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
shadows.”

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.

CA Lawmakers Move to Protect Undocumented Workers

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increase in enforcement actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic impact of fear

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

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

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

It also may have a chilling effect on consumer spending.

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

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

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

Three steps to take now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about Mission Asset Fund’s Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants, go to: bit.ly/prepmyfam. For information about Ready California, go to: ready-california.org.

L.A. County Votes to Create Foster Youth ‘Bill of Rights’

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a “bill of rights” for foster youth that lays out rights, resources and services available to kids and their foster parents.

California has its own such bill, but county officials said it’s outdated and doesn’t include county programs.

Supervisor Janice Hahn championed the move.

“The former foster youth who spoke at (Tuesday’s) meeting told us how frustrating it can be maneuvering the foster care system when you do not know your own rights or the resources available to you,” Hahn said. “This bill of rights will be a way for both foster youth and foster parents to know every tool, service and program that has been created to support them.”

Examples include a policy that allows social workers to act in lieu of a parent to help a foster child get a driver’s license and the fact that foster youth have access to MediCal until age 26.

Six current and former foster youth will join the bill of rights working group. Hahn had originally proposed two representatives but upped the total based on feedback at the board meeting.

The group, to be led by the Department of Children and Family Services, is also expected to include county lawyers, mental health workers, probation officers, health care professionals and representatives of various community- based organizations.

Advocates said that concerns about navigating the foster care system deter some potential foster parents at a time when the need is great.

Others noted the complexities of the foster care system.

“I’m a 40-something-year-old woman, a lawyer and a mom. I’ve worked and volunteered in the child welfare system for over 15 years and I still struggle to keep up with what the laws are,” Wende Nichols-Julien told the board. “The people within the system, the people affected by these laws deserve to know what the laws say.”

In Nichols-Julien’s case, understanding the laws helped a girl she was mentoring avoid moving into a group home while she was working to reunite with her family.

A state effort to reform foster care requires that foster youth have access to specialized mental health treatment, transitional support as they move from foster to permanent home placement, connections with siblings and extended family members and transportation to school.

Roughly 35,000 children and young adults receive child welfare services from the Department of Children and Family Services. A little less than half live outside their homes in a foster care or group home.

A report back is expected in 120 days.

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