Alhambra Fire Guts Seafood Restaurant

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

ALHAMBRA (CNS) - A fire gutted the Blue Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alhambra today, but no one was hurt. Firefighters were sent to 1412 S. Garfield Ave. at 7:41 a.m., according to the Alhambra Fire Department. Crews from the Alhambra, Monterey Park, Pasadena and Los Angeles County fire departments prevented the flames from spreading to adjacent buildings. Firefighters gained the upper hand on the fire in about three hours, but remained on scene afterward dousing hot spots. The cause of the fire was under investigation.A damage estimate was not immediately released. (Photo EGPNews/Fred Zermeno)

May 12, 2011 Issue

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

He Used All His Resources to Fight for Social Justice

May 12, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

He was born Jose Maria Sanchez on June 2, 1933 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but most people knew him as Joe.

Longtime businessman and community activist Joe Sanchez passed away Tuesday, May 10 at his home in Los Feliz, California following a long illness. He was 77.

Sanchez was a grocer, community activist, and first Latino Los Angeles Fire Department commissioner. He is currently featured in the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes inaugural exhibit LA Starts Here!

“We help the community, we help ourselves,” Sanchez says in the video recorded earlier this year.

The son of Jose Maria Sanchez and Ana Maria Montoya Sanchez, he was one of 8 children. The Montoya Sanchez family, originally from Spain, has deep roots in New Mexico, going back to the 1,600s.

In search of work, Joe’s father moved his family from Belen, New Mexico to Los Angeles following the outbreak of World War II. Joe was just eight years old.

Like his brothers and sisters, Joe learned the value of work early. He would often recall his jobs shining shoes and selling newspapers, starting at age 9. Like many of his generation, he would turn over part of his wages to his mother to help support the family, and it wasn’t until years later when he married, that he would find out his mother had saved much of that money for his future.

As a teenager, he worked at Weber and Sons, a local discount grocery store in the Wall Street/Olympic area of Los Angeles. That job would be the start of his career in the wholesale grocery business, which would one day expand to include a number of discount retail grocery outlets, including the La Quebradita grocery stores in East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera, co-owned with his sister and brother-in-law Dolores and Cal Soto, La Marketa in Stanton, and Civic Center Sales, originally located in Chinatown and later moved to Lincoln Heights.

Joe graduated from Jefferson High School. He did not attend college, but would often say his higher education was from “the school of hard knocks.” Lack of a college education did not keep him from being an astute businessman, or from serving on numerous civic and industry boards. He was a member of the Southern California Grocer’s Association and founded the Mexican American Grocer’s Association in 1977.

But while Sanchez was a successful businessman, his true passion was the pursuit of social justice for Mexican Americans and Chicanos, as well as other groups. For more than five decades he used his businesses as a catalyst for social change, to help fund the social justice and political causes he cared most about, from fighting discrimination in hiring and job promotion, to education to the anti-war movement, to the election of Mexican Americans to political office, and the opportunity for Mexican Americans to own businesses. He would support efforts to achieve immigration reform and to give the vote to Mexicans living in the U.S. in elections in Mexico, in hope that would lead to reforms in that country.

He supported the Chicano Moratoriums, and anti-war movement and was an avid supporter of the United Farm Workers, collecting truckloads of food for striking farm workers during the UFW’s prolonged grape and lettuce boycotts. Cesar Chavez and his family often stayed in the Sanchez home when he was in Los Angeles.

“During the most challenging and turbulent times of the farm worker movement, beginning in the 1960s and ‘70s, no one in the Latino community did more and could be counted on with greater consistency than Joe Sanchez. He was often the first person in the Chicano community to whom Cesar would turn when the farm workers needed help,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, reacting to the news of Sanchez’s passing.

Sanchez would host numerous fundraisers in his home for a myriad of Chicano causes and for aspiring politicians, including then LA City Councilmember and State Assembly member Antonio Villaraigosa, Gov. Jerry Brown, and others.

In 1973, Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to serve as a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners. He was elected to serve as President Pro Tem of the commission from 1973-76, and as Vice President from 1977-78, during which he pushed the LA Fire Department to stop discriminatory hiring practices against Mexican Americans, African Americans and Asians.

“His was the first voice on the Fire Commission that spoke boldly, no matter the consequences, for access, equity and fair treatment for all of the men and women in the Los Angeles Fire Service,” said Genethia Hudley-Hayes, president of the Los Angeles Board of Fire Commissioners.

“Joe Sanchez is an icon,” said Councilmember Ed P. Reyes.

In August 2010, Reyes paid tribute to Sanchez with a bronze plaque at Fire Station No.1 in Lincoln Heights. “He was one of the original defenders of our neighborhoods and an inspiring role model of public service. He struggled on behalf of others and fought vehemently against injustices so that future generations could prosper. I will miss Joe Sanchez. His legacy and passion still lives,” Reyes told EGP on Tuesday.

Sanchez was present for the ceremony and surrounded by family members, friends and admirers.

“I’m very grateful, … and I’m glad to see so many of the Hispanic community getting involved,” said Sanchez, after the plaque unveiling. “We’ve done well, but we can do better and the battle is not over yet,” he said following the ceremony.

The plaque states that as a commissioner, Sanchez distinguished himself through his commitment to the goals of the Consent Decree, a 1974 court-ordered mandate that required the department to hire minorities, “thus reinforcing the principles of social and equal justice through the employment of all people regardless of race, color, creed or national origin.”

“This city would not have paramedics if Joe Sanchez hadn’t stood up that day and challenged them to do it. We have some of the best and brightest paramedics today,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina during the August ceremony.

Joe Sanchez, left, with Cesar Chavez, right.

 

Reacting to news of his passing, Molina told EGP on Tuesday that from his earliest years, Sanchez fought tirelessly for Latino and minority equality.

“His participation in numerous civil rights and business organizations attests to this fact. Joe never hesitated to help the vulnerable and disenfranchised. His heart was always with the underdog. Joe actively supported both local and statewide elected officials he believed in—even when their causes were unpopular. I mourn Joe’s loss but I also celebrate his legacy… Joe touched many lives, and he will be missed,” Molina said.

“More than anything, Joe Sanchez wanted all Angelenos, regardless of skin color, or social or economic status, to have access to the many golden opportunities our great City has to offer,” said Councilmember José Huizar. “His was a life well-led and Los Angeles will forever be in his debt.”

During the August ceremony, Huizar reflected on how Sanchez’s struggles impacted his own opportunities in life. “Joe, I was only… a little boy, running around the streets of Boyle Heights as an immigrant who came to this country from Mexico,” Huizar said. “But it was people like you who made it possible for families like mine to have a future in this country—muchisimas gracias Joe.”

Upon hearing of Sanchez’s death, Councilmember Tom LaBonge (CD-4), who represents Los Feliz where Sanchez resided, called EGP personally to say “God Bless Joe Sanchez.”

“Joe Sanchez was great man, a pioneer,” he changed the course of the Los Angeles Fire Department for the better and greatly expanded the number of Latino firefighters, he said.

“Sanchez was an angel in the City of Angeles and now he is with the angels. We were so fortunate to have him, he was an inspiration to many and a fighter for all,” LaBonge said.

During the 1980s, Sanchez was the first person to publicly and financially support a discrimination lawsuit brought by a group of FBI officers who claimed they had been denied promotions because they were Hispanic. He was able to gather support in a community long wary of the agency for the controversial lawsuit, which the agents eventually won.

Longtime friend and former Bradley appointee Alberto Juarez, in a moving Facebook tribute to Sanchez, recounted how he recently spent time talking to Sanchez about his life: “As Joe went over his greatest accomplishments, he spoke not so much of the movement or business success but that of his family, his wife, children, and the host of grandchildren and great grandchildren, whom he hoped would build on his legacy of public service and love of Los Angeles. Personally, his greatest gift to me was his friendship. … Rather than lament the passing of a friend, I celebrate his life…”

Read this article in SPANISH: Él Uso Todos Sus Recursos para Luchar por la Justicia

Sanchez is survived by his wife, Laura Balverde Sanchez; sister and brother-in-law Dolores and Cal Soto, brothers and sisters-in-law Nicolas and Lila Sanchez, Alfred and Laura Sanchez, Alex and Teresa Sanchez and his five children and their spouses; Gloria (Sanchez) Alvarez, EGP’s managing editor and Mike Alvarez; Joe and Carla Sanchez; Michael and Christine Sanchez; Sarah (Sanchez) and Jon Ramos; Erica (Sanchez) and Jeremy Hinthorne, and 24 grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

A Rosary and funeral Mass will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, May 16 at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz. The burial will follow immediately at Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello.  A Memorial Celebration will follow at LA Plaza in downtown Los Angeles (adjacent to Olvea Street).

 The family has asked that in lieu flowers, donations be made to LA Plaza in Joe Sanchez’s name. Donations can be mailed to LA Plaza at 501 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Northeast Angelenos Call on the Community to March Against Violence

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Seventeen-year-old Michelle Lozano, whose naked body was dumped on the side of the freeway, was laid to rest on Friday, May 6; one day later, across town, shots rang out in Glassell Park and claimed the life of another teenager, Jose Antonio Madera, while a second victim is in critical condition.

While the Los Angeles Police Departments boasts the lowest crime rate per capita since the 1950s, families and communities continue to suffer the senseless violence that motivates local peace activists to rally their communities to take a stand against gangs, crime and violence.

Lozano, a Lincoln Heights resident, lived on the second floor of La Fortuna Market on Griffin Avenue, which was also the site of an armed robbery on April 23—two days before her body was discovered wrapped in plastic near the State Street exit of the Golden State Freeway. Police have not confirmed a connection between the robbery and her death.

Over 400 people attended a vigil held for Michelle Lozano. Her body was discovered on April 25. (Photo couresy of Richard Mangaser, No Youth Left Out)

 

LAPD Hollenbeck Station Detectives are still investigating her murder, and while the authorities say they have leads, little information has been made public. As of Tuesday, her cause of death had not been determined, Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the coroner’s office told EGP.

Richard Mangaser, of No Youth Left Out (NYLO) based in Lincoln Heights, organized a vigil in her memory that drew 400 people. Lozano was not the type of teenage girl that “goes around looking for trouble,” he told EGP, adding that a Peace March in the Lincoln Heights area was being planned.

On May 7, Jose Antonio Madera, 19, was fatally shot in Glassell Park, a second victim, whose name was withheld by police, was hospitalized in critical condition with multiple bullet wounds to his upper body and head. The shooting is under investigation by the Northeast LAPD substation, no arrests were immediately made.

While the tragic stories, bloodied sidewalks, and tear-stained faces of grieving family members repeat time and again, there are efforts underway to reclaim the streets and offer young people an alternative opportunity for betterment—or empowerment for a better tomorrow, as the organizers of the Peace in the Northeast Community March & Resource Fair would say.

This Saturday, the march and the resource fair will take place; it is now in it’s fourth year. Organizers acknowledge that crime is down but there is still fear that it can easily erupt again, Dr. Stan Moore told EGP on Monday.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Angelinos Hacen Un Llamado en Contra de la Violencia

Gun buy-back programs, police raids on the Drew Street gang, LAPD Northeast Division’s youth boxing program, Basketball at the San Fernando Headquarters, injunctions against 5 local gangs; gang intervention programs like the Children’s Hospital L.A.’s GYRD program; Summer Night Lights at more City Recreation Centers, and, the annual Peace in the Northeast marches—are all examples of efforts that have helped reduce crime, Moore wrote in an email.

“[But] We have many students who are facing daily recruitment from gangs—and may respond to the pressures if we do not march,” Moore said, noting that many of those stories are told first hand during Peace Inc. meetings. Peace Inc., is a combination of Joe Carmona’s Peace Warriors and Peace Parents, the grass roots organization that provides moral support for youth and families dealing with gang violence.

“Somehow we have to convince students at all levels that you do not kill someone because he or she is from Atwater and not Cypress Park, or that someone likes the Giants baseball team and not the Dodgers,” Moore said, making reference to the brutal attack of a Giants’ fan Bryan Stow during the Dodger’s opening game in March.

Stow’s family has been invited to speak at the opening rally for the March. Stow could be taken off life support this week, Moore said.

Moore and the organizing committee, composed of numerous neighborhood councils, faith-based organizations, and local gang intervention groups, invite the public to march with them this Saturday.

Assembly for the march will begin at 10 a.m. at the Glassell Park Senior Center (located at Verdugo and Eagle Rock Blvd.), and brief speeches by local elected officials and police will begin at 10:30 am. Families of victims of violence are also scheduled to share their stories.

The three-mile march will begin moving south on Verdugo at 10:45 am, west on Ave. 33, east on Cypress Ave., and then northbound on Jeffries Ave. onto the Florence Nightingale Middle School (3311 N. Figueroa St) campus at around 11:45am.

On May 7, several residents gathered to pray for victims of gang violence and promote participation in this Saturday’s 4th Annual Peace in the Northeast Community March and Resource Fair. (Photo courtesy of Peace Inc.)

 

Bus transportation to the Glassell Park Senior Center at 9:30 am, and from Nightingale Middle School after the march at 3:30pm will be available at: Irving Middle School and Fletcher Elementary School; Franklin High School; and Luther Burbank Middle School.

The resource fair will take place toward the rear of the school at Jeffries Avenue, and includes free food, 33 tables with local resource organization information, and live entertainment. NBA player Al-Farouq will give a basketball demonstration and share tips. A kid’s zone for children age 6 and under will also be available.

For more information contact Ben Castro at (323) 258-7878.

LAUSD School Board Candidates to Face Off in Tuesday’s Runoff

May 12, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

One of the two races in this Tuesday’s run-off election is a contest for the District 5 seat in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Board of Education. Candidates Luis Sanchez and Benett Kayser were the highest vote getters in the general election, but neither secured a high enough percentage of votes, they will face off in the May 17 election.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Los Candidatos a la Junta Escolar de LAUSD Se Enfrentarán en la Elección de Este Martes

Kayser, an LAUSD administrator and retired Irving Middle School teacher, is endorsed by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the Los Angeles Professional Managers’ Association (LAPMA), the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 12, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD-5) and several retired elected officials, according to his campaign website.

Sanchez has been endorsed by dozens of organization that include current elected officials—five current Los Angeles Council members, three current LAUSD School Board Members, Los Angeles Supervisor Gloria Molina, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and many others, according to his campaign website. Eastern Group Publications, publisher of this newspaper, endorsed Sanchez during the primary, as did La Opinion and the Los Angeles Times.

The March 8 election results showed Sanchez ahead of Kayser by over 1,360 votes; Sanchez received 9,500 votes and Kayer received 8,132. To date, neither candidate has the endorsement of Yolie Flores who is vacating the School Board District 5 seat.

Both campaigns have engaged in negative campaigns, mailers dissimulate defending their candidate while accusing the other of wrongdoing.

Kayser’s supporters have accused Sanchez of selling-out public education through a so-called influx of cash from corporations and have appealed to teacher’s interest regarding layoffs and linking pay to test scores.
Sánchez’s campaign has called Kayser the downtown bureaucrat’s candidate.

Last week, Sánchez’s campaign filed a complaint against UTLA independent expenditure committee and Bennett Kayser’s campaign alleging multiple ethics violations.

They formally requested an investigation into supposed illegal coordination by Kayser and the United Teachers of Los Angeles independent expenditure committee for a mailer that showed a copy of a receipt of Kayser’s property taxes.

A report released Tuesday by the Ethics Commission report indicates that both candidates’ campaigns have been well-funded.

School Board Candidate Q&A: In order to give readers insight into the candidates before the election, EGP asked the candidates to answer a few questions. The responses by the candidates alternate without preference and have not been edited.

EGP Question: Critics of your campaign claim you cannot be independent of your supporters and campaign contributors. Will you be able to make decisions contrary to what these groups may want, for example in regards to school reform and/or budget cuts? Please explain.

Kayser: “I would say those critics are mistaken. I am a teacher; I will be a likely vote on issues that improve students’ classroom experiences and learning. I am a parent and a taxpayer; I will be an unlikely vote on issues that take away learning resources from the classroom. I have Parkinson’s Disease and, therefore, I will be a strong advocate for kids and employees with special needs. My values are not for sale.”

Sanchez: “I am proud of the diverse coalition of parents, teachers, labor, local business and community leaders that have united behind my campaign. I have received donations from over 400 different contributors, some of which have never donated to a political campaign before because they know I will be an independent voice on the School Board. If elected to office, I will not owe favors to any particular individual or group, which will allow me to work on the tough issues facing LAUSD with the sole focus on what is best for our students.”

EGP Question: Given the state of the economy and the school district budget, under a worse case scenario, meaning the revenue numbers stay as they are today, if you were given a line-item budget veto, what things would you cut? Please explain.

Sanchez: “It is critical that we focus on creating fiscal accountability, strong neighborhood schools and provide the opportunity of a world class education to every child. We must work hard to protect the classroom as much as we can, and streamline bureaucracy so that funds allocated for our schools are well spent and if any budget cuts are needed, these cuts do not have an impact on our kids education.”

Kayser: “I would invest in a “Culture of Quality” that will cut the wastefulness of doing jobs over when they could have been done right the first time. I would cut the number of school days to reduce the budget deficit and keep staffing at a level that will cut the overcrowding of students in classrooms. I will work to cut the time it is taking to collect the $110,000,000 LAUSD is owed annually by the Community Redevelopment Agency.”

EGP Question: Superintendent John Deasy has announced he will change the Public School Choice reform process, including the elimination of the community advisory vote. In your words, what is the role of Public School Choice in LAUSD, how can it be improved, and has it been effective?

Kayser: “PSC is an effort to improve learning in LAUSD’s classrooms. At this time there is no evidence it has made any difference in student outcomes. On the positive side, PSC has started a conversation among many stakeholder interest groups and people who weren’t aware of the unsatisfactory conditions in and around their children’s classrooms. They have now taken interest and become empowered to expect change. On the negative side, this competitive model to claim and to operate the campuses has brought out the dark side of the interest groups as they become pitted against each other rather than collaborating to achieve common goals.

PSC could be improved with a moratorium on new startup campuses and analyzing what has worked and what hasn’t thus far. Until such a study has been done, we don’t know whether the tremendous number of scarce dollars and hard-worked hours expended on the project were well spent.

Hopefully, the Superintendent meant that he will recommend changes to the School Board which will then decide whether or not to implement them. I believe that the community advisory vote is valuable as it further notifies the stakeholders of LAUSD’s intentions, and it provides a snapshot of what the stakeholders think of the project. Transparency is always good.”

Sanchez: “The role of Public School Choice in the LAUSD is to ensure that every neighborhood provides a quality education to every child regardless of their city and to engage local parents, teachers and community leaders to take a leadership role in empowering their local school. We need to make decisions based on what is best for our students and our community. For far too long, our children have suffered the consequences of low expectations and been held captive by an underperforming school. Public choice gives us the opportunity to change that and expect nothing less than a great school in every neighborhood. Our kids and families deserve it and as a board member I will fight to make it a reality.”

EGP: Based on your experience with LAUSD, please give an example of a school in District 5 that is “working” without special funding or grants from out resources. Please explain your response.

Sanchez: “I believe Maywood Elementary School is a great example of what can be accomplished when a dedicated team of a principal, teachers and parents come together and focus on children and improving student achievement. Maywood Elementary demonstrates that a great school is possible in every neighborhood and we need to fight to ensure that every child has access to a quality education.”

Kayser: “I don’t know of a District 5 school that does not receive some sort of outside funding. Whether it be the Free/Reduced Lunch Program, or Special Education, or ESL, or community support groups such as PTA and ‘Friends of…’ organizations, newspaper subscriptions or donated computers and software, every school receives additional funding.”

For more information on Kayser visit his campaign website at http://kayserforschoolboard.org/

For more information on Sanchez visit his campaign website at http://sanchezforschoolboard.com/

Commerce Holds Budget Meetings; Deals With $1.5 Million Deficit

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce is holding twice a week meetings this  month to work through a projected $1.5 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

City spokesperson Brian Wolfson says the deficit is the result of “increased costs for health benefits for current employees, pensions, fire and sheriff’s contracts, maintaining city owned facilities and road maintenance.”

While working through its budget last year, officials were already expecting to face another $1 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

This would be the third year in a row Commerce has had to contemplate cuts. Last year the city implemented new user fees for services and made cuts to its Library and Parks and Recreations departments. Employees took a two percent pay cut, and some top officials also docked their own salaries.

The city’s deficit this coming year could come out to be even higher if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies is passed. The city would face an additional shortfall of $4.184 million that would be “devastating to the community,” according to Finance Director Vilko Domic.

The city of Commerce officially opposes Brown’s proposal and has contributed to a legal defense fund to fight the loss of local redevelopment funds. Cities are able to retain control over more local property taxes through setting up redevelopment zones where the purpose of those funds is to go toward eliminating blight.

In Commerce, redevelopment agency funds have been used to bring about major projects such as the Citadel Retail Outlets and the Vista Del Rio Housing Development.

During a public meeting on Monday, the city council received presentations from the Community Services and Public Safety divisions. The city’s contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department were also discussed.

On Tuesday, staff gave presentations on the Finance, Administration, Public Information Office, Human Resources and City Clerk’s Office.

Next Monday and Wednesday, meetings scheduled from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm will focus on the Library and Parks & Recreation departments. Meetings on May 24 and June 8 will focus on Community Development, Transportation, Redevelopment and Capital Improvement Projects.

Tired Of Waiting, Truck Drivers Consider Moving On

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Roberto Aqino sits waiting in the cab of his cargo truck on Atlantic Blvd in Commerce. Today, like most days since the beginning of the recession, he has no cargo to move.

“My biggest wish is to open a restaurant,” he says. While the recession is technically over, the prospects are not much better than back in 2008. Aqino does not see a future in owning and operating his own truck, and neither does he see himself losing his autonomy by going to work for a big trucking company.

At one time, business was good. Hauling cargo, either locally or from the ports, used to pay the bills for his home in South Los Angeles. Jobs would keep him busy six out of seven days of the week, he says.

But for the last three years, a regular week has meant a couple of hours on Monday, and a few hours on Tuesday. The rest is spent parked on a commercial street in Commerce, near potential jobs, and his take home pay these days usually amounts to $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Aqino says it is better than sitting at home. And in any case, the bank is in the process of foreclosing on his home.
Cargo-less trucks could be seen parked all around Commerce where many industrial businesses are located. This is where the jobs are, and things are picking up, but not enough to make it worth their while, drivers say.

At the 7-11 on Washington Blvd, truck driver Richard Estrada is ready to retire. He blames Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and thinks there is an effort to push owner-operators like him out of business to make way for larger trucking companies.

Working for one of those companies means they get less respect, and less pay. The point of becoming a truck driver is that one could pay for a house, raise a family, pay for their children’s education, and still save up for a rainy day, said Estrada, who himself lives in Whittier.

Now it’s just another low-paying job with no future, he says.

Meanwhile, environmental regulations seem to be the number one topic that raises the ire of many of the drivers. Those regulations only seem to favor big companies that can afford the upgrades, they say, and have sealed the fate for owner-operators like them.

Aqino called the PM filters he was required to install onto his truck to reduce harmful emissions a “$13,000 piece of crap” that only lasts a couple of years. He already pays insurance, taxes, registration fees, and maintenance costs for his own truck.

Meanwhle, Estrada says the school buses his children take spew smoke that is blacker, and worse-smelling, than anything that comes out of their own trucks.

He has been in the business now for 23 years. “I like being a truck driver, but anyway, I have to throw it away now.”

Obama Says ¡Sí, Se Puede! to Immigration Reform

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

President Obama’s visit to El Paso to renew call for passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill couldn’t have come too soon. Five months into his White House tenure, Obama’s approval ratings among Latinos topped an all-time high of more than 80 percent. Two years later, it had free fallen to slightly more than 50 percent. The tumble in part is blamed on the souring economy and the double-digit unemployment rate among Latinos.

But in bigger part it is due to the feeling among Latino leaders and organizations that Obama has done little to keep his campaign promise to push hard for comprehensive immigration reform. Obama did lash the GOP for torpedoing comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Congress on the two occasions when it appeared that the bill had a chance to pass. But it’s also true that the White House has not put its full political muscle behind pushing a reform package in Congress.

Obama isn’t totally to blame for this. The crushing problems and bruising fights over deficit reduction, spending, health care reform, coupled with high soaring gas prices and the jobless crisis have been endless and time consuming. Every step of the way he’s had to battle an obstructionist, intransigent and petty GOP determined to make him pay a steep political price for every inch of legislative ground he gains.

Polls also consistently show that a majority of Americans still perceive immigration reform as a license to open the borders to a new flood of undocumented workers, and that’s tantamount to condoning illegality. Worse, the fight for immigration reform now comes at a time when millions of Americans are in the unemployment lines. To pick a fight over immigration, risks stirring up bitter, divisive, and xenophobic hysteria from anti-immigration groups.

This is a political risk that Obama seemingly cannot afford.

But it’s a risk that Obama will have to take. Republicans at this juncture appear fragmented and even clownish with their birther nuttiness and their media grandstanding. Yet, whoever eventually emerges as the GOP presidential nominee will hammer the Democrats hard on the twin themes of their alleged gross economic and fiscal mismanagement and profligacy, and the need for strong leadership. Those themes will resonate with the GOP’s traditional base, and a large number of moderate-to-conservative independents who deserted Obama in droves the past year.

The Latino vote remains crucial to offset that. Latino voters could provide the margin of victory in the must win swing states of Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

Immigration reform is still potentially a major make or break issue for the overwhelming majority of Latinos. The GOP debacle in 2008 was in part the price they paid for playing hardball on this issue and souring millions of Latinos on the party. Then President George W. Bush was widely and unfairly blamed for making a mess of the immigration reform fight in Congress by not pushing hard enough for passage of the bill. Immigrant rights groups lambasted Republican senators for piling crippling demands for tight amnesty, citizenship and border security provisions in the bill. And leading Republican presidential contenders didn’t help matters by flatly opposing the bill as much too soft on amnesty and border enforcement.

This did much to kill whatever flickering hope there was for the bill’s passage. This undid the inroads that Bush made in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections when he scored big with Latino voters. A big part of that then was due to the perception (and reality) that Bush would push hard for immigration reform. Bush campaign officials jumped on the newly found Latino support he got and pumped millions into ads on Spanish-language networks — Univision and Telemundo — that aired in New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. The ads were geared to increase the Republican vote total among Latinos by as much as 5 percent. This was the figure that Republican strategists figured would help tip these states to Bush. They figured correctly. And GOP strategists won’t make that towering mistake again of antagonizing Latino voters by playing relentless hardball on immigration reform.

Obama’s battle for the Latino vote with the opening salvo being his renewed push for immigration reform is not to head off any major defection of Latino voters to the GOP. There’s no chance of that. The polls that show Latinos less enthusiastic about Obama also show absolutely no enthusiasm for any GOP would-be presidential candidate, let alone translate into a massive vote for GOP candidates. The real peril is that the lack of enthusiasm for Obama could translate into a diminished Latino voter turnout in November 2012. A plunge in the Latino turnout would be as disastrous to Obama and the Democrats as a Latino defection would be to the GOP.

Obama’s frontal challenge to the GOP to do something about immigration reform is a smart move. It recognizes that taking the Latino vote for granted is a prescription for political disaster.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com

Luis Sanchez Still Has Our ‘Vote’ On May 17

May 12, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

We are reaffirming our endorsement of Luis Sanchez in the March Primary for District 5 of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Sanchez is competing for the seat currently held by Yoli Flores, who decided to not seek another term: a loss to us all.

We are convinced that Sanchez will continue Flores’ efforts to push school reform and put an end to the status quo that mired the LAUSD in mediocre educational reforms that did little to bring about meaningful change at many of the District schools.

We have confidence that Sanchez will be able to be a more independent voice on the Board than his opponent, Bennett Kayser.

Sanchez has said that he believes there is a great need to increase parent participation in their children’s education, he is right.

Ultimately, no matter who is in the Board, if more parents do not begin to see the importance of their involvement in their child’s education, large-scale progress and improvement will be difficult to achieve. It is not up to teachers alone.  It is our hope that greater parent involvement will stop the tide of school dropouts, in the 5th district and all across LAUSD.

In our view, Sanchez’s participation at the grassroots of parent involvement makes him the candidate best suited to continue the effort to build on Flores’ efforts to engage parents in the reforms that need to take place in the LAUSD.

EGP understands that change is often difficult to live through, is it our feeling that with Luis Sanchez, and the other reform minded members on the Board, we will begin to see higher success rates among the District’s students.

So, while few Angelenos may have to go out and vote next Tuesday, there are still a number of voters in the city who have important votes to cast. We urge them all, as tiring as it may seem, to go out and vote on May 17.

Obama at the Border: Will Enforcement Strategy Backfire with Latino Voters?

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

As President Obama spoke from the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso Tuesday, DREAM Act student Julieta Garibay wondered about another border – the one that stands between Obama and his re-election bid.

“How are we going to keep our dignity while voting for this man who is hurting our community so much?” asked Garibay, 30, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. “He’s deported the most immigrants in history. His enforcement-only approach (to immigration reform) sounds just like the Republican approach. And he expects us to vote for him?”

The political strategy at the heart of Obama’s speech – appealing to Latino voters by lauding immigrants, while appealing to anti-immigrant voters by playing up record-breaking deportations and other punitive policies – has brought the Obama administration to the brink of Latino voter disaster.

For some, like Garibay, President Obama’s record on enforcement speaks louder than his words. Her response to his speech reflects what could become one of the greatest threats to his re-election bid: Latino disillusionment with Obama.

Against the backdrop of a big beige wall of solid rock and American flags flying in the heat of the desert surrounding El Paso, the President delivered a speech that tried to balance sounding tough, even militaristic, on crime and immigration while sounding compassionate toward immigrants themselves.

“Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history,” said Obama, adding, “The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents — more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build-up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.”

Obama concluded by discussing the sacrifices made by DREAM Act students like Garibay. “And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military,” he said. “That’s why we need to pass the DREAM Act,” which would provide qualifying young people legal status and a path to citizenship.

But Obama’s actions — deploying armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents into the homes of terrorized children and families – could derail much of whatever good will his speeches foster.

Studies by the University of Syracuse and other institutions document that under the Obama administration, ICE has deported record-breaking numbers of immigrants.

No less important than the statistical reality are the less-documented effects on communities: fear, disappointment and growing anger among immigrants and non-immigrants alike. A barrage of daily images and stories of violent immigration raids on homes and workplaces is taking an effect on Latino neighborhoods throughout the country, neighborhoods teeming with potential Latino voters.

Following the announcement of the Osama bin Laden killing, polls showed a slight increase in pro-Obama sentiment among Latinos. At the same time, however, a recent poll by Latino Decisions, one of the country’s pre-eminent Latino polling organizations, found that Obama’s immigration policies could be costing him Latino votes. “Our April poll shows President Obama doing okay with an overall approval of 73 percent,” said Matt Baretto, pollster for Latino Decisions and a professor at the University of Washington. “However, he only has 41 percent of Latinos saying they are certain to vote for him.”

“Those drifting to vote from ‘certain’ to ‘not sure’ are people who say immigration reform is the number one issue,” Baretto added. “This is an issue that affects almost all Latino households because the overwhelming majority of Latinos are related to or know somebody who is an immigrant.”

Within the complex world of immigration politics, two issues have arisen as the litmus test for Obama’s commitment to immigrants: stopping the deportation of DREAM Act students like Garibay, and fundamentally altering or abolishing agreements between local police and federal immigration authorities such as the Secure Communities program in which the fingerprints of anyone arrested are sent to immigration authorities.

While the President stated in his speech that his administration has “increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent,” ICE records reveal that many of those arrested and deported under Secure Communities are non-criminals.

Obama’s ability to deliver on his promises will determine whether Latinos perceive him as a friend deserving of political support or the Commander in Chief of a war on immigrants, deserving of political protest. Following his El Paso speech, hundreds of DREAM Act students and their families converged on an Obama fundraiser in Austin to demand he stop deporting DREAM Act students immediately.

The day after Obama’s speech, the DREAM Act was reintroduced in Congress by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Representatives Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., plan to introduce a similar bill in the House.

But until the immigration system is changed, Latinos like the Garibay family face a constant threat of possible deportation and separation. If put in a position of having to choose between Republicans militarizing immigration policy and Obama militarizing immigration policy, some Latinos will likely choose neither, and stay home — not because they don’t care, but because they view the choice as an indignity.

“Many people feel deceived by Obama,” said Garibay. “My mom voted for Obama. So did many of family and friends. But since he hasn’t done anything but make our lives worse, some of them are starting to wonder who the Republican running against Obama is. Most of them are questioning if they even want to vote.”

Journalist Roberto Lovato writes for New America Media as well as other media outlets.

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