Wachdog Report: Sheriff Dept. Aiding ICE More Than It Lets On

October 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

While Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell assured the public that his department had scaled back its cooperation with federal immigration agents, ICE agents continued to use offices in county jails and jail personnel helped them access information, according to a watchdog agency report released Sunday.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and some communities was already strained when the Trump administration moved to ramp up immigration enforcement.

“It is critical that the department make maintaining trust a high priority,” stated the report released by the Office of Inspector General. “The public needs accurate and unbiased information … and the (department) needs the public’s confidence that law enforcement is always a source of that information.”

McDonnell’s department failed to meet that standard, the report concluded.

Despite LASD assurances that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had vacated offices in county jails and computers hard-wired to federal databases had been removed, visiting OIG staffers found ICE agents working at the downtown Inmate Reception Center. In the same office long occupied by federal agents, there were five computers linked to federal databases along with an LASD computer which offered “a constant flow of information regarding prisoners who were soon to be released,” according to the OIG’s report.

LASD officials said the computers were reinstalled after ICE agents complained of poor internet connectivity on their laptops. The desktop computers were removed once again when the OIG shared its findings.

The department had also said it no longer shared information with ICE agents on inmates set for release, forcing federal officials to dig through public data to find what they wanted.

Pushing back against a Los Angeles Times story on the topic in July, the department took to Twitter, tweeting, “LASD does NOT provide release info to #ICE. Our public website has ALL inmate release dates. It’s up to #ICE to vet the data.”

Yet the OIG report found that jail personnel often passed along nonpublic information that made it easier for agents to know just when to pick up inmates.

Responding to Huntsman by letter, McDonnell said he agreed with the report’s findings.

“We prioritize maintaining and increasing public trust and always endeavor to provide the public with accurate information,” McDonnell said.

Seeking to clarify earlier statements, McDonnell said the department used to provide ICE agents with seven-day advance notice of inmates’ release and that practice was ended early this year. Beginning in February, information on inmate releases was made public and pending release dates were added to that public website in May.

“It would have been more accurate to state that we believed we were not providing ICE with more information than we were providing to the public,” the sheriff said.

McDonnell acknowledged that at some point jail personnel began sharing screenshots with additional nonpublic data with ICE agents. He said that flow of information has since been shut down.

The sheriff noted that the department restricts its cooperation with federal officials more than the law requires it to and highlighted outreach to immigrant communities to try and clarify policies and develop trust.

One measure of that trust is that the LASD has certified 90 percent of U-visa applications submitted by immigration rights advocates this year, even as the number of those applications has nearly doubled from two years earlier. U-visas are issued to victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement officials prosecuting the crime.

Civil and immigrant rights activist, however, say they want more than just verbal assurances.

“The reports of acknowledged falsity in the Sheriff’s Department’s public statements about cooperation with ICE identify a serious breach of public trust,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), in reaction to the revelations.

According to Saenz, County officials should demand from the Sheriff a plan to rebuild trust. “At a minimum, that plan must include strong and verifiable efforts to break the apparently cozy relationship between Sheriff’s deputies and ICE agents,” Saenz said Tueday.

“Promises that practices have changed, without accountability and verifiability, will not suffice here.”


MALDEF Sues State for Substandard Medi-Cal Care

July 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Civil rights advocates sued California last week, alleging that care provided by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for low-income people, is substandard and disproportionately hurts Latinos — by far the largest group of enrollees.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, says Medi-Cal participants have “substantially worse access to health care than their counterparts” in employer-based insurance plans or Medicare, the federal program for seniors and people with disabilities. State and federal laws require Medi-Cal to provide a level of care that is on par with that available to the general population, according to the court filing.

The two groups that filed the case hope to get it certified as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Medi-Cal enrollees.

The lawsuit plaintiffs include Rebecca Binsfeld, far right, and her husband, Carlos de Jesus, center, seen here with their kids. Binsfeld suffers from lupus and de Jesus has chronic back pain. (Kim Rescate/SEIU-UHW)

The lawsuit plaintiffs include Rebecca Binsfeld, far right, and her husband, Carlos de Jesus, center, seen here with their kids. Binsfeld suffers from lupus and de Jesus has chronic back pain. (Kim Rescate/SEIU-UHW)

The complaint claims that beneficiaries of Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the Medicaid program, often experience delays in care or are denied care altogether. And, it says, they may have to travel longer distances to find medical providers who are willing to see them.

“As a result, Medi-Cal participants suffer from greater pain, illness, and undiagnosed and untreated serious medical conditions — with significant impact to their overall health — than do their fellow Californians with other insurance,” according to the suit. The bottom line, it says, is that “California has created a separate and unequal system of health care, one for the insurance program with the largest proportion of Latinos (Medi-Cal), and one for the other principal insurance plans, whose recipients are disproportionately white.”

The Department of Health Care Services, which runs Medi-Cal and is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a statement that it has “not identified any systemic problems with patient access to services in the Medi-Cal program, nor has the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services identified any issues.”

The department said it “routinely monitors access and network adequacy in the contracting Medi-Cal Managed Care Plans.” The lawsuit blames the alleged obstacles to health care access on low reimbursement rates, which it says discourages doctors from accepting Medi-Cal patients. The suit also says the state has failed to provide adequate monitoring to ensure that beneficiaries have timely access to care.

The plaintiffs do not request specific monetary damages, other than attorney fees and other legal costs. Rather, they seek systemic changes, including “adequate” pay for doctors treating Medi-Cal beneficiaries and better monitoring and enforcement to ensure patients get care when they need it.

Plaintiffs Analita Jimenez Perea and her son, Saul, speak in Los Angeles about MALDEF's lawsuit alleging that care provided by Medi-Cal is substandard and disproportionately hurts Latinos. (Kim Rescate/SEIU-UHW)

Plaintiffs Analita Jimenez Perea and her son, Saul, speak in Los Angeles about MALDEF’s lawsuit alleging that care provided by Medi-Cal is substandard and disproportionately hurts Latinos. (Kim Rescate/SEIU-UHW)

The suit follows a federal administrative complaint filed by the same groups in December 2015 with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That case did not lead to an investigation, MALDEF said. The new lawsuit is a different approach to address the same problem, said Thomas Saenz, the group’s president and chief lawyer.

In a May 2016 letter responding to the federal complaint, California’ s Office of the Attorney General noted that current law “provides a number of remedies that provide relief if a Medi-Cal patient is denied timely access to needed care and services.” For example, they can submit a complaint to their health plan that must be resolved within 30 days, the letter said.

The attorney general’s office also said it had no evidence to show Latinos were treated differently than other Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

As of January 2017, 48 percent of California’s 13.5 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries were Latino, according to data from the Department of Health Care Services.

“This is a problem faced by all Medi-Cal patients,” Saenz said. “But it is occurring in the one insurance system where Latinos are overrepresented.”

The lawsuit names five individual plaintiffs, including a Sacramento couple — Rebecca Binsfeld, 35, and her husband, Carlos de Jesus, 43 — who said they have experienced delays in care. Binsfeld suffers from lupus and de Jesus has chronic back pain. They also have a 16-year-old daughter with scoliosis.

The family used to get primary care at UC Davis Medical Center, until their Medi-Cal managed care plan under Health Net terminated its contract with the hospital in 2015.

They sought primary care elsewhere but had difficulty finding a doctor willing to take new Medi-Cal patients, Binsfeld said. She eventually found help at a local community clinic in Sacramento, but it took 10 months for her to be seen by a rheumatologist — more than double the recommended time between such visits. And she experienced debilitating symptoms while she waited, she said.

“The first thing they tell you about lupus is that you need to avoid stress, and this was very stressful for me,” Binsfeld said. “I found myself in the ER quite a few times.”

Darin Ranahan, Binsfeld’s attorney, said the point of the lawsuit is “for the state to stop discriminating against people with Medi-Cal” and make sure that access to care is the same as for people with other types of insurance. “That means the state will need to allocate money for reimbursement rates and also remove barriers to care,” he said.

But state legislators, the medical industry and Gov. Jerry Brown wrangled over Medi-Cal rates earlier this year — and not to the entire satisfaction of doctors or patient advocates.

Last month, Brown approved a state budget that sets aside $465 million of tobacco tax money to boost Medi-Cal payments for doctors and dentists. That’s about one-third of the $1.2 billion the tax is expected to raise in its first year. Health care advocates and doctors had initially hoped that entire amount would be used to raise providers’ pay, and during the debate over the budget they argued that voters had approved the tax last November with the same idea in mind.

Tom Saenz, MALDEF president and chief lawyer, speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on July 12, 2017. (Courtesy of SEIU-UHW)

Tom Saenz, MALDEF president and chief lawyer, speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on July 12, 2017. (Courtesy of SEIU-UHW)

MALDEF’s Saenz said the amount ultimately allocated is “not going to make much of a dent in the problem.”

Saenz said that while boosting Medi-Cal provider rates is an essential part of improving access to care for Medi-Cal patients, it is not the entire solution. There are also systemic and administrative hurdles to overcome, he said. They include long application processing times and the challenge of ensuring that physicians and specialists have the capacity to see new patients, he said.

There is also a big question mark hanging over the whole Medi-Cal program, given efforts in Congress to cut Medicaid funding and roll back the program’s expansion under Obamacare. Saenz said that it is difficult at this point to assess how such changes would affect California’s ability to improve access and quality of care for its Medi-Cal population.

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

California Promete Luchar Contra Trump en Defensa de Indocumentados

November 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

El estado de California se prepara para presentar una batalla e intentar frenar el efecto de las posibles medidas sobre inmigración que establezca el futuro presidente, Donald Trump.

“Quiero asegurar a las millones de personas que están aquí, buscando y contribuyendo al ‘Sueño Californiano’, pero que no tienen documentación, que el Estado de California los apoya completamente”, manifestó el presidente interino de la Asamblea estatal, Kevin de León.

“Los líderes estatales defenderán sus derechos de proceso debido y agresivamente nos apoyaremos de cualquier y toda herramienta para prevenir una extralimitación irresponsable por una administración Trump en California”, advirtió el político hispano.

En Los Ángeles, una Coalición fue formada incluyendo al miembro del consejo de Los Ángeles, Gil Cedillo, la Oficina del Alcalde Eric Garcetii, la Supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles, Hilda Solís, la Oficina de la Supervisora Sheila Kuehl, el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Los Ángeles.

“Todos tenemos un cierto nivel de miedo y preocupación pero no debemos que eso gobierne nuestras vidas. Necesitamos seguir con nuestras rutinas diarias y encontrar consolación en que somos Los Ángeles y estamos unidos”, dijo Cedillo.

“América es más grande que cualquier hombre o partido. Seguiremos protegiendo a nuestros residentes, escuchando a nuestras comunidades y trabajando juntos por un futuro mejor,” dijo Solís en una declaración.

Concejal Gil Cedillo junto con los oficiales de la ciudad en una conferencia de prensa en el que se habló de la unidad y los intereses para proteger a la comunidad de inmigrantes, el jueves, 10 de noviembre. (Foto: Oficina de Gil Cedillo)

Concejal Gil Cedillo junto con los oficiales de la ciudad en una conferencia de prensa en el que se habló de la unidad y los intereses para proteger a la comunidad de inmigrantes, el jueves, 10 de noviembre. (Foto: Oficina de Gil Cedillo)

Al igual que grupos de defensa de derechos de inmigrantes como CHIRLA, CARECEN y MALDEF, y lideres religiosos de CLUE-LA se unieron.

Angélica Salas, directora ejecutiva de la Coalición por los Derechos Humanos de los Inmigrantes de Los Ángeles (CHIRLA), dijo a EFE que el primer trabajo que están realizando estas organizaciones es “analizar el impacto fiscal que las propuestas de Donald Trump” puedan tener en el estado, para garantizar que se cuenta con el “presupuesto para seguir haciendo las cosas buenas” que se merece el estado, indicó.

El alcalde de Los Ángeles, Eric Garcetti, adelantó que “levantarán la voz” si ven medidas “hostiles” en contra de la comunidad y rechazó colaborar con Inmigración, el jefe de Policía de la ciudad Charlie Beck también dijo que no trabajarán con las autoridades federales en sus “esfuerzos de deportación”, pues no es su función.

Salas informó de que se está trabajando “en una protesta masiva colectiva de todas las organizaciones inmigrantes y todos los grupos que se sienten atacados en este momento para pedirle al gobierno que nos trate con igualdad”.

Dicha acción se realizaría en Los Ángeles, al igual que en otras ciudades, la víspera del día de la posesión de Trump como nuevo presidente del país el próximo 20 de enero.

Estas marchas serían el colofón a las que se iniciaron en varias ciudades del país la pasada semana y a la que llevaron a cabo cientos de estudiantes de preparatoria en Los Ángeles.

Los activistas prometen también batalla legal contra las acciones que pueda tomar el Gobierno federal una vez llegue Trump al poder.

“Si el presidente electo Trump trata de convertir sus promesas de campaña ilegales e inconstitucionales en políticas, lo veremos en la corte”, declaró en una declaración enviada a EFE Anthony Romero, del Fondo de Acción de la Unión Americana por las Libertades Civiles (ACLU).

Romero aseguró que están “vigilantes” y lucharán por los “derechos de cada persona, cada día que Trump esté en la Presidencia”.

Las universidades públicas californianas anunciaron que continuarán aplicando medidas que favorecen a los estudiantes indocumentados como el que paguen las mismas tarifas que los residentes legales del estado o puedan beneficiarse de préstamos con bajos intereses con fondos estatales.

Al asegurar que “sabemos que hay comprensible consternación e incertidumbre entre los miembros de la comunidad de la Universidad de California”, la junta de Regentes aseguró que UC “está orgullosa de ser un lugar diverso y acogedor para los estudiantes, los profesores y los empleados con un amplio rango de antecedentes, experiencias y perspectivas”.

No obstante, algunas ayudas a los indocumentados, como en el caso del servicio de salud pública gratuito Medical para los menores de 19 años, puede verse afectado por recortes federales.

“Usamos los fondos del presupuesto estatal de salud para pagar estos servicios a los menores indocumentados, pero si los fondos federales otorgados a California se recortan igualmente estos recursos se verán disminuidos”, explicó Salas.

Al respecto, Rusty Hicks, secretario-tesorero de la Federación Laboral de Los Ángeles, AFL-CIO, anunció que movilizarán a “todos los californianos” para defender los subsidios federales.

“La Administración Trump posiblemente cortará fondos federales para seguridad pública a las ciudades que defienden a los inmigrantes”, anunció Hicks al referirse a las denominadas “ciudades santuario”, en las que las autoridades locales rechazan colaborar con Inmigración en programas voluntarios.

*Este reporte tiene aportaciones añadidas de comunicados de prensa

Child Victims Entitled to Civil Recourse, Regardless of Legal Status

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A bill authored by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez aimed at protecting the rights of undocumented children in civil court proceedings has earned the backing of MALDEF, a legal civil rights group.

AB 560 would bar a child’s immigration status from being taken into consideration in cases where the child victim is seeking damages for intentional or negligent acts that harm them.

Gomez’s bill would close an “unintended loophole” in a law passed in 2002 that limits the consideration of immigration status of workers trying to enforce employment and other laws.

“No state should condone the notion that some children’s lives and wellbeing are worth less than those of others,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz in a news release. “Thanks to Assemblymember Gomez, this bill will serve to ensure that California does not require child victims of wrongdoing to endure inquiry or argument about their current immigration status.”

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court majority held, in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), that federal immigration law bars an award of back pay to an unauthorized worker who had been fired in retaliation for supporting a union organizing campaign.

In response, the California Legislature enacted SB 1818 (Romero) that same year, declaring that immigration status is irrelevant for liability purposes in enforcing state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws.

In doing so, however, they failed to explicitly include protections for children or to discuss personal injury cases. AB 560 would rectify the omission. AB 560 makes a child’s immigration status irrelevant to the issues of liability or remedy, according to MALDEF. It would also “protect minor children who are victims of torts from having their immigration status exposed, explored, and considered in seeking judicial recourse for the harms that they have suffered.”

California is leading the way in protecting the rights of undocumented children and families, including ending “the financial discounting of California’s undocumented children,” Gomez said.

MALDEF agreed with Gomez that no child who has been harmed intentionally or through neglect should be denied the chance to seek damages in civil court or to have those damages limited just because they are not legally present in the country. Nor should the wrongdoer, or abuser be allowed to pay out less or be left off the hook financially due to a child’s immigration status, said MALDEF.

“Immigrant children deserve equal treatment. Their lives are worth the same as other children, and that fact must be reflected in the law.”

JPMorgan Chase Sued for ‘Violating’ HIV Positive Worker’s Rights

January 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court accuses JPMorgan Chase & Co. of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in its treatment of a former employee who is HIV positive.

According to MALDEF, the financial institution unlawfully discriminated against their client, former Vice President of Community Development Banking, Jesus Leon.

“For a large and sophisticated corporate entity like Chase to treat an employee with a serious disability so cavalierly is simply inexcusable in this day and age,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel in a news release. “We should expect our largest employers to act with greater sensitivity to moral and legal obligation.”

According to MALDEF, Leon, a Chase employee since June 2010, was “forced to resign because Chase failed to accommodate his condition and to engage in the legally-required interactive process to determine how to accommodate him,” including adjusting his work schedule as ordered by his physician in July 2012.

The lawsuit claims Chase’s actions exacerbated Leon’s medical condition.

ACA and FEHA require employers to engage in a “good-faith” process to explore how to reasonably accommodate the disabled employee, which Chase failed to do, according to MALDEF’s statement.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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