Immigration documentary explores meaning of ‘American’

By Heidi Carreon, Neon Tommy

As the sun beat down on day two of the L.A. Times Festival of Books, visitors stayed cool in the University of Southern California’s darkened Ray Stark theater. But the room was silent as a documentary opened with bustling scenes of Manila, capital of the Philippines, flickering across the screen.

“I always knew I was going to America,” the words of Jose Antonio Vargas, activist and Pulitzer Prize Winner, echoed throughout the room. “America seemed…inevitable.” [Read more…]

LA County vows support for immigrants

Supervisors will create a task force to help deferred action applicants even as Obama’s relief programs are halted.

Supervisor Hilda Solis announces the creation of task force to help immigrants applying for deferred action. | D. Solomon

Supervisor Hilda Solis announces the creation of task force to help immigrants applying for deferred action. | D. Solomon

Los Angeles County officials voted Tuesday to put resources in place to help immigrants apply for deportation relief, despite a federal judge’s ruling last week to halt an expansion of the Obama administration’s deferred action programs.

The Board of Supervisors decided in a 4-1 vote to create a task force that would ensure support for the nearly 500,000 county residents who qualify for work permits and legal residency under two new federal programs.

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who proposed the task force along with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, said county agencies need to prepare for the likelihood that the federal court ban is reversed. [Read more…]

Obama announces immigration reform


Obama addresses voters | Flickr Creative Commons

President Obama announced Thursday executive actions that will remove the threat of deportation and grant work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants. This will apply to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for five years or more. Obama also expanded his 2012 action which authorized young people who came to the United States as children to remain legally in the country, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Since Congress has stagnated for years on creating immigration reform that changes laws and a path to citizenship, Obama issued the reform with his own presidential authority. [Read more…]

First-person: “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” showcases search for identity


Certain themes struck a chord for me in “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders), a performance last week at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. These stories conjured the struggles and complexity of being an undocumented immigrant growing up in the United States, and the search for identity in an adopted country that rejects us because of our status. Some of the individual stories resonated more than others, but I made a rooted connection with the idea of having to assimilate, being uncertain about whether I could attend college and the transformation from powerlessness to empowerment when I went from being a member of a disenfranchised group to becoming an activist on behalf of immigrants.

The character named Gabe, played by local actor Jose Julian, reminded me of my privilege benefiting from policies like AB-540, a law that has helped me pay in-state tuition; Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA), which grants me temporary legal status; and the California DREAM Act, a law that is helping me pay for college. Because he is from a different generation, Gabe did not grow up with all these benefits and a college education to him seems like an impossible dream. But these limitations do not define Gabe. [Read more…]

Undocumented youth dream with music, without borders

By Danielle Charbonneau and Ana Gonzalez


Dreaming Sin Fronteras on stage in Denver, where the show originated. | Dreaming Sin Fronteras Facebook

Dreaming Sin Fronteras, which comes to the University of Southern California on Oct. 16, blends music, art and theater to explore the narratives of young people who call themselves “dreamers” — undocumented youth who dream big, but battle obstacles.

Approximately five million undocumented children and young adults live in the United States, and about a million of them live in California. Most of them have grown up in America their entire lives and consider themselves American. But without legal documentation, they are often unable to pursue higher education or legitimate employment. As of 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has helped some youth under thirty to work legally and avoid getting sent out of the U.S. — at least for two year-periods.

See also: Why I should get in-state tuition as an undocumented student

Still, many of these “dreamers” fear deportation and many are actively seeking a pathway to citizenship. (A version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, has passed in California as well as in 14 others states, but has yet to meet federal approval. The California act assists undocumented students with financial aid.)

[Read more…]

Activists protest deportations of Central American immigrant children

Activists fast to advocate for immigrant rights. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Activists fast to advocate for immigrant rights. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Several human rights activist organizations gathered at Central American Resource Center near McArthur Park on Tuesday to send a message out to Congress: Don’t change current laws that protect children who emigrate alone from Central America.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, allows unaccompanied minors who cross the border from Central America to have their cases individually considered by a judge. The law is meant to protect children who are fleeing from violence and abuse in their home countries.

“[This law] gives them the right to explain why they have fled their country and what the consequences would be if they were returned,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, directing attorney at the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.”If Congress does away with these hearings, many children could be forcibly returned to deadly situations after only a cursory screening at the border or through an inadequate court process that disregards recognized standards of justice.” [Read more…]

South LA tribute to Gabriel García Márquez

El coronel necesitó setenta y cinco años — los setenta y cinco años de su vida, minuto a minuto –para llegar a ese instante. Se sintió puro, explicito, invencible, en el momento de responder.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez at | Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2009 | Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara

I laughed out loud to myself as I finished reading “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.”


This is the answer that took the colonel seventy-five years of his life to provide in response to his wife as she pestered him about what they were going to eat.

“No One Writes to the Colonel” is the second novel I read by Gabriel García Márquez. It is one of my favorite books written by him, with one of the best endings that I have ever read. It is sad that Latin America has lost one of its most prized writers. But to me, he lives on in his stories and in the love of people who want change.

I discovered Márquez — also called El Gabo, a diminutive of affection among his friends and fans — in my first English class in community college two years ago when I read the “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” In this short story Márquez transforms the life of an isolated village when its residents become enamored of a dead man who washes up on their shore. Gabo gives life to a drowned man with his magical realism in stunning, straightforward prose. Instantly, I added him to my list of must-read authors, venturing to learn still more about El Gabo and his art. [Read more…]

Immigration coalition cheers new Senate bill

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Immigration celebration.

A coalition of LA immigration groups is preparing for a May Day rally while the Senate debates immigration reform.

Immigrant families, Dream Act students and community leaders showed their support for the recent steps taken towards immigration reform at a press conference Thursday morning.

A bipartisan group of senators filed an 844 page bill Wednesday, which would establish a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, in exchange for paying fines.

David Huerta, the secretary treasurer of SEIU, a labor union, said he was tired of the toll immigration had placed on families.

“More than 11 million immigrants live and work in the United States without basic and legal protections,” said Huerta. “Our broken immigration system tears families apart, crushes the dreams of young people, and creates an underground economy that hurts all workers.”

One of those young people is Justin Amora, a Dream Act student.  He says his mother has dedicated her life to working so he can get an education. Now he feels optimistic his mother might have a path to citizenship.

“She sacrificed so much,” Amora said. “She worked more than three jobs, sometimes working more than 60 hours per week to give us a better life, to provide us with food, andn to ensure that we graduated from college.”

This bill was unveiled

A coalition of LA immigration groups is preparing for a May Day rally while the Senate debates immigration reform.[/caption]

two weeks before May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, which celebrates workers and their rights.

“We are here, asking the public to join the movement for immigration rights, asking immigrants to step it up this year because we need to pass immigration reform and to join us on May 1,” said Angelica Salas, the executive director for the Coalition for Humane Human Rights.

This year’s May Day rally will take place in downtown Los Angeles.

Perry applauds immigration directive that will cease undocumented student deportations

imageThe United We Dream Network had scheduled a “Right to Dream” community mobilization for 8:30 on Friday, but organizers awoke to learn that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would cease deportations of eligible undocumented student immigrants and even grant them the opportunity to apply for work authorization.

“We’re very excited, but we’re concerned about the implementation of the entire program,” said Justino Mora, a UCLA political science student and leader of the California Dream Network. “We know this is only temporary and just one step in the right direction. We need to put more pressure on Congress to do something more comprehensive. We want them to see this as a civil and human rights issue.”

Mora pointed out the group had picked Friday, June 15 for their protest because it was the 30th year anniversary of the Plyler v Doe Supreme Court decision, which “struck down a California statute denying undocumented immigrants the right to an affordable K-12 education.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who’s district has a large immigrant and undocumented population, immediately issued a statement on the immigration policy change:

“For far too long our outdated immigration laws have divided families and punished young people by ripping them away from the country, family, and community that they have grown up with and loved.” Perry stated the “announcement is an incredible step in the right direction and I applaud our President for moving us forward on immigration reform.”

The action is not a new law. It’s an immigration policy change that implements an existing provision of immigration law called “deferred action” through prosecutorial discretion. This basically means that DHS will evaluate each case and determine whether a person is eligible, under the established guidelines, to remain in the country for a period of two years, suspending deportation proceedings.

“This is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people,” said President Obama shortly after the DHS announced the immigration policy change.

Not all undocumented students will benefit. In order to be eligible for deferred action, the person must:

Have come to the United States before the age of 16;

Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years before June 15, 2012 and currently live in the country;

Be currently in school, have graduated from high school, gotten a GED, or have been honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;

Not be above the age of 30.

Crimes against Miramonte students may lead to immigration benefit

imageParents gathered last week to protest the school’s reopening with an entirely new staff.

With tears in his eyes Edgar, the father of a student at Miramonte Elementary says he wants to make sure his daughter is safe in the school. But he’s also afraid of speaking out. “I’m undocumented,” he whispers in Spanish. “I want to protect my daughter, but I have a lot to lose if they find out.”

The student body of Miramonte Elementary School is 98 percent Latino. How many students have undocumented parents is unclear. However, according to the school website, 56 percent of the students are English-language learners, and about one percent are considered “migrant” students.

As an undocumented immigrant, Edgar was hesitant about coming forward when he learned about the arrest of teachers Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, who have been charged with multiple counts of committing lewd acts against children at the school. But he attended a meeting at Miramonte last Thursday, where, in light of the sex abuse scandal involving the two teachers, parents were given the option of transferring their children to other LAUSD schools.

“I told them I didn’t trust them and that I would pull my daughter out of this school. Now a sheriff [deputy] is asking me for my name and information,” he says with fear.

imageMark Berndt, 61, was arrested in January on suspicion of committing lewd acts upon a child.

Another parent, Edward Ozuna, tries to calm Edgar down. “Brother, you have rights. You have to speak up. Just because you don’t have papers doesn’t mean you can’t report a crime. You have to, so it never happens again.”

Ozuna, a legal resident, has become a spokesman for many of the Miramonte parents who don’t have legal status in the country. “They’re afraid that if they speak or protest, they could get reported to immigration. And now, with the investigation, it’s worse, because the Sheriff department is doing it and they work with immigration,” he says.

Ozuna is referring to the Secure Communities program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program is designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. Agencies that participate in the program send fingerprints to criminal databases and give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to information on the people they’re holding in jail.

The school is located in Florence-Firestone, an unincorporated area of South Los Angeles, under the jurisdiction of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department – and it participates in the Secure Communities program.

imageMartin Springer, another teacher at Miramonte, was arrested four days after Mark Berndt.

“We are not asking parents anything about their legal status,” affirms Lt. Carlos Marquez of the Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau. “I met with all the parents that attended the parent town hall meetings and I told them in Spanish that they have nothing to fear, no matter what their immigration status. We are only seeking information that could help us in the investigation of this case.”

Marquez says they’ve received a “consistent stream of emails and phone calls from the beginning” from parents and former students and they’re following all leads.

“Parents should never be afraid to report a crime, whether they’re undocumented or documented,” says immigration attorney Nelson A. Castillo.

That may be easier said than done for some fearful parents. But cooperating with law enforcement could end up giving them an unexpected immigration benefit.

“The children were allegedly victims of sexual abuse, so that may make them eligible for a U Visa, which could grant them lawful status in the United States, if they are undocumented,” states Castillo. “If the children are U.S. citizens, their undocumented parents and unmarried siblings under the age of 18 may qualify for a U visa as indirect victims.”

That means that the whole family could be protected under the law.

What is a U Visa?

It’s a special visa granted to victims of a qualifying crime, who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. The crime must have occurred in the United States, in a U.S. territory, or violated U.S. law.

Among the types of crimes that qualify for a U visa: rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, hostage situations, false imprisonment, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, blackmail, extortion, manslaughter and murder.

The victim must cooperate with the law enforcement agencies in the investigation and/or prosecution of the perpetrators of the crime.

The prospect of gaining legal status could sound so appealing, it could prompt some parents to attempt to file claims that their children were victimized, even if they weren’t. But attorney Castillo strongly advises against it, saying the consequences could be dire.

“Filing any fraudulent immigration application may subject the parent to fines and jail if found guilty.” Even worse, he explains, it could pave the way for a case to be reviewed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to eventual deportation.

“Generally, all U visa applications are confidential. But, if USCIS determines that there has been fraud, they may refer the applicant or individual parent for investigation by immigration authorities.”

Lt. Marquez says they have no idea how many children have been victimized, but he recognizes that given the amount of years Berndt taught at the school, it’s highly likely there are many more than have currently been identified.

“We have received a lot of allegations where parents say we don’t have a picture, but it happened to my child. We’ve been interviewing those kids. Then we have to schedule interviews with that child and D.A.’s office. From there we have to determine whether we can add that child to the case. Depending on what the child tells us, we’ll know if we’re able to prove it in court,” states Marquez.

Last week, another 200 photos were discovered at the same photo lab where the first set was found in 2011. As of Monday morning, Marquez says they have determined 175 of photos of the second set contain children already identified.

“We just have 25 pictures we haven’t yet identified, but I’m not saying that we have 25 more victims,” explains Marquez.

Anyone with information on the Miramonte Elementary School’s sex-abuse allegations are urged to call the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau at (877) 710-LASD; or Crime Stoppers, (800) 222-TIPS.