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New California law provide relief for undocumented immigrants

published in Univision News

by Sharis Delgadillo 12/30/2011 

Hotlines such as Reten Beware in the San Fernando Valley use social media networks and mobile devices to alert immigrants of checkpoints. (Photo: Reten Beware)

Millions of undocumented immigrants in California will breathe a sigh of relief when a new state law takes effect Jan. 1. The law requires that officers at sobriety checkpoints

allow unlicensed drivers to call the vehicle owner or another person with a license to pick up the car.

Currently, the state allows officers to impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers for up to 30 days, which many critics said is a procedure that disproportionately hurts undocumented immigrants unable to get a driver’s license because of their legal status.

“It’s a positive step in the right direction, but it’s very limiting because it only applies to checkpoints,” said Ron Gochez, a co-founder of the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), a group of more than 30 pro-immigrant rights organizations.

The bill still gives officers the power to impound cars for up to 30 days during routine traffic stops.

Yet, this statewide measure, which was introduced by Assemblymember Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) and passed in August, is still more favorable for immigrants compared to the harsher anti-immigration bills sweeping across several states such as Arizona, Georgia, and now Alabama.

The success of the bill, California AB 353, can be attributed to the political and legal pressures that came from several Los Angeles-based organizations including the SCIC.

In 2006, Gochez helped to created a popular hotline that served as a message center for street vendors and other community members to leave tips as to where sobriety checkpoints, or retenes as they are referred to in Spanish, were being conducted.

He and other volunteers would go down to the retenes, hold up warning signs for drivers, and send alert messages via text, MySpace and Facebook.

“I would see church and elementary school parking lots filling up with people’s cars,” Gochez said. “At the peak of the hotline we had 200 calls in one day.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild would also join the vigilant group to help monitor police conduct and provide on-thespot legal assistance.

“We killed their business,” said civil rights attorney with the National Lawyers Guild Cynthia Anderson-Barker, who was one the 60 lawyers and law students who volunteered to inspect the checkpoints.

The warnings eventually detoured people away from the checkpoints and hurt what she called a “lucrative business” for the city.

According to Los Angeles Official Police Garages (OPG) Statistics, the city was making approximately $20 million per year in car impoundments up through 2010. This included $2,000 each undocumented immigrant paid for impoundment and citation fees, as well as millions of dollars in “franchise fees” paid to the city by towing companies.

Anderson then decided to take a legal approach to the problem. In 2007, she spearheaded a lawsuit filed with the federal district court against the state of California and seven other counties who were also conducting sobriety checkpoints in small immigrant towns.

The suit resulted in the protection of anyone driving with an expired license from another country or with an out-of-state license from the 30-day impounding penalty.

In 2008, several pro-immigrant rights organizations coalesced together to form the SCIC, which then began to host “legal clinics” in collaboration with the Guild. A message was left on another hotline number informing callers when and where the meetings were going to be held.

At the free legal clinics, people’s cases were documented and Anderson complied a report called “A Report on Racial Profiling, Pre-Textual Stops, and other Violations of Law Enforcement of the LAPD’s Vehicle Impound Policy.” The report concluded that the LAPD enforced its vehicle code in a “racially discriminatory manner that causes unnecessary hardship and suffering in our City’s immigrant community.” Most of the people cars that were impounded at the sobriety checkpoints were not under the influence.

Since the report, Anderson and SCIC have been requesting to meet with LA City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck to further discuss more lenient jurisdiction reforms to the state bill.

Not all cities in California have the same resources to monitor police behavior during checkpoints and launch effective campaigns against abuse of power.

“I think that even though the new state law says that cars cannot be impounded, these sleepy anti-immigrant towns will not enforce it. The community has to be monitoring,” said Anderson.

Echoing this concern is Emilio Amaya, the executive director for San Bernardino Community Services Center and Coordinator for the Rapid Response Network, another hotline text-message alert program for the Inland Empire.

“It’s not enough. They [law enforcement officers] are going to find a way around it,” said Amaya who has responded to numerous deportation calls as the result of Border Patrol checkpoints and the Sheriff’s department collaboration with Immigration Custom Services and Homeland Security in the Secure Communities Program.

“I think the abuse happens in most places where the community is not involved,” said Amaya who has also helped organize demonstrations against misconduct by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “We are going to have to be vigilant.”

A second chance for a first-class education

published in The Jerusalem Post

by Sharis Delgadillo 07/03/2011

Students at Kedma charter school. Photo by Sharis Delgadillo       

JERUSALEM, Israel – Kedma’s small-class, mentorship model for disadvantaged pupils in Katamonim is increasing education and vocational opportunities for graduates.  Adam Edelstein attends Kedma, a small Jewish high school in the Katamonim. He is a Mizrahi Jew, raised by a single mother. He was expelled from high school for behavioral problems, which began to improve once he started Kedma.

Now he wants to pursue a professional career in 3-D animation for movies and commercials. Kedma has nurtured his new ambition so he can accomplish his dream.

“At Kedma, the teachers care about you,” says Edelstein. “They know your name.” Like Edelstein, the majority of Kedma’s students are Moroccan, Ethiopian, Kurdish or other North African and Sephardi Jews. Some of them immigrated with their parents, and others were born in Israel.

The majority of Kedma’s students had to leave their previous schools because of disciplinary problems or low test scores. But most agree that they weren’t socially accepted by the Ashkenazim.

According to the Kedma students, Ashkenazi classmates saw them as outsiders, while instructors labeled them troublemakers.
“In our neighborhood we have very good schools, but when the students finish elementary school, all of them get kicked out for any reason,” says Yardena Hamu, a veteran teacher and mentor at Kedma who grew up in the Katamonim. “Our goal is to give students in poor neighborhoods, who are the weak segment of society, an equal opportunity with the wealthy and let them choose which profession they’ll have in the future.”

Hamu, whose parents emigrated from Kurdistan, also grew up facing racial discrimination. As a child, she was denied entrance into the better elementary schools in her neighborhood. After her parents petitioned the school, Hamu was eventually accepted. She went to university, received a degree in art and decided to go back to her old neighborhood.

A single mother, Hamu recently tried to enroll her twin daughters in a “good” elementary school in the Katamonim. After the school interviewed Hamu in person, the administration claimed they didn’t have enough room for her twins.

“They don’t want students from this neighborhood because they only want to keep students from the upper class,” she says.

Hamu’s and Edelstein’s experiences reflect one of Israel’s most significant educational problems. A 2004 summary of the Task Force for the Advancement of Education reported, “Israel is one of the leading countries in the world in scholastic disparities based on socioeconomic background, nationality (Arab vs. Jews), ethnicity (Western vs.

Eastern), length of time in the country (immigrant vs. natives) and place of residence (well-off vs. poor localities).”

In 1994, Kedma was created to address this problem. The school’s administration implemented a charter-like model that used small classes to facilitate quality instruction. Then they accepted students throughout Jerusalem who were failing academically.

Now there are 160 students from seventh to 12th grade with a teacher-student ratio of one-13, compared to the one-40 ratio of regular Israeli public schools.

The school has managed to reach a 60 percent matriculation rate, a stark contrast to the Katamonim’s overall 10% before the school was founded, according to Kedma’s website.
“They send them [students] to us because they know we can succeed,” says Hamu. “Other teachers don’t do as much as we do. We work our hearts out.”

In the last two years of school, the students are required to take a Jewish studies program. They read Torah, take trips to Jewish religious sites, and study women’s roles in Judaism. The aim of the program is to integrate students who may come from more non-traditional and secular households.

But Kedma’s emphasis on intensive instruction is expensive. According to Kedma’s executive director Ilana Yona, the school receives a regular budget from the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality. But it’s not enough to fund the learning centers and mentors that are vital to the students’ success.

“It is important to understand that students begin to progress with a very low starting point in school and spend a lot of resources to reduce the gap between them and their peers in other schools,” Yona explains. “Also, most of them come from very poor families, sometimes broken homes, and their families are not always available to help them, so it is important to do the work of empowerment, acceptance, support and training, beyond the purely academic subjects,” she says.

Yona adds that the school doesn’t charge the regular tuition fee to the low-income parents. Additional funding has to be raised from private donors to help pay for the school’s expenses.

One private donor from France participated in setting up a scholarship fund to help Kedma graduates afford higher education. Nofar Levy, whose father emigrated from Morocco, won a full scholarship to a four-year-university program, where she plans to receive her bachelor’s in education.

Before Levy attended Kedma, she says she regularly cut classes. But once she started Kedma, her grades and her attitude improved. Now every Sunday she goes to Kedma to tutor and mentor younger students. “If it wasn’t for Kedma, I would not have gone to university,” says Levy. “It’s like family here.”

Students protest on National Tax Day of Action

National Tax Day of Action

High school student hold signs outside of post office on Tax day demanding government invest more into education. photo by Sharis Delgadillo

by Sharis Delgadillo 4/6/2010

While wearing orange life preservers around their necks, dozens of African American and Latino students from struggling public high schools in South and East Los Angeles marched in front of a post office across the street from the University of Southern California.

As they held up signs of sinking ships, they asked adults to help them send a message to Congress by stamping a donut-sized sticker of a life preserver on their income tax forms, which read, “Invest my taxes in public education.”

This was the National Tax Day of Action campaign called “SOS, Save our Schools.” The Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ) joined forces with several organizations in 13 cities across the U.S., including Wichita, Kansas and Philadelphia.

“Low income community schools are the ones failing, and we are wondering why do we not get equitable funding,” said Jesus Garcia, 17, a senior from Dorsey High School and a member of AEJ. “We need more than the rest and we’re not getting that.”

This state’s largest public school crisis in recent history is the direct result of California’s $20 billion deficit that has led to major budget slashes to education carried out by Governor ArnoldSchwarzenegger.

In an April 14 open letter to the public, the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines said that his school district has its own deficit of $640 million dollars and another projected $263 million for 2010-2011.

Last year, 2,000 L.A. Unified teachers were laid off, and last month, another 5,200 employees received reduction in force notices. Teacher and employee unions negotiated, however, to shorten the school year by five days this coming June in order to save money and prevent lay-offs.

In total, 22,000 teachers across the state have received notices of potential layoffs.

Ulysses Garcia, 16, a 6-foot-tall sophomore at Dorsey High School and member of AEJ said, “Our current educational system is tragically flawed and aren’t preparing us to go to these types of universities,” he said, pointing to the university behind him.

“The public schools have not been able to purchase any new books. So if any book gets misused or if any accident happens, we don’t have enough money to buy a new book, so we have to use that very same book that was ruined.”

Ulysses Garcia also said that the technology doesn’t keep him up to date.

“Our computers are Windows 95 when they should be like Windows 7 or at least Window’s Vista,” he said.

Kenyon Davis, a senior at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach and a member of AEJ said, “We need equitable resources in order to graduate. And so if this is a school where you have students that are potentially ready to drop out, then they do need all the funding that there is.”

Davis described that after he came back from spring break last week, he found that two of his teachers had been laid off and replaced by substitutes. One of those teachers had been working in the Long Beach district for more than eight years.

“Not only did she have her credential but she sat down with the students and taught them, and I learned so much in creative writing. It just hurts me how she’s gone now,” Davis said.

After he graduates, Davis plans on entering a 4-year university after finishing an Associates Degree from a community college to eventually become a firefighter.

But getting through college has also become more difficult, said Johnny Ramirez, an adjunct professor at Cal State Northridge in Chicano/a Studies, who attended the afternoon demonstration.

“I’m finding that my students are having difficulty paying the increased fees, paying their increasing book prices. So they are forced to take full time jobs, or take part time jobs. And in the process of juggling that I see their grades suffer,” said Ramirez.

This national action reverberates last March’s National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, in which the majority of the demonstrators were college students protesting tuition increases, including California’s 32 percent fee hike approved by the University of California regents in November of 2009.

“This madness needs to stop,” said Davis.

Forum explores impact of health care overhaul

Leticia Rodriquez

Leticia Rodriquez, a nutrition assistant with the Watts Health Care Corporation and SEIU 721 member with her three children. photo by Sharis Delgadillo

by Sharis Delgadillo 3/28/2010

South Los Angeles residents gathered for a community health forum on Saturday, March 27, held at the Bethune Park, to hear Rep. Laura Richardson speak about the impact of President Obama’s health care overhaul on community clinics and hospitals.

“The bill is not perfect, but it’s a good start,” said Richardson, who just flew back from Washington D.C., after last weeks final vote on the bill. “From here we can begin to make improvements.”

Under the congresswoman’s 37th district, which includes Watts, Willbrook, Compton, Carson, Long Beach and Signal Hill, the bill will fund $11 million towards clinics, improve coverage for 299,000 residents and will extend coverage to 92,500 uninsured people.

“In America you have the right to life. You can’t have a life if you don’t have a healthy life,” said Richardson.

The bill will also begin to close the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” for 63,000 senior citizens, said Richardson.

Under the “donut hole” system, Medicare beneficiaries were required to pay 25 percent of their medication after paying deductibles and premiums. Once the plan exceeded the $2,830 limit, they had to pay the full cost of their medication. After they finished spending more than $3,000, they qualified to only pay 5 percent of their costs.

“Senior citizens shouldn’t have to choose between food or medication,” said Richardson.

The congresswoman also endorsed the involvement of the health care workers union, SEIU 721, in negotiating contracts and organizing possible strikes.

“It’s so important that SEIU be at the bargaining table,” said Richardson after giving an anecdotal speech on her mother’s days as a Teamster labor unionist. “With the 30 million people that will be receiving health care, a lot of money is going to be made, and health care workers should receive reasonable wages and pensions.”

Following Richardson’s applauded speech, a nutrition councilor from SEIU 721, told the audience the union is fighting to save the Watts Health Care Corporation, an urgent health care center that extended its service hours after the closing of the King Drew Medical Center emergency room in 2007.

“The clinic may have to shut down its extended services and cut staff, which will increase lines and wait time,” said Luz Leon who has worked for the Watts Health Care Corporation for more than 18 years.

After the emergency room was shut down, the Watts Health Care Corporation, located less than two miles away from the King-Drew hospital, was allocated money from the Los Angeles Medical Preservation Fund. The bill provided $100 million a year to help neighboring clinics and hospitals expand their services. This permitted the Watts Health Care Corporation to extend its work hours and remain open on Saturdays.

The bill, however, did not contemplate funding past 2009-2010. The MLK-Drew “replacement hospital” will not open until December 2012 at the earliest, and this is projected to be a partial opening.

SEIU 721 is now trying to gain support for the SB 1409 bill that would prolong the additional funding.

Managers of the Watts Health Care Corporation are also in negotiations with SEIU 721, to bargain their employees’ contracts that expired in January. The managers wants to raise their employees’ monthly premiums for families of two or more, from $20 to more than $500, said Leticia Rodriquez, a nutrition assistant at the clinic.

“It’s scary. If they raise the premium, we are going to have to go without health insurance,” said Rodriquez, a mother of three children. “Our income is over the guideline for Medical.”

The problem with health care access in South Los Angeles, Rodriquez said, “is that people who have no income qualify for public services, but small businesses and companies can’t do that.”

SEIU is planning to hold another community forum April 6 to further discuss the needs of community clinics in South Los Angeles.

“Count me in the fight,” Richardson said.

World’s largest probation department has a new chief

Newly appointed L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Donald Blevins says there are times you need to treat people on probation more like victims than criminals.

by Sharis Delgadillo

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week, appointed Donald H. Blevins as the new chief officer to run the largest probation department in the world.

Newly appointed L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Donald Blevins says there are times you need to treat people on probation more like victims than criminals.largest probation department in the world.Blevins will step into position in April and will be charged with overseeing 3,000 minors that are in custody of the department, 20,000 that are supervised, 15 camps, 3 juvenile halls, and 30 area offices.

“One of the reasons why the board chose me was because I had experience in dealing with a tough budget climate,” said the new Chief Probation Officer, who is replacing Robert Taylor who retired Feb. 5.

Blevins will be managing the department’s $692.8 million budget, which, he told Neon Tommy, he speculates has gone over budget by $50 million to $90 million.

“A person in this position must be the most fiscally responsible individual in the department,” he said.

Blevins’ is coming off of a six-and-a-half year stint as the Chief Probation Officer of the Alameda County Probation Department, where he is credited with fixing the troubled department by cutting $50 million to balance the budget and letting go of 115 jobs.

“Chief Blevins certainly came in and stabilized things and gave the department an organized structure,” Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson told the Mercury News this week.

“My guess is that there will have to be a hard hiring freeze and the consolidation of some camps after some assessment,” said Blevins of his new jurisdiction.

Blevins told Neon Tommy some of his priorities are to appoint a Deputy Chief Probation Officer, visit all the county’s probation facilities, and review the assessments from Cal Remington, who served as an interim chief after Taylor’s retirement.

Blevins’ strong reputation may bring hope to the troubled L.A County probation department that has been wrangled with a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation and the American Civil Liberties Union law suit against Challenger Memorial Youth Center for failing to meet educational standards by allowing illiterate students to receive high school diplomas.

“It’s going to require an immediate assessment,” Blevins said. “I will meet with the county and discuss school programming and what changes need to be made.”

While under Blevins’ care, he said the minors of Alameda County’s juvenile halls, were first evaluated, placed under the appropriate educational program, and then sent to a transitional unit before they re-entered regular school.

In the camps, where minors are kept from six months to a year, they were placed in accelerated GED programs, learned construction and architecture, grew and cooked their own food, and worked at a snack bar.

Blevins says he also plans to us an evidence-based practice model he learned while working at the San Diego County Probation Department for 27 years.

Under the model, cases are treated according to risk levels and latest research. The highest-risk youth receive greater probation supervision and the lower risk cases receive less.

“Sometimes if you place more attention to the lower risk people, they might turn into a high risk,” Blevins said.

Blevins also attributes his success in Alameda County to a Juvenile Mental Health Court, where judges were familiar in dealing with kids with mental health issues.

“Kids with mental health issues are the fastest growing population in juvenile hall,” he said.

Blevins also focused on expanding services to sexually exploited minors, specifically young women, many of whom were sent to safe houses found in open settings and rural areas, rather than juvenile halls.

“There is a better outcome when you treat them more like victims than criminals,” he said.

Blevins says he is entering the new post confident in the L.A. County probation staff, despite a tarnished record that includes incidences of mistreatment to minors in the department’s custody.

“I hope I can lead them back in the right direction,” said Blevins.

Compton passes water conservation ordinance

Curtesy of Creative Commons

by Sharis Delgadillo 11/18/2009

California’s three-year drought will require residents and business owners from the city of Compton to reduce their water consumption by 10 percent beginning January 2010, in a conservation ordinance that was passed by the City Council on Nov. 3.

Compton is participating in the “Shut Your Tap” campaign along with another 23 Los Angeles County jurisdictions that make up the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

Compton Municipal Water Department Administrative Analyst Tanya McCoy said residents will be able to trade in their washers, toilets, shower heads, and sprinklers for high water efficiency ones through the SoCal Water$mart rebate incentive program.

People will be restricted to watering their lawns before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on alternate days and must use automatic shut off nozzles for their water hoses. Business owners will have to meet mandatory water department regulations such as using recycled water for decorative fountains. In the services sector, customers will be served water only when they ask for it.

If a consumer’s water bill indicates their water consumption has not decreased, the department will issue up to three warnings. After the third one, consumers will be penalized with a fine.

“If they are a complete water abuser,” said McCoy “their water bill may be doubled. “ But such a penalty would have to be approved by the water department’s General Manager Kambiz Schogi.

“Until California has at least two or three rainy seasons, these restrictions will stay,” said McCoy.

The Metropolitan Water District supplies half of the water to Compton and the Central Basin. But its supply has been curtailed because of the drought and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta environmental crises.

The northern Delta provides most of the water to California and millions of farmland acres.

Water reserve levels have dropped close to empty because a record dry spring has curtailed the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ snow run off into the Delta.

Last year, federal orders forced water authorities to restrict the use of large water export pumps because they were sucking and killing the indigenous longfin smelt fish to near extinction. This has resulted in a dust-bowl like condition for many farms.

The island-like water reserves are protected levees. Because of the drought, the reserves have dropped below sea levels. Seismologists believe that there is a two-thirds chance the levees could collapse due to earthquakes. The reserves would find themselves submerged by salt water from the San Francisco Bay making it undrinkable.

In June 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought, the first in the history of California according to MWD of Southern California. This was followed by a State of Emergency declared by the governor in February 2009.

On Nov. 4, 2009, the governor signed a series of bills surrounding the Sacramento-Delta crisis calling for new dams; aggressive water conservation goals and the monitoring of groundwater use in California. The legislation also paves the way for a new canal that would move water from the north of the state to the south.

Brownpride.com caters to mega-niche

http://www.brownpride.com launched by music journalist Sal Rojas

By Sharis Delgadillo 9/6/2009

Brownpride.com, is a life style-website that promotes the interests of urban Latinos across the U.S and abroad. Sal Rojas, the self made music journalist and a first generation Mexican born in the U.S, created the Los Angeles based website nearly ten years ago. He began to write music reviews and photograph local concerts that surged since the collapse of the music industry. In the late 90s, as music production software became socialized and music was getting illegally re-produced, local Latino artists began to create music with politically charged messages back-lashing against the marginalization of Latinos by corporate media outlets. At the time, Rojas’s website served as a filter for gathering, reporting, and sharing relevant information. Since then, his website has evolved and become a magnet for this mega-niche. His hyper-local web site caters to the interests of his “community” that is overlooked by mainstream media.

As Clay Shirky, writes in his book “Here comes Everybody,” the Internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it. Rojas did not have to convince the executives of a record label or a news organization that brownpride.com would be a good idea. Typically, because of class and professional biases, American media-institutions de-humanize Latinos by portraying them as gang-members or illegal “aliens.” The Web, however, gave way for Rojas’s entrepreneurship, by permitting him to cut off restricting managerial censorship and start-up transaction costs. He organized a space that his peers needed in order to portray themselves to one another. His website reveals Latinos with an inescapable street edge, yet who embrace to their ethnicity, understand their history, and aren’t shy of voicing their complex political opinions.

After ten years, brownpride.com continues to receive millions of viewer hits per month. The reason for the site’s success is because Rojas makes his eco-system his subject matter. He reviews content related books, movies, hosts on-line forums, promotes other small business, post pictures of music tours and world travels, and even uses acquaintances as models for his fashion line “Firme Clothing.” He cross-links with other social networking sites such as Myspace and Twitter and also makes himself tangible in the real world, by continuing to cover local events and exhibit his photography. Rojas’s latest exhibition, “The Third Root”, is from a documentary he worked on called “Afro Latinos: The Untaught Story.” Through the mass amateurization and convergence of music, photography, and web journalism, brownpride.com is now a mature beehive of activity for urban Latinos in the U.S.

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