Court review the Fifth Circuit’s decision,” she said. “Now is the time to embrace our immigrants because they are vital contributors to our society.”

Medina, visibly joyful during CHIRLA’s press conference, told EGP she will fight relentlessly to be heard and to end her 19 years living in the shadows.

“My children worry about my situation,” Medina said. “At their young age they know what immigration is about and they fear I may not be home one day.”


Twitter @jackiereporter


Ballot Measure Targeting In Custody Immigrants Moves Forward

January 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Backers of an initiative requiring state and local agencies to report immigrants in their custody in the country without legal permission to federal immigration authorities have received authorization to begin gathering signatures, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Monday.


The initiative would also bar release of immigrants in the country without legal permission if federal immigration authorities request a hold. It would also provide for designating state and local law enforcement officers to perform certain federal immigration officer duties.



The initiative would also prohibit state and local laws or policies that restrict state and local officials from assisting enforcement of federal immigration law. It authorizes civil penalties against agencies or officials that adopt or implement any state or local law or policy against assisting enforcement of federal immigration law.



Passage of the initiative would result in increased state and local law enforcement and corrections costs that could potentially reach several millions of dollars annually, a portion of which could be offset by the potential receipt of additional federal funds for law enforcement training, according to an analysis made by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.


Valid signatures from 365,880 registered voters — 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election — must be submitted by July 5 to qualify the measure for the November ballot, according to Padilla.

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