Immigrant Defender Law Center to Provide Immigration Legal Services for Long Beach Justice Fund

24 Apr

Long Beach immigrant rights advocates, at a press conference in the courtyard of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, 525 E. 7th Street, on Wednesday, April 17, announced that the Immigrant Defenders Law Center will provide immigration legal services for the Long Beach Justice Fund.

At the press conference, Long Beach First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who is in a run-off for the 33rd California Senate District, said, “As a city councilmember that represents over 60 percent my district which is Latino, when I have Cambodian families that are crying because they have had families separated, when we know that our Filipino friends have had less opportunities because of the fact that they are not documented.  All of this today is because of their tireless work and support.”

The video below has Councilwoman Gonzalez’s statement.

 

 

 

In the city press release the previous day, Mayor Robert Garcia said, “Long Beach is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and immigrants make big contributions to the culture, economy and spirit of our city.”  The Justice Fund will work to support immigrants and keep families together.”

Lindsay Toczylowski, the Executive Director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said, “Now when Long Beach residents are detained by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the mostly likely place they will go is one of the most hopeless places in all of California, in Adelanto, California, in the high desert, where there is a huge, for-profit prison that does ICE’s dirty work for it in holding our community members there, where people are very unlikely to have representation, Long Beach will be giving them hope….Ninety miles from downtown Los Angeles, where there are very few people with representation, we will be sending Immigrant Defenders lawyers in to meet with Long Beach residents to represent them and we know that with representation they are 1,100 percent (11 times) more likely to win their case.”

 

Toczylowski graduated from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, according to the Immigrant Defenders website.  After the press conference, she said the fund provides “universal representation” meaning it could apply to anyone facing deportation in Long Beach regardless of criminal history and pointed out that this is “a commitment to due process for all.”  Toczylowski said one full-time attorney would be assigned as well as some management staff and that the possible number cases handled any year may be from 20 to 40.

Tania Sawczuk, of the Vera Institute of Justice, whose website states its mission is “to improve justice systems that ensure fairness,” said, “The people of Long Beach understand that the stakes are high in immigration court and that fairness dictates that no one should have to face exile from their communities, their family, their children, simply because they cannot afford an attorney.  One of the tenets of our nation is due process of law.  And, without access to legal representation, you can have no due process.”

According to the same city press release quoting the mayor, the selection of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center was “made through a competitive request for proposal process overseen by the City in partnership with Vera and community members.”

 

With the one-time $250,000 grant from the city of Long Beach and the one-time $100,000 catalyst grant from the Vera Institute of Justice, the Justice Fund is now $350,000.  The Long Beach Post, April 17, reported that no additional funding beyond the first two years has been found yet.

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Maria Lopez (Center), Director of Community Organizing for Housing Long Beach, emceed the April 17 press conference, announcing the selection of Immigrant Defenders Law Center for the Long Beach Justice Fund; photo by Barry Saks

 

 

 

 

Poor People’s Campaign Comes to Orange County

17 Apr

Inspired by the civil-rights movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, on Thursday, April 11, brought its “Truth and Poverty Tour” to four stops across Orange County “to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality,” according to the meetup.com about page of the Orange County Poor People’s Campaign.

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On the second stop of the Orange County Poor People’s Campaign, a crowd of about two dozen people, on Thursday, April 11, gathered to hear speakers across the street of the Theo Lacey Facility in Orange, which houses detainees for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Photo by Barry Saks

The second stop was across the street of the Theo Lacey Facility, which houses detention centers for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The public leader of the OCPPC, Lisa Pedersen, who characterizes herself as “a community activist for human rights and social justice,” also on the same meetup.com site, introduced Jan Meslin.  Meslin, who helped, in 1984, found the Friends for Orange County Detainees, which visits detained immigrants, emceed.

In her introduction, Meslin, said, “There are several thousand men right now, right across the street who are in maximum security prison…. Each of these men has a story, each of these men has a family… a lot of them have lost their jobs, their apartments and they could be out here thriving…. A little more than 500 are there simply because they don’t have proper documents.”

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Jan Meslin, who is from Freedom for Immigrants, addresses, on Thursday, April 11, the crowd gathered across the street from the Theo Lacey ICE detention center in Orange at the second stop of the Orange County Poor People’s Campaign.

Meslin, who is now the director of social change development for Freedom for Immigrants, introduced Roberto Herrera as a Community Engagement Coordinator for the Resilience Orange County, which according to its website, is “a youth-oriented institution that works towards social-systemic transformation while promoting healing, trauma-informed and culturally relevant practices that are inclusive of all members of the community.”  Meslin said, “Roberto (Herrera) has worked to advance and defend the rights of immigrants and the undocumented community in Orange County, specifically those most marginalized, including the LGBTQ community, those with past criminal convictions, overly-criminalized youth and people of color.”

Herrera said, “The (California) Attorney General (Xavier Becerra) in February of this year released a report detailing the conditions inside this detention center.  What confirmed was what we already know, the egregious conditions inside.”  He added that this center doesn’t have a “proper grievance process.”  If detainees are “experiencing excess force by the sheriffs,” the detainees have no recourse because the grievances are not collected.

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Carlos Alexander Hidalgo, who had been detained at ICE detention centers in Adelando and the Theo Lacey in Orange, speaks, Thursday, April 11, across the street of  Theo Lacey about his incarceration and becoming an immigrant-rights activist; Photo by Barry Saks

 

After Herrera spoke, Meslin introduced Carlos Alexander Hidalgo and said she met him after he had been transferred from the Adelanto ICE detention center to Theo Lacey in retaliation to a hunger strike he started.

“He was born in El Salvador in 1967, came to the U.S. when he was 11-years old, he graduated from Bell Gardens High School (in Los Angeles County) and he made a life, got married, he had some children, he worked, and found himself in some legal trouble…served a little bit of time and instead of going on parole as if he were a U.S. citizen, he found himself in the detention-deportation system….He was able to get bonds and be released,” Meslin said.

Hidalgo, who is on the leadership council of Freedom for Immigrants, said, “The last five years with all that has happened to me, I’ve become an immigration activist.…I lost custody to my kids just because I couldn’t make it to court, (I lost) my business….I’m going to be the thorn in their eyes.”

After Hidalgo spoke, the Rev. Michelle Harris-Gloyer of the First Christian Church of Orange, Disciples of Christ, led the crowd in the song, “Someone is Hurting My Brother” and the second, which the reverend characterized as a mantra, “I am not Afraid.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Angeles Board of Supervisors Votes to Cancel Plans to Build Women’s Jail in Lancaster

17 Feb

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, after more than two and a half hours of public comment and before an audience of hundreds, voted on Tuesday, Feb.12, on the motion of the Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, to cancel the plans to build a woman’s jail at Mira Loma in Lancaster, California.

Before public comments, Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn said more than 150 people were to speak.

Of the speakers providing public comment, about six spoke in favor of the project, mostly from the building trades unions.  The others spoke against the plan to build the women’s jail.

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Crowd gathers, before the press conference, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, outside the meeting of the Board of Supervisors to protest the building of women’s jail in Lancaster; photo by Barry Saks

To hear the entire Justice LA press conference, click here,

Earlier on the steps outside, Justice Los Angeles and its coalition members, held a press conference, emceed by Eunisses Hernandez, who is the Los Angeles Campaign Coordinator for Just Leadership USA and who said she is a member of the Executive team for the Justice LA Coalition.  Before the press conference, Hernandez, 29, said, “I am here today because I would like the county to prioritize building community-based services in all the districts of the county, instead of focusing on building…one main central facility.”  Hernandez added what is needed are “regional community centers that provide mental health services, health and human services, employment services.”  She was confident the plan would be voted down.  She supported the motions for the studies addressing the problem, “about four.”

After the press conference those gathered marched into the building chanted “Care not cages,” led again by Reggie Bush.

 

 

 

Before the press conference, rallies were held.  At the first, about 50 people, led by Reggie Bunch, the crowd briefly chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this jail system has got to go;” “Women’s jail has got to go; Men’s central jail has got to go, no more jails, no more jails.”  This toxic jail system has got to go.”  They also chanted: “We need care, we don’t need cages.”

 

 

 

At the second, immediately before the press conference, the protesters outside had grown to more than 100, sometimes chanting, “Jobs not jails,” sometimes chanting, “No more prisons, no more jails” and other times, “We need healing, mental health.”  The chants ended with “Black lives matter here” and “Brown lives matter here.”

Before the press conference, James Nelson, 52, said he was wrongly convicted of murder in 1986 and served 29 years.  I got out because I demonstrated I was suitable for parole.”  Nelson, who is featured on the Dignity and Power Now website, said black and brown are being “locked up” for profit, including the mentally ill, that the mentally ill need services, not criminalization.  Nelson said he first volunteered at DPN, but now works full-time for it.  He said DPN was a grassroots organization.  He said he was planning to speak before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

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Formerly incarcerated James Nelson, who said that he was wrongly convicted of murder and that he got out because he demonstrated he was suitable for parole, planned to speak, on Tuesday, Feb.12, before the Board of Supervisors; photo by Barry Saks

Also before the press conference, Mateo Nagassi, 40, said while he has never been incarcerated, he has two brothers, who are now in state prison, one serving 20 years and the other 24 years.  Nagassi, who identified himself as a member of Reform LA Jails and Dignity and Power Now, said besides being there because of his two brothers, he wants “to stop this cycle of incarceration.”  He added, “We need to start at the bottom, local and move countywide and then statewide.”  He also said instead of spending the money on more prisons, the money would be better spent on focusing on rehabilitation, treatment of addiction and on homelessness.

 

 

 

While UTLA Strikes—UTLA Leaders, LAUSD Settle

23 Jan
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Teachers, students and community allies, Tuesday, Jan. 22, picketing outside of Phineas Banning High School in the Wilmington community of the City of Los Angeles; photo by Barry Saks

A couple hours before the news conference announcing a tentative agreement was reached between the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the teacher strike continued into its sixth and last day, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, with students and community members picketing with the teachers, and among the schools being picketed was Phineas Banning High School in the working-class community of Wilmington, a few miles north of the Port of Los Angeles.

Soon after daylight, the picketing began and after a short while at least a hundred people were picketing in front of the school in a circle. Slightly north of the picketing were a couple of school buses. Each had a handful of students stepping down onto the sidewalk.

Among the picketers was Lucia Rodriguez, who teaches English for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades at the high school. Rodriguez, who has been teaching 18 years, before the picketing began, said she was a member of the Contract Action Team and the school had about 120 teachers with all of them on strike. She also said it was good the teachers had a chance to vote on the tentative agreement while on strike because “what if we don’t like the agreement that they reached and we already came back to work.” She added, “It’s fundamentally democratic to do that (vote) while we are out.”

Also, among those out on strike and in support was Dan Castillo, who’s a history teacher at the high school. Castillo was with his two daughters—Daniela Castillo, who’s in the 9th grade at Banning and Dahlia Castillo, who’s in the 12th grade also at Banning. Daniela said, “We support him because we believe in the cause as well. She defined the cause as “more nurses, more funding for our schools, more counselors and librarians, smaller class sizes, control of charter schools and co-locations.” Dahlia said, “We know why we are here and we…fully support our all teachers and all the staff that’s out here with us….and we know that public education is important.”

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On far left, is Dan Castillo, high school history teacher at Phineas Banning High School, the father of Daniela Castillo, who is a 9th grade student at Banning, holding bullhorn, and to the right is Dahlia Castillo, the other daughter of Dan Castillo, a 12th grade student at Banning, leading chants; photo by Barry Saks, Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Dan Castillo, 45, who’s been teaching for 23 years, said he was a product of public education. He added, “I really believe this is ground zero for a war for public education. I don’t think it is just about Los Angeles. I think with the growing charter school movement. I believe there is a serious threat to public education right now and I believe we have to win this war because if we lose here in L.A., they we’ll repeat this formula nationwide.”

While picketing, the teachers, students and community allies chanted: UTLA, UTLA; I don’t know but it’s been said, “Billionaires on the Board of Ed;” Everywhere we go people want to know who we are. So we tell them, “We are the mighty, mighty union, fighting for justice and for education;” Tell me what democracy looks like. “This is what democracy looks like;” We teach, we care, our contract should be fair; Look up, look down, Wilmington is a union town.

Before retirement, Barry Saks was a Service Employees International Union Local 660 (now 721) Shop Steward. He was at different times the Vice Chair and Chair of the bargaining units he was in.

UTLA to Strike LAUSD

12 Jan

United Teachers of Los Angeles, representing more than 33,000 teachers, is poised to strike Monday, Jan. 14, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl recently characterized, as “a strike for our students….for our schools, for educational justice, for racial justice, and to defend the future of public education.”

The district’s website, on Friday, Jan 11, said, “We are extremely disappointed…UTLA has rejected Los Angeles Unified’s revised offer without proposing any counter offer. UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations. More than 48 hours remain until Monday when UTLA plans to strike, and we implore UTLA to reconsider. A strike will harm the students, families and communities we serve, and we have a responsibility to resolve the situation without a strike.”

Meanwhile, an email in part from the union, also on Friday, said, “Today, just as LAUSD representatives were passing out a new proposal, UTLA bargaining team members began to see on social media that (Superintendent Austin) Beutner was holding a press conference downstairs to review the same proposal. More disrespect – Beutner saying he’s able to bargain “around the clock” but skipping the last two sessions. More bargaining in the media rather than meeting face-to-face with educators (sic).  More lies about what the district has and what the district can do.”

An email from the union sent Thursday, Jan. 10, said that a Superior Court ruled the union could strike.  An email the previous day from the union said it was postponing the strike to avoid confusion.

Scott Mandel, who is the chair of UTLA (San Fernando) Valley East Area, on Monday, Jan. 7, said, “I went through the ’89 strike 29 years ago, we are so much better prepared now than we were then.  Our teachers are more unified now than we were then.”

Mandel, who is also the chair of the union’s National Board Certified Teachers Committee and has a Ph.D. in Education: Curriculum and Development from the University of Southern California, added if there were a strike, it wouldn’t be about money.  He said the union was asking for 6.5 percent and the Los Angeles Unified School District had already agreed to 6 percent.  He said it would be “ridiculous” to strike over the difference.  A strike would be about support for the students.  The union’s demands are for a “class size reduction,” for “a nurse in every school, every day,” for “a full-time librarian in every secondary school,” for more counselors, for the elimination of all testing that isn’t federal or state mandated and for “the regulation of charter growth.”

The UTLA Valley East Chair, who’s been teaching for 34 years at LAUSD, ended passionately.  He said, “Beutner wants this strike, especially after (the) Janus (Decision).  Beutner thinks he can destroy the teachers’ union and turn this into a portfolio district, where schools are given over to privateers and charters…The heart and soul of public schools in LA Unified is on the line right now…This is our Armageddon.”

Kyle Stokes of KPCC, on Wednesday, Jan 2, interviewed Beutner, who became Superintendent in May 2018 and according to the district’s website, a business executive, served as First Deputy Mayor of the City of Los Angeles and publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

The Superintendent said, “We all want the same set of things.  We all want to make sure everyone, who works in the schools, is better paid.  We all want to work to reduce class size and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians.  The challenge is how we do it with the resources we have.”

On the existing contract provision giving the district discretion on class size, the Superintendent said, “We have said for months and the fact-finder agreed with us is we should eliminate that provision and we need to agree on a new provision….UTLA said eliminate that provision and they will not sit down with us to try to agree on a new provision.”

Beutner, regarding the almost $2 billion reserve, said that almost $200 million had already been spent for raises to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerical staff and engineers who keep the air conditioners; that about $300 has been set aside for the 6 percent increase for UTLA members; that about $300 million because of law for certain students, as part of a local control funding program; about $250 million has been sent to schools to be spent at school principals’ discretion; and about $100 million for legal settlement, which he said left $700 million.  He insisted the reserves are being spent.  He said, “From an accounting standpoint, you wind up with some funny accounting because the reserves to pay UTLA members continue to grow.”

He added near the end of the interview the experts have told him the district is spending more than it’s bringing in.

 

A New Year’s Poem: ‘Not a Happy Ending’

29 Dec

The beginning of each new year is a time for personal reflection, which is why many people resolve to change their everyday lives in some manner.  Some go on diets.  Other attempt to quit smoking or whatever they think they need to improve on.

While flying to Los Angeles from Bucharest, I watched a documentary on Roger Ebert, the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.  I had this refrain in my head: We are our own worse enemies.  Like stream of consciousness, I remembered other occasions of me repeating the refrain.  The poem streamed out without needing much editing.

What follows is my attempt to force people to be a little self-reflective now.

It’s a modern poem, meaning there’s no end rhyme and the only echo are words.


 

We are our own worse enemy.

Some of us eat too much.

Some eat too much red meat.

Some get high on drugs.

Some smoke cigarettes.

Some drink too much and others don’t exercise.

Some almost drank themselves to death, like Roger Ebert, Jack London and Raymond Carver.

Carver quit drinking, smoked like a chimney and died of lung cancer.

Yes, we are our own worse enemy.

The Atheist Who Loved Christmas Eve

22 Dec

If it wasn’t for my aunt Sylvia, the wife of my mother’s brother and my first cousin Wendy, their daughter, my Christmas Eve memories would be much colder and bleaker, or worse nonexistent.  These two women organized the Christmas Eve parties I have fond memories of.

As a child, as long as I could remember my Christmas Eves were always the same.  My father would drive my mother, my brother, sister, and me to somewhere behind the Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles, where my aunt and uncle’s family lived.

I remember walking the short distance from my parents’ car to my aunt and uncle’s home and feeling the dank air.  Entering their home was always a pleasure, feeling the coziness of their home on Christmas Eve.  Usually a 6-foot or taller Christmas tree, decorated in white or sometimes red, would grace one corner of the living room.  Under the tree, were numerous gifts for my aunt’s immediate family and small gifts for my brother, sister and me.  A fire would be burning in the fireplace.  Sometimes for what seemed like minutes, I would stare at the flames flickering.  I could smell the burning wood and scent of the tree.

The routine was always the same.  Sooner or later after arriving, the two families would eat dinner together, segregated—the adults at one table and the children at theirs.  Six children, three from my family and the three of my aunt and uncle, ate.  Wendy was my aunt and uncle’s middle child.

After dinner, youngest children got the honor of distributing the gifts to the people in the room.  Then the gifts were opened, in reverse order by age.  After the gifts were opened, the families entertained themselves with parlor games or reminiscing or my two female cousins would attempt to entertain by singing and dancing, with catcalls from the young males, particularly me.  My sister recently told me she remembers our aunt dressing up, wearing an ugly Santa Claus mask and chasing the youngsters around the house.

I attended these gatherings through high school–after high school, much less frequently.   Many years passed.  My father died; my mother, my aunt and uncle, my sister and her husband, and my cousin Wendy and her husband moved to Nevada.

By then, my cousin Wendy was teaching and had the responsibility of organizing the Christmas Eve parties.  After many years, My wife Marlene and I attended a couple more.

Wendy knew how to entertain and could match my quick wit.  Two favorite things of hers were giving gag gifts and singing karaoke.  Some of the gag gifts were re-gifted over and over.  I appreciated her low-brow humor.  Once somehow I got a gift of a toy brown cow that dispensed chocolate candy out of its rectum.  Then there was the karaoke.  My cousin made sure everyone participated in the karaoke round.  It was great fun.

My aunt and uncle lived until they were in their 90s.  They died seven years ago.  Then, my cousin died four years later.  Now I only have those memories of Christmas Eve.

Oh, I forgot.  My parents were Ashkenazi Jews.  My uncle called himself an agnostic and I’m the atheist.

I first wrote this personal essay for a journalism class I had at Long Beach City College.  I published it two years ago on my blog.  I’m republishing again this Christmas in remembrance of my first cousin, Wendy Gross-Aeillo.

Barry Saks may be reached at barry@barrysaks.com.