Woman denied humanitarian visa to visit dying sister

imageLopez is 55 years old and lives in Mexico. Her older sister is dying of cancer here in the United States. Her request for a humanitarian visa to cross the border was denied at the US Consulate in Tijuana. Local immigrant rights activist Juan Jose Gutierrez held a press conference today at the Federal Building in downtown LA to bring attention to Lopez’s plight. When asked why her visa request was turned down, he said, “They never tell you what’s insufficient. They simply tell you that whatever evidence in this case she presented, in the judgement of the adjudicator—the consular officer—was insufficient”.

Lopez took letters from doctors proving that her sister is dying. She brought papers proving she owns a home in Mexico. She even brought papers from a Mexican doctor stating that her own son, 23 years old, is also dying of cancer, and that she would return to Mexico quickly to take care of him. It still wasn’t enough.

Local immigration attorney Paul Cass explained what the consulate might be looking for:

“…the Department of State—which runs the consulates and immigration service—is that all persons seeking to enter the United States are deemed to be intending to immigrate unless they can satisfy the appropriate officials that they don’t intend to immigrate… the rule of thumb is they have to show substantial ties to their home country such that they are more likely to return after a brief stay”.

Cass says if Lopez isn’t employed, that could be a red flag to the State Department.

Gutierrez says Congressman Howard Berman is looking into the matter. Although the laws may be complicated, “…and yet, something as simple as allowing a frail, elderly woman to come and say goodbye to her dying sister—it’s impossible to resolve”.

Perhaps congressional pressure will bring the two sisters together one last time.

VIDEO: South LA adult students speak out for immigration reform

ESL Adult School students in South Los Angeles speak out with messages for President Obama and the nation. Escuchan las voces de los obreros!

The students’ identities and the school are not revealed because of the sensitivity of the issue and the ruthlessness of xenophobic people (particularly on the internet).

Many of these students are factory workers, garment district workers, and after a long days work go to class at night to take English as a Second Language classes.

This video contains their messages for President Obama and all of us in the United States:

Former braceros fight for wage compensation

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News:


image Miguel Bermudez, who is in his 70s, is one of hundreds of thousands of people who were part of the Bracero Program that allowed Mexicans to work in the United States. As part of that arrangement, a portion of the pay was withheld and was to be returned later.

That didn’t happen for all braceros.

Workers are supposed to return to Mexico to get their earnings. But many of the former braceros or their descendants can’t make the trip.

Juan Jose Gutierrez, president of the immigration group Vamos Unidos, says it is up to the Mexican government to make good on their promise.

“I mean, if someone takes your money, they have to give it back,” Gutierrez said. “That’s just the right thing to do. This was outrageous theft.”

But things are finally beginning to change.

Now, Mexican consulates all over America will be able to pass out $3,500 to braceros or their families because of a decision made earlier this month by the Mexican government. Bermudez was the first in line to get his check at the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate Monday, clutching the paperwork he filled out all of those years ago close to his chest.

He was able to get his check because he had registered during a now closed registration period.

But there are many more braceros or descendants all over America who aren’t yet registered to collect their checks in the United States. So immigration activists met with members of the Mexican consulate, urging them to allow another registration period. They also hope to use the American media to get the word out about the decision.

“We have asked members of the media to publish this phone number that ex-braceros can call to get assistance, and that [number] is (213) 746-6264,” Gutierrez said.

But Sergio Bermudez, Miguel’s son, says that this check doesn’t make up for the years of neglect from the Mexican government.

“Being his son, there is a lot of frustration after years of empty promises and watching him get the run around,” Sergio said.

Both he and Miguel hope all the former braceros and their families will finally get the retribution they deserve.

Becoming an American Citizen

When Carmit Katey is sworn in as an American citizen, she thinks she will look and feel like a new person, despite having lived in the United States already for eight years.

“I have to take pictures because my family is waiting to see me before and after,” Katey said. “For me, inside it is [different] and I think it will show outside.”

And Katey will not be alone in her excitement. The 36-year-old Venice woman from Israel will be one of 5,862 taking the Oath of Allegiance at the citizenship ceremony.

For most, it is the end of a year’s long process from arrival to permanent resident status to citizenship.

Watch the stories of some of America’s newest citizens:

View Four Corners to America in a larger map

Local immigration attorney Eric Azarian explained that the application for citizenship usually only takes six months, but just the path to become a permanent resident, either through employment or marriage, can take decades.

He believes current citizens should witness the citizenship ceremony to see how happy the newest Americans are when they finally become naturalized and to understand what we take for granted.

“You see people from all over the world,” said Azarian. “It’s a moving experience for most of them.”

The naturalization process was originally set down in the Immigration and Nationality acts of 1952 and 1965.

It typically takes about six months and $675 in government fees for people with green cards, meaning immigrants with permanent residence status, to go from submitting the application to taking the oath.

To qualify, most applicants must have been a permanent resident for five years and meet other eligibility requirements. Residents married to citizens can qualify after three years.

imageCarlos Garcia of West Covina became a citizen in 2008 right before the presidential elections. He believes voting is the most important privilege new citizens receive.

“Now I’m working for this country,” said Garcia. “I pay my taxes. I’m doing my best to better myself and better the country because I’m part of this country now,” Garcia said. “[Without citizenship] you don’t get to complain. You don’t get to vote is the main thing.”

Other citizen benefits include being able to help bring family members into the country, traveling with a U.S. passport, and becoming eligible for federal jobs or elected offices, most of which require citizenship.

Garcia says he knows too many residents who haven’t become citizens and should be taking advantage of the benefits.

“Anybody can take their residence away, but citizenship is hard to take away from you,” added Garcia.

Those who are applying must take a civics test covering the history and government of the U.S. and also an English language exam. (Try out a short self-test here).

Applicants are also required to show they have “good moral character.” They must demonstrate this by proving they have not committed the following examples of crimes: crime against a person with intent to harm, habitual drunkenness, illegal gambling, polygamy, terrorist acts or persecution because of race, religion or national origin.

After submitting the required documents and passing their exams and interviews, candidates must be willing to state they will “support and defend the United States and our Constitution” by taking the Oath of Allegiance. The moment the Oath is taken marks the time when a person becomes a citizen.

An interesting factoid about the Oath is that candidates can take a modified oath, if they can prove in writing that their objections to the current oath are valid. Also, if applicants hold any hereditary titles or positions of nobility, they must renounce them at the oath ceremony.

Azarian has been working in immigration for 37 years and has never heard of someone requesting a modified oath. He jokingly added most people will say anything because they are just happy to get their citizenship finally.

The attorney said that it’s been satisfying helping people through the long process to gain permanent residence and ultimately through the final step of gaining citizenship.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Azarian. “Every day you meet new people from all over the world. You’re helping them out and advancing their lives.”

For Katey, the ceremony will be about finding a sense of belonging in a place where she has already lived for years.

“It’s almost like a new page in my life even though I’ve lived here for all this time,” said Katey. “This is going to be a new life — a new me — because I am new. I’m American.”

Black church studies a changed South LA

Second Baptist in South Los Angeles, one of the oldest black churches in Southern California, commissioned a neighborhood report to figure out how it can expand its mission of social justice to a community that looks very different than its congregation.

“This church [has] become a transitional Hispanic community,” said Pastor William Epps.

In the last few decades, South Los Angeles has shifted from a predominately black community to a majority Latino community. Latinos make up 88 percent of a community where streets are named after civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Most people in the area are immigrant Latino, with African-Americans making up only 11 percent of the neighborhood.


The stories of black and brown conflict, surfacing over cultural differences or perceived job competition, have often defined what this community has become.

Even the church has felt the challenges. It was once home to the civil rights movement on the West Coast. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from the pulpit and the church helped fund legal briefs for the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of education, which paved the way for desegregation in schools.

“People used to walk to church,” said Epps. Now, most congregants commute to the church, often keeping it out-of-touch with the needs of the neighborhood.

Pastor Epps realized the difficulty continuing a social justice mission in a changed community when he took his job in 1987.

“I dubbed my years the ‘challenging years’ because it would be hard to maintain a viable congregation in a changing neighborhood,” said Epps, “and at the same time keep congregants excited about doing ministry that may not always benefit them personally.”

But as Second Baptist marks its 125th year in the community, the church is wondering how a congregation of commuters can spread its social justice ministry to a transformed neighborhood.

The church received a grant and commissioned USC’s Center for Immigrant Integration and Esperanza Community Housing to study the neighborhood, its needs and figure out ways the church might help.

“This is one of those neighborhoods where immigration is an issue, the environment is an issue and it all comes together, and it’s right there,” said Vanessa Carter, a researcher on the project.

The researchers looked at census data, environmental data, and surveyed more than 500 residents about living conditions in the area. The report, which was published earlier this fall, shows grim conditions in South Los Angeles.

The community is very poor, with families often living in overcrowded homes. The median household income in the Second Baptist neighborhood is $29,164, compared to the LA Metro figure at $54,993.

Heavy traffic from nearby freeways makes the area environmentally toxic. Residents are also mostly newcomers, often isolated from the rest of Los Angeles.

On average, residents are younger in this community compared to the rest of LA. They are also more mobile, only 7 percent of the people surveyed had lived in the community for more than 20 years. Most lived there ten years or less.

There are challenges to creating relationships with this community. Many don’t speak English and families often leave before reaching five years in the neighborhood. But the researchers on the project note similar experiences between the Black and Latino communities, where the church could build common ground.

“The way that incarceration affects the Black community and makes it hard to have a good paying job and pulls apart families, is the same way that deportation can affect a Latino family,” sais Carter. “They are different issues, but they have similar effects.”

While Pastor Epps finds the detailed statistics about the community revealing, the battles the neighborhood faces now, with poverty, poor housing and education, are not new to the church.

“The plight of Hispanics seeking full citizenship is similar to the plight of African Americans in the 60s. You can see a lot of the parallels,” said Epps.


The report recommended ways the church could serve the community. The church owns property in the area and the report suggested the church could work with other community groups and find ways to utilize the property for childcare or affordable housing.

“Anybody who cares about making the society right, making the society a place where everyone can progress, regardless of their ethnicity or immigration status, has to worry about the unity of Blacks and Latinos as we move forward,” said Manuel Pastor, director of Center for Immigrant Integration.

Second Baptist hasn’t made any concrete plans on how they will use the data to expand their mission of social justice. But, those on the project say, understanding the new neighborhood is good place to start.

“I think that the church has the political will and the moral will to work with other groups of like mind and like mission so that we can we advance the cause and make this community better than what it is,” said Pastor Epps.

Timeline of the Second Baptist Church:

Graphs courtesy of University of Southern California’s Center for Immigrant Integration

Life in a different language

Irving Velasquez, Crenshaw High School

When I came to the United States in 2004, I started school in the 7th grade. My first day at school was the worse day of my life. I did not speak a word of English and most of my teachers did not speak Spanish, my native language.

I was in my first period. The class had barely started, and I wanted the class to be over already. When the period ended, I felt like crying, but I knew I had to be strong. I knew that what was happening was not going to be forever. I knew that I would learn the language and would succeed in life.

In order to succeed in life I knew I had to get some kind of help. One person that helped me a lot those days was Ms. Sanchez. I am very thankful to her, because she helped me when I needed it the most. She was my math teacher, but she turned into an English teacher in order to help me. She would help me with everything I needed. In nutrition and lunch I would go over to her class so that I could practice my English. That helped me a lot. Now I’m in high school, about to graduate, and it’s all because of my courage and her help. If one day I had the chance to help someone that needs it like I needed back then, I would do it with my best intentions, because I want to give back what I once received.

Some people don’t know how much teachers can help. I know, because I once needed that help and, lucky for me, I found it. Not everyone looks for help in their teacher, because they think that nothing will change the situation. Well things are not like that. Teachers will help if you let them.

OPINION: An open letter to Stephen Colbert

imageJamiel Shaw was a 17-year-old Los Angeles High School student and football player who was shot and killed by gang members on March 2, 2008. Undocumented immigrant Pedro Espinoza, 19, was arrested and charged with Shaw’s murder. He is currently awaiting trial.

Open Letter to Stephen Colbert

By Althea Rae Shaw, penned Sep. 24, 2010. Presented without modification.

Dear Stephen Colbert,

In preparing this open letter to you, I am literally fighting back the tears! It truly breaks my heart that so many people in positions of power and authority continue to make light of illegal immigration!

Are you aware of, and/or concerned with the fact, that American citizens and legal immigrants are murdered everyday by illegal aliens? Have you ever spent one second thinking about that?

In speaking to congress today, do you think you would have prepared anything different if one of your love ones was murdered by an illegal alien? You think you would make fun of this illegal alien invasion if you lost a loved one to this crime?

What if your mother was shot in the head by an illegal alien? Do you think you could make that funny? What about your children? Would it be comical if your daughter or your son or your niece or nephew was lying in the street dead, shot in the head, by someone living in this country illegally?

Here’s a challenge for you Mr. Colbert. I challenge you to visit a memorial plaque in Los Angeles, California. The plaque where my 17 year old nephew, Jamiel Andre’ Shaw II, was murdered on March 2, 2008, by a documented illegal alien gang member.

Minutes after Jamiel hung up the phone with his father Jamiel Sr., Jamiel was shot in the stomach and then shot in the head, three doors from our home. Jamiel’s mother, U.S. Army Sergeant Anita Shaw was serving in Iraq when her son was murdered. Would you like to meet Anita, Mr. Colbert?

I challenge you to visit where Cheryl Green was murdered in Los Angeles. Cheryl Green was 14 years old when she was shot and left for dead by an illegal alien. She was riding her bike across an imaginary line that the illegal alien gang members told each other, “the next black person that crosses this line will die.” Would you like to meet Cheryl’s mother, Charlene Lovett? I’m sure she could use a good laugh!

Maybe walking the streets of Los Angeles are not a challenge you would accept. So, how about Arizona, Mr. Colbert? I challenge you to visit the place where Robert Krentz was murdered by an illegal alien. Robert Krentz was 58. He was a well-liked cattle rancher, working on his 34,000 acre ranch, when he and his dog were shot dead by an illegal alien.

These are just three of the American citizens who I’m sure were not laughing when they were shot and murdered. Unfortunately, we have a long list of names of American citizens who were murdered by illegal aliens. Would you like to see their faces and meet their families?

As a matter of fact, there are tens of thousands of American citizens across the United States of America who were murdered and left for dead by people who were never supposed to be in the USA! Many of these criminals have never been caught!

If you decide to accept this challenge, why not invite about 40 families who lost love ones due to illegal immigration, to come to your studio? Then, you can tell us all about your experience working on this farm. You can even tell us, “how bad your back was hurting when you were working with illegal aliens”. I wonder how many families would laugh and think that’s funny.

To be honest with you, I’m having a very hard time trying to understand why Representative Zoe Lofgren invited you, to speak on this serious issue! Perhaps she too thinks illegal immigration is a laughing matter! She seriously needs to be replaced!!

Call me Mr. Colbert if you accept this challenge, because I know my family would love a good laugh!!


Jamiel Shaw’s Angry Aunt!
Althea Rae Shaw
Los Angeles, CA

“In life, there comes a time when people must stand up for what they believe in”.


Do you think Althea Rae Shaw’s anger is justified? Let us know in the comments box below.

View Stephen Colbert’s statement to congress:

Report: Mass immigration causes California’s lack of education and rise in inequality

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report last week that said California is last in a list of states ranked by the number of immigrants who have completed high school. The report further attributes this lack of education and the state’s sharp rise in inequality to mass immigration.

But A State Resilient: Immigrant Integration and California’s Future offers a more balanced view of the center’s report. A State Resilient presents California’s standing in terms of education, inequality and the immigrant labor force.

Though California has its share of educational challenges, Manuel Pastor, Justin Scoggins and Jennifer Tran of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) believe it is important to clearly understand the facts.

Pastor, Scoggins and Tran said California is simultaneously one of the most and least educated states in the nation. In their analysis, they found that 40 percent of California’s doctorates are foreign-born. They also found that, though inequality is an issue in the state, the rise in inequality has occurred mostly among the native-born. They said the “changes in our economic structure have not been driven by immigrants, but rather, have drawn immigrants to the state.”

They also argued that, if the state’s immigrant workforce really contributed to a slip in the quality of the workforce, it is difficult to parallel that with the state’s high standing when it comes to median household income and gross domestic product employed per worker.

“With the tough economic and fiscal challenges facing California, we need a balanced and common base of information,” Pastor, Scoggins and Tran said in an article. “[But] for those of us in the Golden State, the future remains bright, particularly if we can maintain the sense of openness and opportunity that have helped make California both resilient in the face of restructuring and a beacon to the people of the world.”

The Entryway Project: old prejudices, new media

imageA strange project is underway and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

The Entryway is the online journal of two white young women who have moved in with an immigrant family in MacArthur Park. The first eight entries posted on the website seem to be the journal of Devin Browne, a reporter who has produced stories about the MacArthur Park area for local outlets like the LA Weekly. Little is learned about the Mexican family the two girls are living with, other than in the form of short, somewhat poetic outbursts that seem sporadic and disconnected from a bigger picture.

Browne, the diarist, and Kara Mears, who acts as the photographer for the project, are voyeurs. On the front page of the website, although they clearly describe themselves as “reporters,” they also point out that the project itself is “not journalism.” It’s a “personal narrative.”

A couple of weeks ago, former LA Weekly reporter Daniel Hernandez wrote a scathing review of the project’s concept, titling his post “Safari in Los Angeles, in a home in MacArthur Park.” Hernandez claimed that “the authors are wasting an incredible journalistic opportunity, in the service of their own vanity.”

The project is, at best, self-indulgent and full of “self-satisfied gloating”, according to Hernandez and some of his colleagues. Riled up commenters likened the project to a reality TV show, and even called it “straight up racist.”

I consumed the entire Entryway Project site twice before I could come to my own conclusion. The first time, I was immediately struck by the beauty and flow of the layout. The pictures are crisp and the structure changes frequently enough to evoke an urge to see more. I was dazzled, in all honesty, just as I had been the first time I visited Media Storm. I immediately posted it on my Facebook page and noted that it was “pretty amazing” and “an interesting concept.” I was referring, however, to the style — not the content. It seemed closer to creative non-fiction, which is something I have always been fascinated with, especially when it comes to translating that feeling online.

But teacher and South LA Report contributor Jose Lara inspired me to take a second look, this time screening for substance. “Actually, many folks take issue with these reporters and what they are promoting,” wrote Lara. I felt foolish. I had been blinded by the lights and had forgotten to ask the most important questions of all: What is the point of this experiment? And is the fact that it is an “experiment” at all a huge slap in the face of the immigrant community in Los Angeles? Treated like aliens from outer space, or like animals in a zoo, while two prissy white girls get paid to watch them and write about their experiences living out of their own comfort zone?

The Entryway authors say they want to a) learn Spanish (which makes me wonder… are their host families being paid to teach them?) so that they can “better report” on the city and b) find out how the immigrant families view them. “We are more interested in what they think of our country than what we might think of theirs,” writes Browne in Entry 1.

What are they promoting? It definitely warrants a second look. But the answer, it seems, is complicated. On the one hand, this kind of “us versus them” attitude is appalling and a big step backwards for a multicultural city like Los Angeles. On the other hand, I very much doubt that this project is aimed at anyone other than those with faces and backgrounds similar to the reporters themselves. And the unfortunate truth is that for a portion of the white, middle-to-affluent population, this is exactly the kind of project that provokes thought about a race and culture that is otherwise tuned out. No, it may not be perfect. Far from it. But perhaps a white audience would empathize with these two young women in the sense that they are out of their usual sphere of being and facing some very real social situations that force them to contemplate their own race. Perhaps this project is not about providing “insight” into the immigrant community, but providing insight into the awkwardness of race relations, from a white perspective.

Yes, it’s an important point that too much of history has already been composed “from a white perspective.” Long-silenced communities should be encouraged to speak up. But this project obviously is not aiming toward such a goal. This project, I concluded, is about what it means to be a white reporter in a city of color. Unfortunately, Browne and Mears either failed to recognize this, or failed to make it clear from the start, resulting in accusations of racism because the subject of the project was incorrectly labeled as the Mexican immigrant family. The subject is, and has always been, the women themselves. As famed psychologist Beverly Tatum explains in her classic book on racial identity, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” white people rarely think about being white, and what it means in terms of privileges and social engagement. Thinking about race and talking about race is the only way to initiate change. “Passive racism,” explains Tatum, can mean “avoiding difficult race-related issues.” And from childhood, white children are taught to avoid, avoid, avoid.

What’s really telling is that following Hernandez’s response, Browne felt it necessary to re-write her introduction to the project. If she had been clear with herself and her audience from the beginning, she wouldn’t have had to do so.

The fact that Browne went back and revised her statement of purpose clearly shows that she was uncomfortable with the accusations of racism, and for good reason. But the fact that she could simply erase her errors brings up another worrying point. The ease of modern technology and the intangibility of the Internet seems to be promoting a kind of “after-thought” journalism. In fact, one of my professors at journalism school responsible for our single class in “online journalism” summed up the attitude neatly when he expressly told us to “post first and fix it later.” There is no time to mull over the full impact of a project, or even a sentence. The world demands NOW.

Consequently, it’s almost as if Browne’s first attempt to explain the project has been erased from history in a manner that recalls George Orwell’s 1984. The pages and their thoughts simply disappear. Browne can cover her tracks and start afresh.

But where I disagree with Hernandez is that this project somehow represents a lapse in journalistic values due to “new media” reporters. Hernandez calls this new breed “new-school-trained” journalists who are “first and foremost “a voice” before a fact-gatherer.” They are lacking in all the skills, from ethics to grammar, forced upon the pre-Internet “legacy” journalists.

I think it’s clear, at least it’s clearer now, that the Entryway project is not a journalistic project. The confusion is that Spot.us has the story included in their story pitches and is seeking funding for it, which, personally, I think was a big mistake. Even if these “reporters” are intending to produce more journalistic pieces, their position as independent fact-gatherers is extremely compromised.

“Our project is long-term and posting helps the young journalists record an emotional experience while the main reporting continues and as they work to produce detailed stories about the people and the community they are living in,” commented Anh Do, the Spot.us Los Angeles editor, on Hernandez’s piece.

Perhaps a reporter’s “beat notes” should remain offline. While transparency is good, pre-emptive emotional blogging (or tweeting, or posting updates on Facebook for that matter) is just plain unprofessional.

I agree that projects like this one, and to some extent Media Storm, have a tendency to attract more attention than the “day-to-day reporters who live off nothing but their bylines,” as Hernandez says. But it is wrong to assume that modern reporters are somehow less hard working than “legacy” journalists. New media definitely does include experimenting with new mediums, but it is not a mindset. These so-called “reporters” who create art rather than journalism by dazzling audiences with online gadgetry are simply lazy. And in every era of journalism throughout history there have always been lazy journalists. The problem is that it is an affront to the hard workers when these Internet artists, diarists and photographers label themselves “reporters.”

If the Entryway is to be considered “journalism,” it is bad journalism. It has an agenda, an interest, and blatantly lacks journalistic ethics. Most reporters, new and old, would agree. But it’s unfair to lay the blame on “new media.” Pitting traditional reporters against reporters today who are dealing with new mediums is unfair and inaccurate. There are plenty of projects which could be included under the new media umbrella that do exactly what Hernandez is claiming should be the purpose of journalism. For example, encouraging people to tell their own stories rather than relying on reporters to act as a middleman. Need an example? Well, I’d like to think that you’re looking at one right now. The South Los Angeles Report publishes stories produced by the community, as well as running journalism workshops to aid citizen journalists in their own storytelling. To see these pieces, which include a variety of mediums, look for pages labeled with “community contributor.”

To find out more about Browne’s perspective on the Entryway project, take a look at Entry 9. This “FAQ” post was no doubt composed following the article by Hernandez and the ensuing reactions.

Photo courtesy of Kara Mears for the Entryway Project.