DANCERS GIVING BACK to the Migrant Caravan: A first-hand account of a non-profit’s efforts to send humanitarian aid to families along the Border

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Written by James Rodriguez Daza

—-Tijuana, Mexico  The road least traveled is usually the one that brings you closer to your destination. Traveling with a non-profit group to Tijuana, Mexico to help distribute much needed supplies to migrant families who were part of a caravan from Central America, the policy implications surrounding the issue of immigration reform and border security resonated throughout a trip I took to the border. Having spoken with immigration lawyers and human rights activists during the summer as the political crucible began to heat up over immigration, I felt I needed to go to the border to see first-hand what the situation was really like and if possible offer some level of assistance. What I saw for a single day had opened my eyes widely while producing a sense of sadness for the families who had traveled so far. Nevertheless, the trip had indeed strengthened my resolve toward furthering the call for a significant change in US immigration reform and human rights advocacy.

Nearing the end of 2018 and as the holidays were reaching their conclusion, the subject of immigration and the migrant families affected by the US Zero-Tolerance Immigration Enforcement Policy (implemented in May of 2018) continued to linger. Reports of increasing numbers of migrant families being detained and unaccompanied children being transferred to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities and/or camps kept circulating throughout political and media circles especially as conflict within Congress intensified as both Democrats and Republicans argued over budget appropriations for the New Year. US President Donald Trump’s insistence on a $5 billion price tag for a border wall that he had championed since his presidential campaign over 3 years ago have however continued to be the lynch pin derailing recent efforts to reach a bipartisan accord. The end result was another US government shutdown before Christmas, which is not expected to end until well into the new year.

Debate on the subject of migrant family separations and reunifications at the US Border spiraled into new territory as a recent caravan of migrants from Central America (primarily from Honduras) had reached the border inspiring heated, angry debates on both sides of the political spectrum over the next steps to deal with this latest cohort of arriving migrants—mostly comprised of women, children, LGBT, and temporary workers escaping acute gang/political violence and persecution from their home countries as others were seeking work and a better way of life in an attempt to escape extreme poverty. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 7,000+ migrants comprised this particular caravan that was making its way to cities along the US border. Some had returned home due to the extremely difficult and precarious journey. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimated over 2,000 children were among the caravan numbers. Both UN, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) specializing in immigration law, human rights advocacy, crisis management, and humanitarian aid had dispatched representatives to address the matter as US military personnel were eventually ordered to the border for security purposes. Among the NGOs, Dancers Giving Back (DGB), a registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit had been directly distributing humanitarian aid to migrant families at the border in addition to other charitable pursuits in Los Angeles, CA that included feeding the homeless in Skid Row and distributing clothes, blankets, and supplies to other indigent pockets throughout the city. It was DGB whom I had accompanied to the border in mid-December of 2018.

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Founded and led by Jose Lopez, Dancers Giving Back had been operating for the past 3 years steadily growing support as their social media presence continued to grow and their collaboration with local charities like the Adopt-A-Meal program and local churches gained notoriety. A number of their donation drop-off locations have in fact popped up allowing contributors to leave needed clothes and toiletries for them to collect and distribute for their following trips. According to Lopez, the group’s humble beginnings really originated from a personal desire to engage his daughters in caring for their community. As a member of the Latin dance community in Los Angeles, Lopez soon realized and appreciated the potential neighboring social dance events had for congregating a large population of patrons. Appreciation soon turned to opportunity as Lopez gathered his fellow dancers and formed DGB hosting their own charity drives and social dance events throughout Los Angeles. Early in April of 2018, Lopez registered the group under the 501 (c)(3) non-profit tax code forming a board of directors and networking with local charities in order to solidify and increase their impact onto the community. Guided by members of the board, Lopez worked tirelessly to cement the group’s standing within the non-profit sector learning about the bureaucratic labyrinth and the political realities associated thereof.

BORDER TREK

On their third outing to the border, I had accompanied DGB trekking through Tijuana carrying 4 carloads of donations made up of clothing, shoes, toiletries, blankets, and non-perishable food to distribute directly to the migrants in the caravan. Zooming down the I-5 Freeway during the early Saturday morning hours, we had arrived at Lopez’s family home in Mexico where DGB members were already prepping some of the donations that we were about to distribute separating them by type and gender. Multiple bags of mostly women’s and children’s clothing were piled onto a towing trailer waiting to be hitched onto one of the trucks Lopez had prepared for the trip.

Curiosity spurred by the carloads of donations we had brought down to the border prompted my inquiry as to why larger trucks had not been acquired for the trip. After all, larger trucks meant more donations could be distributed and required less vehicles. Understandably, Lopez broke it down for me when describing their previous efforts to help out at the border:

The very first time that we did this, we didn’t know [about the import fees imposed at the Border]. So, we went from people who told us that ‘Yeah! It’s fine. Just go and take a letter that you’re going to an orphanage and they’re going to help you out.’ So, we did that, and we got fined [by Mexican officials]. It was for a Christmas [about a year and a half ago]. We had another truck that we brought full of donations along with another truck from a U-Haul. We managed to get a lot of sponsors for these kids at the orphanage. We were able to get about 5 sponsors per kid. So, we had a lot of gifts. They were wrapped really nice. The trucks were full. We figured we’d be cool. When we crossed over, we got pulled over. One truck we had to pay something close to $500 US. The next time we came to an orphanage. They did the same thing. We brought a trailer full of stuff. This time I figured I take my 501 (c)(3) letter and they’re going to let us cross the border. Nope. They taxed me another $500 US saying that they were giving me another break because if they were to weigh that, it was going to be over $1,000 US. So, I had to pay $500 bucks because if I didn’t agree to pay it they would’ve confiscated everything and something about registering or tacking the truck with some additional costs. In the end, I had to pay the $500 bucks. I had no choice. This time, I said we’re not going through this again. So, I decided to bring the [donations] in multiple cars.

Indeed, all of us (15 in total) packed our vehicles completely with donations and headed over to the Benito Juarez migrant refugee station making a short stop at a local area where homeless Mexican indigents were also camped out. The migrants by the Benito Juarez location were camped outside the initial station where all of the families were placed upon arriving in Tijuana. According to a migrant, Eduardo Avila, who had been there for 40 days after traveling from Honduras with the caravan, explained that when the rains occurred in early December, families were pushed out from the station because it had completely flooded the area forcing them to live out on the street in the cold. Since then, none had returned leaving a somber empty space with only tattered clothing and personal belongings spread throughout the area as a testament that they were once there.  Many families were later shipped to neighboring shelters, churches, and other refugee stations dwindling the number of migrants seen in one given space.

According to Lopez, this time around was much better controlled compared to when he visited Tijuana as the caravan first arrived in late November. As he described it, multitudes of families were packed here. It looked like a “’war zone’…We didn’t get enough footage to show what it was really like for them then. We didn’t get footage of kids bathing in cold water or setting up their own tents wearing old clothes and shoes.” Organizing the donation distributions then was very challenging. For Lopez, the experience from that trip felt chaotic as many rushed their vehicles to grab what they could before they were left with nothing. People were desperate, and members of DGB empathized with their desperation and took steps to improve their coordination. This time around, they felt better organized and asked a couple of members in the caravan to help group families in lines separating the women and children from the men alongside opposite sides of their vehicles. Wearing surgical masks and gloves, we tried to quickly pass out shoes and clothing while leaving an open bag and box of toiletries and mixed supplies on the trucks and alongside the walls. Children as young as 3 were either holding on tightly to their mothers or were roaming around our vehicles playing while their parents asked us for shoes or blankets. As we came to learn, many men had asked for additional clothing and shoes directing our attention to their current clothes’ state of disrepair. Alas to our dismay, we were in short supply for them during this trip.

In cases of supplies and storage, allying with local churches or shelters would seem to prove useful in these situations. However, experience has taught DGB that some of these locations are unreliable having lost a full load of their donations from one trip.

[Having gone with my brother the first time before bringing the group], we went to a shelter in Tijuana with over 200 brand new shoes to donate. We also decided to bring cash and buy blankets there. When we came there on a Tuesday shopping, and…sometimes I get it. It’s hard for these people, and the blankets we’re getting over here in the US are super cheap wholesale [by comparison]. The blankets are 3 times more there. I mean the market was crazy. So, I ended up not buying the blankets. I just went to Downtown LA and bought them there and ended up bringing them down next time we came. By then, I had left about 200 shoes [at a shelter]. Now, I made the mistake of leaving them in a shelter. I don’t like to do that not even in LA or anywhere. I like to do the [distribution] ourselves with our group. Well, I made the mistake of leaving the shoes there because I didn’t want to take them back. So, I asked the shelter to hold them for me. The next week when we came back to pick them up, the shelter told me that they never saw me. They don’t know what we were talking about. So, they pretty much took the stuff. It sucks because when we left the shelter, one of the guys that…They had arrived at Tijuana from Honduras about 3 days later… had told us, ‘You know what guys. Sorry to say but the stuff you left here, you’ll never going to see it. He had said that that last week. When a few other families came, the shelter had charged us for the stuff we had left and kept the rest. So, the following day we tried to get some of the shoes back. We were able to get what little shoes we could get but not everything because the guy even told me that if ‘you go right now they’ll take everything from me and they’re not going to let me spend the night in the shelter. So, please don’t do that.’ And yeah! Sure enough, they did exactly what he had said they would do

Benito Juarez

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Conditions in Benito Juarez are such that the migrant families from the caravan are sadly left to their own devices despite the presence of local shelters. Interestingly, some members of the caravan have had taken leadership roles among their group organizing the rest to coordinate with visiting NGOs or neighboring shelters when they arrive to offer help. Since some speak English, it was easier for them to rally the others in the caravan to follow them. Our guide, Eduardo escorted a DGB member and myself through the encampment of migrants camped out along the street just outside the Benito Juarez refugee station informing migrant families to meet with DGB staff around the corner for donations they were distributing. As we kept meeting other families, Eduardo explained how some shelters do not always pass out donations or have enough beds to offer for a night. Moreover, he stressed that some migrants at times do not even know where they’ll sleep the next evening. In some cases, neighboring shelters from other regions may drop by and offer food sometimes enticing some to join them. In fact, in an effort to lessen the optics of the caravan, arriving migrants have been at times rustled together (appx 200-500) and taken to different locations further reducing the number of migrants seen in one setting where they had congregated.  When asked what the current status of asylum applicants were, he indicated that each were given a number and were called to present themselves. The average number of applicants called to present themselves by his count was approximately 60-80 applicants per day. He approximated that the number of applicants with assigned numbers thus far was around 2,668. The day we arrived, Eduardo told us that roughly 800 migrants were currently situated in this area around Benito Juarez. Of that, there were around 185 children.

Many tents throughout the area were seen erected where you can easily find a family or a group of indigents huddled together inside just idling as we pass them. Eduardo kept explaining the hardships he had witnessed as the caravan arrived and how the residents in Tijuana had responded to their presence. In fact, he had noted how a number of NGOs had dropped by to lend support albeit it was not always consistent.  Medical assistance was one need he did point out describing a couple of incidents of the ill being shipped out by ambulances when their conditions were brought to the attention of Mexican authorities and aid workers. One girl was actually seen covered in chicken pox following her mother down the street as we passed by. Seeing each person in the encampment stare at us as we peruse the site, their eyes—better yet what one sees in their eyes—spoke volumes. The level of desperation even now after just a few weeks passed when the caravan first arrived is incomparable. Sadness and dread can be seen by many. Only the few smiles from playing children that circled our vehicles were able to lift one’s spirits if only momentarily. The more we spoke with Eduardo, the more we received a better picture of how the situation at the border is developing. There are no local bathrooms or enough food and water to go around. Surrounding shelters do not have enough beds, and migrants (especially children) are exposed to the elements increasing their risk of illness. Some local residents in Tijuana have at times offered migrants the use of their bathrooms for as much as 20 pesos for showers and 5 pesos for the use of their restrooms. If they wanted to rent a room for the evening, migrants would have to pay 5-10 pesos per night. For many who ventured on this journey with very little if anything at all, finding enough to pay for just the use of the restroom is difficult. Since there are no public restrooms or outhouses conveniently located nearby, many are forced to use gutters or anywhere else that may serve as a momentary substitute.  A few feet away, we had passed a kitchen soup line where you could see a line form for food offered by neighboring NGOs. Piles of freshly laundered clothing were gathered in the middle of the street for onlookers and nearby scavengers to inspect and carry off should anyone so desired. Actually, I mistakenly thought the pile to be dirty laundry until Eduardo had corrected me to my surprise.

Here’s Eduardo’s first-hand account of his experience joining that caravan to the border for approximately 2.5 months:

To see this video with subtitles, go to the YouTube link below and click the closed caption button at the bottom of the window to activate the translator. Click on the settings (gear) icon. Click on Subtitles/cc. Then Select Auto-Translate to configure the preferred language. 

MEXICO’S RESPONSE

Mexico’s response to the arrival of the caravan had been well documented by reporters highlighting the fact that the overwhelming numbers of migrants had strained local resources frustrating some residents and officials while prompting others to help as more migrants arrive. Resentment toward the caravan had in fact set in among some calling for their deportation. Although, the Mexican government, under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, had already instituted stricter immigration guidelines and have deported thousands arriving from Central America. According to the Mexican Interior Ministry, 84,000 were deported in 2017 alone. Considering recent NAFTA deliberations though, Mexico had been under considerable pressure by the Trump administration to further tighten their immigration processes and increase their border enforcement if they wanted to continue receiving US humanitarian aid—a vital financial source to the nation’s economic stability. As incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently took office this month, he had to balance the promises he made during his campaign of softening immigration policies while avoiding Trump’s ire and risk a complete cutoff of US aid. According to Professor Javier Urbano of the Ibero-American University in Mexico during an interview for the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/09/migrant-caravan-mexico-response-rich-poor-supplies-complaints), Mexico’s recent tightening of its borders have ironically resulted in an increase in migrant caravans. Since Mexico’s borders are tighter with greater numbers of border security, migrants had opted to take more dangerous routes through the northern region forcing many to travel in groups for safety purposes resulting in the current migrant caravan situation. In one attempt to help alleviate the pressure along the border cities, President Obrador had even promised to offer migrants temporary work visas with healthcare and education benefits and help fund job creation programs angering many local Mexican citizens who are currently suffering rising unemployment and poverty rates. Moreover, evidence of such programs being developed are still up in the air as the new administration is trying to calm the citizenry along its borders. With respect to the temporary work visas, journalists have reported that some migrants from the caravan have been skeptical and feared that such offers were lures, a ruse to trick them into detention and eventual deportation prompting some to dismiss some offers out of fear; while, others have agreed to enter legally and presented themselves to a few shelters.

According to reports from some NGOs like Al Otro Lado and CHIRLA, many migrants who arrive at the border to apply for asylum do want to cross legally but both US and Mexican immigration officials have purposely stalled or have engendered processing obstacles delaying many to apply expeditiously forcing many to wait up to 45 days to a couple of months for some.

Here’s an interview by Rise to Reunite founder, Angeline Chen interviewing Erika Pinheiro from Al Otro Lado on the current obstacles facing asylum applicants at the border:

Frustration eventually sets in for many migrants, and they attempt to cross along other areas at the border forcing border agents to respond and arrest them. Videos and photographs of migrants taking extreme measures to cross borders have circulated during media outlets like the clips of migrants crossing the Suchiate River along the Guatemalan and Mexican border. Immigration rights attorneys and advocates have consistently stressed that such stalling acts are in direct violation of both US and international laws—specifically the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 along with US anti-human trafficking laws. According to the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol to the Status of Refugees, asylum seekers may not be turned down or sent back to their country of origin if sufficient evidence/cause is determined that such return would endanger the lives of the applicants. Among US anti-trafficking laws, the more commonly referenced by advocates is the US Victims on Human Trafficking and Violence Act of 2000. According to the law, victims who were victims of human trafficking can seek assistance if they admitted/presented evidence showing they were victims of human trafficking and are willing to prosecute their traffickers. Sadly, migrant families are at a greater risk of falling victim to human traffickers as they trek the perilous journey to the border, and they still face danger from them the longer they stay on the streets by the border. Reports of cartel kidnappings are well documented in federal DOJ reports and in academic journals like those archived in the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS).

Considering that less than 100 asylum cases are generally reviewed daily and the number of migrants in the caravan are numbered in the thousands, processing asylum requests have no doubt presented challenges for both US and Mexican officials as they try to manage an already beleaguered immigration system. With recent US immigration policies calling for either a postponement or a reduction of additional asylum petitions during and soon after the US mid-term elections back in November, migrant families have been left in limbo until US authorities review their petitions for consideration and adjudication effectively extending the wait time thus increasing pressure on Mexican officials to deal with these families at the border.

SUMMATION

There is no doubt by either side of the immigration debate that the current political environment has placed a spotlight on the inadequacies and overall short-comings of immigration policies and enforcement. In the struggle to balance effective border enforcement and human rights advocacy as global economics, national security, and the rule of law along with international laws and treaties intersect throughout the discussion, the one group most affected are the people who risked everything and traveled thousands of miles through perilous conditions to find refuge from severe poverty and acute violence back home.  Returning for most would mean certain death. As such, these families are left without a home and have effectively become less like human beings seeking help but instead political pawns subject to ridicule and xenophobia. As 2018 comes to a close and 2019 is welcomed with jubilation, policy makers and the judiciary in both the US and abroad should redirect their energy and political capital towards seriously finding multitudes of practical solutions if only to reduce the human casualty witnessed at the border. The rule of law should indeed be followed; however, when the laws have proven to operate in contrast to the spirit of the collective moral standards of human decency and utilitarianism, change is required.

Special thanks to Jose Lopez and the rest of the Dancers Giving Back (DGB) team for allowing me to join them and help distribute humanitarian aid to the migrants we encountered at Benito Juarez.

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Also, special thanks to Eduardo Avila who helped us gather the families and speak about his experiences. Gracias Don Eduardo. Espero que llegues bien a tu país con salud y tranquilidad. Tus palabras serán escuchadas y se iluminará una luz en esta historia.

For additional information on Dancers Giving Back and how to donate along with upcoming scheduled events, they can be reached at:

DANCERS GIVING BACK
738 W 99th St
Los Angeles, CA 90044
(323) 807-9487
Email: dancersgivingbackofficial@gmail.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/dancersgivingbacklosangeles

 

 

“Rise to Reunite!!!!”–A grass roots call for all to address the Trump Zero-Tolerance Immigration Policy

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written by James Rodriguez Daza, June 30, 2018

Pasadena—During the early part of the 20th century, the United States received millions of immigrants from all over Europe, Canada, Latin America, as well as the Far East. According to Kraut (1982)*, an estimated 9 million immigrants had arrived during the early decades mostly from Northern and Western Europe having dropped a bit during the 1920s due to conditions left after WWI. Many who did arrive at Ellis Island, NY at the time were escaping persecution, severe impoverishment, political violence, natural disasters, or severe state health and safety conditions beyond their control. The Statue of Liberty soon became a symbol of refuge from such conditions for many immigrants arriving to the US for years that followed….until recently.

As far back as the early 1990s, immigration policy has been a hotly-contested, persistent political minefield for congressional players that culminated in the creation of several laws addressing it that eventually led to the denigration of immigrants among US society today.

“…we [the US] started to understand that immigration into this country was a problem. It was a problem that we needed to take to respond to in a militarized fashion. That’s the reason why President Bill Clinton had signed a number of laws in 1996 that made it harder for immigrants to seek asylum. It ramped up the militarization of our borders. I say that to suggest that what we are facing today is the imminently crueler, harsher version of what’s been really a consensus of a bipartisan problem we’ve had in this country. I’m heartened by folks [recently] on the left and by Democrats now who are starting to understand that particular problem and starting to say that, ‘Maybe voting for tons and tons of money to police our border today is not something that’s tenable any longer. And that maybe when we did that in 1996 was a mistake.’”—Mohammad Tajsar, ACLU Immigration Attorney, 2018.

After three presidential administrations and increased border enforcement, the debate continues with increasing fervor as the Trump administration took the debate into a much harsher place with the implementation of a zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy that separated families and galvanized both the nation and the world to decry against it. An estimated 600 grass roots assemblage of concerned communities and professionals had gathered in less than a month throughout the country to discuss ways to address the current immigration policy and work toward ending it. One such effort took place over the weekend at the Flintridge Retreat Center in Pasadena, CA. aptly named “Rise to Reunite: Panel and Action Workshops”.

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The event offered an approximately 150 attendants a full afternoon of workshops intended on setting up actionable campaigns to lend a voice to both the affected undocumented migrant families and the numerous concerned citizens, professionals, and advocates who were outraged by the current US government actions that led to the current immigration dilemma. Several organizations were represented. They included the ACLU of Southern California Pasadena Foothills Chapter, YWCA Pasadena – Foothill Valley Chapter, the Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders (PACTL), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), the Law Office of Carl Shusterman, Day One, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). In fact, Congresswoman Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) of the 27th District of California was present to speak to attendants recanting her experience visiting the detention facilities at the border emphasizing the importance of such grass roots efforts like that displayed on the streets in DTLA and in workgroups like Rise to Reunite.

The event started with a panel discussion (overseen by senior counsel for the Law Offices of Carl Shusterman, Angeline Chen, and moderated by public speaker, Ernest Fenelon, Jr.) had key experts in the field who addressed numerous issues related to the current debate on immigration policy, the effects of the separation of undocumented migrant families, and first-hand accounts of site visits of some of the detention facilities where the children were held waiting to appear in immigration court. PACTL executive director, Yoland Trevino briefly gave a history of how US-CIA intervention in Guatemala during the Cold War helped sow the seeds to the political upheaval that eventually engulfed the country in acute cases of violence and poverty prompting an exodus of migrants to the US where they endured substandard living conditions and living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty.  ACLU attorney Mohammad Tajsar gave a general description of the current immigration policy and explained the historical events that led up to it stressing that the problem had continued under both Democratic and Republican administrations. NILC communications director, Adela de la Torre provided a heart-wrenching, first-hand account of her organization’s visit to the Artiga detention facility in New Mexico where they inspected the facility and interviewed both staff and migrants in order to confirm that all immigration legal detention requirements concerning the care and treatment of the detainees including the children were being adhered satisfactorily. A video of the panel discussion is provided below.

Interestingly, the most important take-away from the panel discussion was the importance of helping attendants understand the current problems facing undocumented migrant families under the zero-tolerance policy and identify areas of focus to direct their efforts at establishing a coherent and actionable campaign to end it. So, participants were separated into four discussion workgroups after the conclusion of the panel discussion. The groups included advocacy, fundraising, community organizing, and general volunteering coordination. Each were headed by group leaders to brainstorm ideas, identify target audiences, identify actionable steps for goal execution, and more importantly group direction which would maintain the overall sustainability of group actions. Attendants actively engaged in their corresponding groups discussing possible solutions and voicing their personal feelings on how friends and families were directly affected during the enforcement of the contentious immigration policy.  Many feared the repercussions and direction toward which the country was heading and understandably expressed their frustrations. IMG_1437The general consensus from the community organizing group (at least) was the importance of providing a face and/or voice to the undocumented migrants in order to humanize them and educate both advocates and naysayers alike of the real immigrant experience that follow them as they pass through an immigration system that Adela de la Torre had described as a “labyrinth that is difficult to navigate” for anyone caught in the process without adequate legal counsel, counsel which is generally not provided to immigrants who seemingly do not have the rights to it. Moreover, the direction that the workgroups emphasized was collective inclusion and fact-based campaigns to help persuade a larger consensus to support undocumented migrants and keep their families together. As one attendant noted, it doesn’t matter how much planning and coordination is done, if the other side of the immigration debate cannot be swayed to veer the pendulum toward a more moderate, coherent, and humane immigration policy, all their efforts would be in vain.

What are the current problems presented by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration prosecution policy onto undocumented immigrants?  

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According to the policy that was announced by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 11, 2018, any undocumented person that has been caught crossing the US Border will be detained and criminally prosecuted for illegal entry into the United States. If they were requesting asylum at any recognized port of entry, they would not be arrested and prosecuted; instead, they would start application proceedings for asylum. However, if undocumented families were caught crossing the US Border other than a recognized port of entry, the families would be detained. Since only the adults can be prosecuted, the children as young as infant-aged would be removed and held separately. In the meantime, the adults await adjudication–most often than not–without the benefit of legal representation. To complicate matters further, a 1997 Supreme Court ruling called the Flores Consent Decree stated that the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Customs and Border Protection) cannot detain undocumented, unaccompanied minors for more than 20 days at which point they must be released from their custody. With respect to the zero-tolerance immigration policy, children who were separated from their families are then reclassified as “unaccompanied minors” and subject to the Flores Consent Decree. Once the 20 day limit is reached and they have not been reunited with any member of their families, they are released from US Customs custody. Since the US cannot simply release unaccompanied minors without being placed under the care of a designated adult custodian other than a relative, these children are subsequently remanded to the custody of the US Health and Human Services where they would be assigned to foster care anywhere in the country while they wait to appear at a court hearing to decide their fate (i.e. deportation, asylum, etc.) Again, legal representation is less likely to be provided and the probability that they speak or understand English sufficiently to compose an adequate defense is very low. Considering that children younger than 3 years old are also separated from their families at the border, they too would be required to present their case in court.

Considering the varying bureaucracies at each stage of the immigration process, the policy implications present several areas of concern. Immigration experts point out that these children and their parents may wait several months before seeing a judge to decide on each case leaving affected families separated for extended periods of time potentially permanently keeping them apart especially if the parents are deported before the children are located and reunited with them. Another point of contention includes the fact that an overwhelming number of families arrive at the border seeking asylum from the extreme violence and poverty in many of their home countries that the designated points of entries at the Southern US Border are backlogged leaving asylum seekers to wait weeks to be seen. Frustrated, desperate, and often requiring medical attention due to the perilous journey to the border, they look to claim asylum at other points on entry not recognized by US officials resulting in their criminal arrest. In addition, US staff is severely undermanned to attend to the number of children housed in the facilities that have resulted in a decrease in the quality of care and trained personnel. Due to US child protection laws, detention facility staff and visitors are prohibited from touching, holding, or hugging children crying for their families in order to provide needed comfort from the trauma of family separation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,

“Studies of detained immigrants have shown that children and parents may suffer negative physical and emotional symptoms from detention, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Conditions in U.S. detention facilities, which include forcing children to sleep on cement floors, open toilets, constant light exposure, insufficient food and water, no bathing facilities, and extremely cold temperatures, are traumatizing for children. No child should ever have to endure these conditions.” (https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Statement-on-Executive-Order-on-Family-Separation.aspx).

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Such areas of concern only briefly describe the Rubicon that the current policy presents. The initial effect was both national and international outrage. In the 2 months that followed the implementation of the zero-tolerance immigration policy, reports of the separation of thousands of families had displaced well over 2,370 children in holding facilities, tent camps and shelters. As stories of babies being torn away from nursing mothers, a father committing suicide after losing his children, and pictures, videos, and audio recordings of children being held behind cages and crying for their parents began surfacing, a world-wide rebuke of the controversial policy rang through every form of media. The United Nations Human Rights Office in fact had declared that the United States had violated the human rights of these families and in turn had violated international law stressing that the practice of criminalizing what for all-intensive purposes was considered an “administrative offense” is detrimental to the general welfare of the children and constituted a flagrant violation of the their human rights. The Organization of American States (OAS), which is an international, continental body of 35 independent states (including the US) that promotes regional solidarity and cooperation throughout the Americas, had approved a resolution at the end of June 2018 that called for the US, its headquartered base, to abandon its migrant child separation policy at the border and increase family reunification efforts immediately or risk possible injunctions from its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had also gone before Parliament herself and denounced the policy. “This is wrong. This is not something that we agree with. This is not the United Kingdom’s approach”.  Even a French government spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, chimed in questioning the moral direction the US policy has taken.

The pressure was much more tumultuous nationally spurring outcries from different fronts. A majority from both Democrat and Republican camps publically repudiated the Trump policy on the floor of the House and Senate while former First Ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, Roslyn Carter, and the president’s own Melania Trump publically spoke out against it on Father’s Day.

“…Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history…Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation…We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.…[C]an we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.” –Former First Lady Laura Bush (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/laura-bush-separating-children-from-their-parents-at-the-border-breaks-my-heart/2018/06/17/f2df517a-7287-11e8-9780-b1dd6a09b549_story.html?utm_term=.3b8c7fa3e315)

Numerous non-profit, advocacy groups, national, professional organizations, like the American Medical Association, and faith-based organizations such as the Evangelical Immigration Table, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the US Attorney General’s own Methodist Church denounced the zero tolerance policy. As more stories, pictures, and videos like those taken from the former Walmart warehouse in Brownsville, TX or the detention facilities in San Diego, CA, came to light, US public opinion toward the separation of migrant families had begun to gather the attention of many more government officials (for some) whose seats were up for grabs this year. According to a Quinnipiac University poll in mid-June, for example, 66% of respondents opposed the policy while only 27% supported it. Government officials who were moved morally to respond demanded an end to the infamous immigration policy and called for an expedited reunification process for the families that have already been affected.  17 State Attorneys General led by New Mexico AG (Hector H. Balderas) wrote a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions vehemently opposing the order while 3 state governors, Govs. John Hickenlooper (D-Col.), Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from participating in the policy’s enforcement.

 

The political backlash that resulted backed US President Trump and his administration against a wall forcing him to reluctantly postpone separation efforts and demand that the US Congress pass an immigration bill that he could sign (which would have to include increased funding for his proposed border wall) in order to put the immigration debate to bed highlighting Trump’s efforts on using immigrant children as a political bargaining chip to fulfill his hard-lined immigration campaign promises. Predictably, after a week of political wrangling, no bill could pass through the House of Representatives that had a realistic chance of being signed into law by the President. Frustration, demoralization, and national polarization continued to increase. So much so, that national protests were organized and took place over the weekend demanding a complete end to the zero-tolerance policy. Since AG Sessions’ announcement of the strict enforcement on April 11 and Trump’s announced postponement of its family separation enforcement on June 21 due to political and international pressure, approximately 500 children had been reunited with their families while thousands more await their turn to see their families; however, the complexities related to family reunification due to the lack of proper comprehensive planning and protocols may potentially slow the process or potentially leave many children permanently separated prompting grass roots efforts like Rise to Reunite to overturn the immigration enforcement policy completely.

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Tajsar summarizes this grass roots push best when referring to the immigration enforcement that had affected many Central American immigrants during the past decade as an example:

“They have been met with a series of brutal responses from the US that date back to Bill Clinton but also through the Bush administration and unfortunately into the Obama administration. And chief among them is the idea, the principle of the jailing of families is the right approach to this problem. So, we start from the baseline of heightened amounts of detention and jailing of families of migrants that are coming into this country. That was a problem that predated Trump. But what Trump has since done is announce this policy, a policy of zero tolerance. This was a policy that was announced in [April] but it was a policy that they were already starting to consider as early as March 2017. …There have been approximately 66 children separated from their families every day since April.  What we have to do now is figure out a plan, a response to that problem.”

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Ultimately, the purpose of immigration advocates and these community events is to remind the country of the basic principles on which the United States was founded: It is a nation of immigrants that represents the best of each culture while serving as a beacon of hope to the disenfranchised and offer a chance at a new life where persecution and intolerance has been abandoned. Instead, justice, tolerance, and hope ring louder in the US than any other nation on the planet. When immigrants traveled to this country so many years ago, the Statue of Liberty was a symbol of those hopes and dreams. The efforts currently being laid out by such grass roots efforts are an attempt to remind this country of that very ideal and take action to preserve it. For that reason alone, the fight to help these families continues with such urgency and passion. President Trump and his base of supporters may argue that America has fallen into disarray due to poor policy and leadership promising instead that their own policies and vision for the country will help make America great again. On the contrary, it is important to let them know that America HAS ALWAYS BEEN great. Some were just too blind by ignorance, bigotry, and their own short-comings to see that. Now, it’s this country’s moral imperative to help others see it too.

*Kraut, Alan, The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880-1921 (1982); Handlin, Oscar, The Uprooted (1951)

 

The Struggle of a Bilingual America: A retrospective on bilingual education and biliteracy programs and how Montebello USD’s Dual Language Immersion program leads by example

 

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“We can no longer afford to simply learn languages and cultures; but rather, we must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that prepare for real-world language use and global citizenship. Language learning needs to be a lifelong endeavor.” —“Developing Global Competency” introduction excerpt to the California World Languages Content Standards 2009.

Montebello–December 8, 2016, written by James Rodriguez Daza

In the mid-2000s, California was experiencing a reawakening as technology and the global economy advanced connecting countries and redefining international commerce in its wake. The global market itself by the nature of professional natural selection began to evolve eliminating positions of old in favor of new innovation and modern skill sets. Mass communication itself had to evolve in order to catch up. Global markets opened up inviting international players to play with their US counterparts. Forecasters predicted that a major change was going to hit our economy, but the degree to which it actually occurred in hindsight was unprecedented. After the Great Recession of 2008 struck sending ripples of economic uncertainty across the globe, scholars, educators, and professional elites agreed that the US had to better prepare its youth for the 21st century marketplace which included changing old perspectives like that of bilingual education, bi-literacy, and multi-cultural awareness.

California became the first state to lead the charge on this linguistic enlightenment. After a political battle that nearly put the state on the path of an English-only state through Prop 227, educators and policy makers worked tirelessly to keep most of the current bilingual programs afloat and set the groundwork to which would later develop into the first state Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal of Biliteracy is now a nationally recognized certification awarded to students who meet all the bilingual literacy requirements that will better prepare students to develop multicultural and language relationships that will increase their chances of success in the 21st century marketplace. California became the first state in the nation to award the state Seal of Biliteracy to students in participating school districts in 2012. Ten thousand seals were actually awarded that year for proficiency in 29 languages. That number doubled the following year as additional school districts, charter schools, and county education offices began participating. In 2015, records show that California awarded 31,816 seals to graduating seniors in a state where 22% of the state student population at the time were English language learners. After the implementation of California’s Seal of Biliteracy, other states like New York, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Washington state followed adopting their own respective Seals of Biliteracy with several more waiting for legislation to pass in their respective districts.

However, the benefits of a bilingual education and literacy are not only regulated to the economy alone. Empirical research shows that the benefits extend to cognitive, academic, social and cultural areas of interest. Language learning has been found to increase long-term cognition improving memory, problem solving, pattern recognition and critical thinking skills while preventing mental diseases related to aging like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Academically, students in dual language immersion programs promoting bilingual literacy and multiculturalism show increases in academic performance on achievement tests especially in areas related to language and literacy (California Campaign for Biliteracy. 2014). In a Stanford study, for example, students finishing middle school showed that they “were doing better in English and earning higher grades in other subjects, while graduates of English immersion programs often reached a plateau in English and performed consistently worse in other subject areas (Bilingual battle brewing in California. The Hechinger Report, Apr 19, 2016).” In a study by the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence on two-way immersion education, findings showed that “on average, native Spanish speakers in this study exhibited more balanced abilities in reading, writing, and oral language in English and Spanish than did their native English speaking peers… On average, both groups of students demonstrated intermediate to advanced levels of proficiency in English reading and in English and Spanish writing and oral language by the end of the 5th grade. (The Development of Bilingualism and Biliteracy from Grade 3 to 5: A summary of findings from CAL/CREDE Study of Two-Way Immersion Education. 2004).” On a social level, students in dual language immersion programs have also shown an increased level of cultural awareness and competency since language allows for a better understanding and empathy for other cultures. Bilingual competency also allows students to help bridge the cultural gap with their families by providing them insight and translation while engaging in their own native culture preserving their heritage while assimilating to another.

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Despite these benefits and the paradigm shift on bilingual education and biliteracy policy makers and stakeholders have demonstrated, resistance still exists mostly on the issue of teacher preparation. Amid the growing research advocating increased academic performance, arguments have been made that teachers currently lack sufficient training on bilingualism and biliteracy to warrant continued support for the programs; although, the research says otherwise. The microscope is currently on teachers to perform along with their children who are enrolled in bilingual education programs. SB 2042, for example, arose in 1998 to increase teacher accountability and insure teachers are highly credentialed in California to meet the state’s education performance goals. However, the language in the bill doesn’t specifically address standards addressing bilingual education, literacy, or bilingual certification of teachers complicating the matter further since student performance indirectly becomes a reflection of teacher performance. California certification does use the BCLAD (Bilingual, Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development) credential/certificate to certify and prepare teachers to teach English language learners, but SB2042 didn’t include the domains under this certification in the body of its own legislation which became a dominant legislative force in the late 90s and early 2000s. Instead, legislative focus was geared toward English Language Development (ELD) than dual immersion or any other pluralistic bilingual model. Omission of any caveat related to bilingualism in that particular piece of legislation, experts say, contributed to the state’s decreasing number of qualified, certified bilingual education teachers. In a population of 1.4 million children in California’s public education system, only 693 bilingual teachers were certified for 2014-2015; that’s a big difference when looking at mid-90s figures when 835 teachers were state certified. Recently, state efforts to remedy this problem had occurred including the state’s Department of Education adopting new standards for English learning development, developing teacher workbooks to guide them while instructing English learners, and new sources of funding allocating some funds that could be appropriated to bilingual education like the California Local Control Formula, Titles 1 of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Title 2 of the US Department of Education’s Higher Education Act, and Title 3 of the CA Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Bilingual battle brewing in California. The Hechinger Report, Apr 19, 2016, Is there room for Biliteracy? Issues in Teacher Education, 2006, http://www.cde.ca.gov, www2.ed.gov).

There are several models of bilingual education school districts have used throughout the nation over the years ranging from assimilation to dual immersion. The oldest and rarely used now is described as submersion where the goal is to have non-English speakers learn English and assimilate to US society. The native language is not supported and the students are placed in a regular English-only classroom. Current laws have made this model illegal. The next model is ESL Pullout. Sometimes called language intensive, the model has students “pulled out” of their regular classes in order to receive an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for either a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on the program design. A similar model is the “sheltered model” where ESL and regular classes are combined and taught by either a single trained ESL teacher or by a team. In Transitional Bilingual Education, the model has the students learn content material in their native language, then taught ESL, and gives them the option of taking other less language intensive classes in English like P.E. and art. Maintenance Bilingual Education differs slightly from the others because the model requires transitioning students into English-content classes while offering support in their native language. The Enrichment, Two-Way, or Developmental Bilingual model involves both non-native English speakers and native English speakers entering a maintenance program where they’re learning the same content material but in both languages in the same class. This is designed so that the students begin to work with each other to help each other succeed in class. The design is similar in the immersion program where a portion of the curriculum is taught in a non-English speaking language during a portion of the day then it switches to English for the remainder of the school day or vice versa. Like the concurrent model where classes are taught simultaneously in both languages under a team of teachers, immersion also has students learn both languages but the majority of the content is taught in the native language then transitions to English after the first couple of years of instruction when the students are fully immersed in both English and their native language. This is called a 90/10 model where 90% of the material is taught in one language while the remaining 10 % is taught in the secondary language slowly leveling off as the children reach middle school (Bilingual Education Program Model. The Bilingual Research Model, 1995).

As general popularity for bilingual education and biliteracy increase, programs promoting them also pop up. In California, Glendale Unified School District have offered numerous immersion programs covering languages ranging from Vietnamese, Armenian, to French. The San Francisco Unified School District has programs spanning 15 schools which include middle and high schools covering languages from Spanish to Mandarin. In Montebello Unified School District, its elementary and intermediate schools have been running their immersion program for 17 years and still going strong.

In fact, Montebello Unified recently hosted an event promoting bilingual education at one of its elementary schools, La Merced Elementary, where they had partnered with Read Conmigo , a biliteracy advocate organization which debut its first documentary (Read Conmigo: A Journey to Bilingual America) on their efforts to educate the public on the realities of bilingual education and biliteracy. Free bilingual books were distributed and a panel discussion was held to answer parents’ questions on the school’s dual immersion program. La Merced Elementary Principal, Rebecca Castro, Program Specialist, Adeline Canedo, and 5th grade teacher and 2015 Dual Teacher & Language Educator of the Year, Alicia Ramos spoke on the topic of “a bilingual America” and their own Montebello USD Dual Language Immersion program.

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Montebello USD K-8 Dual Language Immersion Program

Could you please tell me how you became attached to the Read Conmigo: A Journey to Bilingual America event?
Rebecca Castro: Well, a couple of years ago…This is my 1st year here at La Merced Elementary School…they were invited to participate in our Back-to-School Night. So, they came and they setup a table. Their goal is promoting literacy and reading in another language. So, when they were here, they gave out free bilingual books to families as well as providing an online resource for the families to access and continue to receive free bilingual books over the course of the year. I think it was 1 book every quarter.

Being a teacher here at the school, how has the topic of bilingual education affected your perspective on your work? What has been your perspective?
Alicia Ramos: I think when I first started teaching here about 18 years ago, there was a traditional bilingual program during a time when it was very negative and thought of as an awful philosophy of teaching. People thinking that it was not making students culpable of increasing their English capacity. There was a very different vibe. Parents who enrolled their children really believed in the program and really saw the positive effects that they could instill in their children. And so, I think the community has really begun to really see it in a different light. Being bilingual as a positive rather than a negative, and that building language is really building capacity for all of our students for the 21st century. It should be something that should be accessible to all students. Not just being bilingual but mostly bilingual and hopefully will be the goal of Montebello because we have such a diverse community. We hope to extend it to other languages.

What’s a rough, ball-park percentage of the students in your school who are “bilingual”?
RC: I can tell you that a 1/3 of the school…We have 808 students at the school, and a third of that population are enrolled in our dual language program. So, I can tell you that those children are already bilingual or are on their way to being bilingual. We have another segment of our population whose parents have chosen to place them in a mainstream, English-setting who are also currently bilingual. We have about 200-300 English learners at our school. Not all of them are in the dual language program.

How has the dual bilingual program helped the students? Have you seen a marked improvement in their scores, homework, etc?
Adeline Canedo: I think right now at the lower grades, they’re still learning 2 languages which is their primary language and secondary one which is the 90/10 model where they are learning in the other language I would say then 10% in English. So, I think as you see the children move through the grades, especially at the 3rd, 4th , 5th grade, you’re going to see some progress in academic achievement in both languages—not just one, but in both. We are assessing our children in English and in the target language which is Spanish. There’s certainly other benefits other than test scores measuring academic achievement. There are so many other areas that we need to take a look at when we talk about achievement. It’s a great group of students that we take through the process. Also great is that we get to send the students next door to the intermediate school where they have a dual language program. So, the program doesn’t stop at 5th grade; it does continue to 8th grade.

Does the dual program also encourage parent participation?
AR: Definitely. We have a very involved parent population in the dual program. They’re definitely wanting to participate and engage. We have workshops that we provide for parents. We have meetings where we promote bi-literacy and just inform parents about the benefits of the program. So, once parents become part of the dual program, they really embrace everything that comes along with it– parents volunteer for different activities at school even as much as tutoring. Other students (on their own time) hold meetings with parents who are uncertain about the program or who are feeling uncomfortable about keeping their kids in it. I mean it’s just supporting each other. They build community. I think they really support one another and they help each other to understand the way the program design works and that it’s an acquisition process that it takes several years to really see the benefits of i . You can really see in the middle school where you can see the leaps and bounds of the program.

With respect to the school district, have they received much support for the dual bilingual program, or have you experienced some difficulty in promoting or continuing it?
RC: The program is 17 years old. We’re starting our 17th year starting this coming year. We’re very happy about that. I got to see the program start from the beginning in 2000. Actually it was in September of 1999. I came on board on January of 2000. At that time, we were working under a Title 7 grant, and we were able to start at with 1-2 kindergarten classes at each school. We had 3 elementary schools and so at that time we had a lot of support in terms of the grant; we had people at the district that were supporting and promoting the program. I was a resource teacher, and I had the parent’s involvement. So, we went out to recruit…which is to speak with parents and inform them about the program. After the grant ended which was in 2005, then the program had to sustain itself after that from about 2006 to now in terms of continuing and maintaining a strong program. So, it did despite—sometimes—a lack of resources which is often times the challenge of these types of programs have. Now, we have a board that supports the program. We have admin, a district office where some of them will be here tonight that are supportive as well. I think in the last 3 years (I would say) we’ve seen a lot of resources going into the program to build our libraries– to provide professional development to teachers and resources. Now, we have the program at 4 schools—2 elementary and 2 intermediate schools.

What other sources of funding have you requested to maintain the program?
RC: I think as far as funding we don’t have a particular grant that was just slated for the dual language program. We have our general funds that support it. We have our Title 1 federal monies that also offers support. Title 2 supports are professional development that comes from the district office to our teachers. We have Title 3 which supports our English learners and that could be part of our dual language program support, and of course our Local Control Accountability Program supports. That’s part of the general fund.

Out of curiosity, what’s the ratio between teacher and students in the dual language program and what cultures are represented in the school?
AC: That varies. In Kindergarten, it’s 24 to 1, and when you get up…It all depends on how many students you are able to enroll in kindergarten. So, when I was meeting with parents, last Spring we were able to get…it just worked out…we have 24 and 24, 25 which is our number, and you go up the grade levels, I think 1st grade has a little lower. They’re at 21. 2nd grade…they’re a little higher. 3rd grade has probably the highest number which is at 27. Then we have 2 4th grade classes then a 5th grade class which has 28. 
RC: We have mostly Latino. I don’t have the breakdown. It’s in our Census report. But we have Armenian students. We have Asian. We have African-American, Filipino, and some Indian cultures. 
AC: In the district, we have some 17 different languages. I would say the school has quite a few languages.

The Montebello USD Dual Language Immersion Program is an option for parents who are interested in enrolling their children. Principal Castro pointed out that the program is open to all students regardless of language background. Information can be accessed online on http://www.montebello.k12.ca.us . Simply look for the La Merced Elementary tab where visitors will be taken to the website detailing the program’s parameters and criteria. If you would like to contact Principal Castro to discuss the program, she can be reached at castro_rebecca@montebello.k12.ca.us or you can call her at (323) 721-5043.

As more information on bilingual education and biliteracy reach parents, the more popular programs like dual language immersion will become. The most recent development on the issue was the recent passage of Prop 58 where multilingual education funding was approved by a 72% margin reflecting California’s growing acceptance of bilingualism. More work is still required getting the word out on helping the nation become a more multicultural, multilingual society. California is the trend setter as in so many areas to jump start a movement that reaches across the coasts of a country where diversity and cosmopolitan sensibilities define numerous generations. Only through communication can diverse cultures reach common ground in order to achieve progress. In our current polarizing political reality, movements, such as the promotion of bilingualism and biliteracy, are so important in uniting our society so that as a nation we can advance and lead the world by example. Nothing less should be expected of us.

28th St YMCA Apartments welcomed Mayor Eric Garcetti as it sets the standard for affordable housing in Los Angeles

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Los Angeles–written by James Rodriguez Daza. Affordable housing and the effort to reduce homelessness in Southern California received the spotlight recently when Los Angeles county residents voted last year, to pass two key bond measures–Measures H and HHH. Measure H authorized the county to take a quarter of the revenues from the county sales tax to fund social services directed toward the homeless population and residents who are at risk of becoming homeless. Measure HHH authorized $1.2 billion in bonds to be allocated toward funding housing for them. Included in the measure is providing facilities that would offer mental healthcare and addiction treatment services as well as other social services requiring the purchase, building and/or remodeling of said facilities from which residents could access them. Approximately 10,000 units are expected to be provided due to the measure in LA County where an estimated 47,000 residents are listed as homeless according to the LA County Housing Authority. Before the latest bond measures were approved though, existing permanent housing projects that were designed to cater to this specific population were already on the books but awaiting city approval. Coming off the release of a 2016 county-wide initiative that addressed specific strategies toward reducing homelessness for Los Angeles, county officials, non-profit developers and community organizations had collaborated to modernize existing buildings targeted to greatly benefit sections in the county where large homeless populations have been identified.

Among the numerous actors involved in the melee, Mayor Eric Garcetti had helped lead the charge sticking to his campaign promise of addressing and reducing the homeless situation in Los Angeles. During his State of the City address on April 20, 2017, he reiterated his commitment and announced that $176 million from his proposed budget for the new fiscal year would go to funding housing projects for the homeless as well as pushing a city council proposal to create an Affordable Housing Linkage fee from which an estimated $100 million would be raised every year in addition to funds allocated for affordable housing that would raise an additional yearly $300 million to the monies expected to be provided through the recently approved measures. Construction projects like the East Hollywood PATH Metro Villas are already well under way setting, what some would hope, a new standard for how housing the homeless population should proceed. New construction for it broke ground on that same day with the mayor making the ceremonial gesture of shoveling the area where construction will eventually begin. This among other development projects are receiving new attention as a result of the recent approvals for Measures H and HHH reopening the discussion of LA’s growing affordable housing issues and its homeless crisis.

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Riding on the laurels of the successful vote on the measures, Mayor Garcetti had been touring several affordable housing projects throughout Los Angeles to see the progress the city has made in meeting the challenge of helping the disenfranchised acquire permanent housing and needed social services in order to stay off the streets. During the weekend following his State of the City address, he had recently visited the 28th St YMCA Apartments where Clifford Beers Housing had worked tirelessly to upgrade the “historic-cultural” monument in order to provide the chronically homeless with permanent housing. Greeting members from 40 different neighborhood councils from all over Los Angeles who were also present at the 28th St Apartment complex, Mayor Garcetti took a private tour of the 5-year old facility marveling at the 50-unit complex while congratulating staff for their hard work and commitment to serving the community’s homeless. The tour took him to a common room where pictures of African American architect, Paul Revere Williams, were displayed honoring his contributions to the industry of architecture including his original design for the YMCA building from which Clifford Beers had redeveloped. A small entourage of both his staff and Clifford Beers accompanied him as rooms were surveyed on a couple of floors while basking in the sun from the open patio area overlooking Downtown LA. Mayor Garcetti, pleasantly enjoying his visit, met with one of the apartment’s residents, Kajohnae Cannon, who was present during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of 28th St when the doors officially opened to receive residents. Ms. Cannon was one of many who first moved in during the complex’s inaugural months in 2012. Friendly exchanges were made between the two and the young 27-year old even showed the mayor her apartment as her pet white Maltese energetically played with her new guests. After a brief conversation, they parted ways allowing the mayor to complete his tour. Before leaving 28th St Apartments, Mayor Garcetti gave the visiting neighborhood council members, whom he had invited to attend the complex, a warm and congratulatory talk about the work that has been accomplished so far and their significance in it.

He encouraged them to continue to be a part of this collaborative process. For example, he was reminiscing of when he used to play basketball at this very same YMCA not so long ago and how he remembered what it looked like then. He was pleased that Clifford Beers still retained the building’s historic design while enhancing other features. “…the new part of this building is a bridge to the past and the future,” he commented. “In many ways that’s what we’re asking you to do and to be today. That aspiration of [bringing together] the past, present and future.“ Many in the room nodded affirming their understanding of his message. He continued to give Clifford Beers accolades for its continued efforts to help the homeless secure permanent housing. “Clifford Beers is one of the most outstanding organizations in putting together youth outreach programs and working together in housing and piecing together this historic YMCA that was designed by architects who are a part of LA history… [We] have a Work Source center and outreach programs here. It’s a place to help find jobs and housing. It’s an inspiration. Thank you for opening your doors to us.” His most poignant message to visitors however was the work that remains to help Los Angeles significantly reduce homelessness:

“…I’m going to meet with 25 mayors this weekend from around the country as part of a fellowship with the Aspen Institute where we take off our ties and get in a room like this, close the doors, no press, and get to talk about how we’re tapping into resources to discuss how to tackle this issue of homelessness….This is the defining moral issue of our time….We have a city with so much momentum right now. It’s undeniable. I asked myself, ‘What sense did I get from the State of the City?’ It’s undeniably strong. Record jobs. Record training. Record investment. Record visitors. Recording housing started all of this. But I said to myself, economic success isn’t a measure of a city. It’s who is the most vulnerable and how do we help them….I don’t feel we’re completely strong until we have a city with no encampments. A city with less traffic. A city with good schools. Those things that it’s nice to say ‘I’m doing better’, but if somebody else isn’t, we’re not alright.”

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According to Clifford Beers Housing’s Marketing and Public Relations director, Claire Okeke, the 28th St Apartment complex took 4 years to acquire the necessary funding (a typical length of time for affordable housing) to modernize the YMCA building installing sustainable, eco-friendly measures and an additional 17 months to complete the work on it. Funding sources for the project came from the Mental Services Act capital loan, a predevelopment loan from the Corporation of Supportive Housing, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Housing Department, the Mental Health Services Act operating subsidy, the Community Development Block Grant/Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and the Affordable Housing Program. Permanent funding sources also included a trust fund from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department Trust Fund, and the federal 9% tax credit also provides additional permanent financing—an estimated $19,700,000 of permanent funding. Overall, the total cost of development amounted to approximately $24,300,000.

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Despite the relatively low-cost on the work Clifford Beers had invested in it, the quality of the construction is so well done that visitors would assume the costs would’ve been much higher, which is a testament to the quality of the construction performed. Partnering with the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, Clifford Beers had contracted Koning Eizenberg Architecture, a Santa Monica-based architecture firm renowned for its work on “adaptive reuse of historic buildings, education facilities and community housing,” to modernize the famed YMCA facility building on Paul William’s historic design. In fact, Brian Lane of Koning Eizenberg was present during the day of the mayor’s tour to talk with the neighborhood council members about the design of the complex’s modernization and answer any questions they may have. The real challenge for the developers, according to Mrs. Okeke, was to preserve the history and culture of the community which the building originally had reflected while keeping the building up to code. Initially, the units were 85-110 sqft with a shared bathroom on each floor including a cafeteria on the second floor. Currently, Los Angeles building standards no longer allow for those conditions. Both city and county laws require that each unit have its own bathroom. As such, the development team and Koning Eizenberg converted the 50-unit apartments into 24 apartments with their own bathrooms and kitchenettes, and an addition was constructed to the rear of the complex to include the remaining 26 apartments. The size of each studio-style apartment now ranges from 300-800 sqft with a ground floor space of 8,000 sqft to accommodate on-site 24/7 social services. A single, studio apartment is now available for the property manager. The John Stewart Company handles the property management for the building itself. Solar photovoltaic panels and solar thermal heating were added. Other energy-efficient features like energy and water efficient fixtures, green roofs, erosion control, local drought-tolerant landscape, and bike parking adjacent to local public transit were included earning the building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ) Gold rating. In addition, 28th St Apartments had also won a multitude of other awards that include:

A+ Jury’s Choice Award for Architecture and Preservation” by Architizer (2016)
National Honor Award for Architecture” by AIA National (2015)
Preservation Award” by Los Angeles Conservancy (2013)
Award of Excellence” in the Mutli-Family Housing category from the Los Angeles Business Council (2013)
Westside Prize Multi Unit Housing HONOR Award” by Westside Urban Forum (2013)
Historic Preservation Award” by City of Los Angeles (2013)
Preservation Design Award” in the Rehabilitation category by California Preservation Foundation (2013)
Merit Award” in the Architecture category by AIA California Council (2013)
Housing Award” at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore (2013)
Honor Award” for Excellence in Architectural Design by AIA Los Angeles (2013)
Special Needs Project of the Year Award” by SCANPH (2013)

“They did an amazing job on 28th St and they’re able to make it look beautiful and functional and make it great. It’s extremely well-designed and seemed like it cost a lot more than it did but on a very tight budget. So, we’re thankful to them for being able to do that. They have a really big heart to be willing to do this because it’s important and meaningful to do the type of work that’s not just about the bottom-line,” said Mrs. Okeke.

Residency is limited primarily to serve the chronically homeless with mental health conditions, but some flexibility has been made available to serve certain low-income applicants too. Many applicants are referred by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Approximately, thirty apartments specifically house such referrals. The remaining units, designated “general affordable apartments,” have been reserved to house low-income applicants. Applicants in this pool are not required to have a mental health condition. Instead, they must show that their income is at or less than 50% of the area median income (the household median income of a region as calculated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for each metropolitan region in the country). With respect to Los Angeles, the area median income for a household of 4 is at $62,300.

The public response to the apartment complex so far had been positive and well-received. In fact, the mayor had invited the members of the neighborhood councils to attend the facility and encouraged them to take a tour in order to see what a beautifully constructed, fully-functioning, successful affordable housing complex looks like. Essentially, he wanted to display 28th St Apartments as a beacon, a model for what his vision of affordable permanent housing would be to help the chronically homeless in Los Angeles, and he wanted to empower the same neighborhood councils to open up to his vision in order to invite similar projects in their neighborhoods like Clifford Beer’s King 1101 Apartments, which is currently under development on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Vermont. Ultimately, the mayor and partnering non-profit developers like Clifford Beers Housing are working to do away with the public misconception of what an affordable housing facility really is and how it does not negatively affect the surrounding communities in which it resides. According to Mrs. Okeke, a negative connotation accompanies the concept of “The Projects”. It depicts the idea that crime, drugs, unsavory characters, and poorly maintained, unattractive buildings are the fundamental characteristics that normally follow an affordable housing development which hinders the community and contributes to lowering property values. She emphasized that the prevailing misconception is not an accurate picture; on the contrary, the inverse (especially in the case of Clifford Beers Housing projects) is actually a truer representation of what is meant by an affordable housing apartment complex. “For us, we make sure to hire really high quality on-site 24/7 property management as well as service providers who work there at the building who help the residents remind them of their roles and keep the place looking nice and help the residents make good decisions for themselves. We also focus on good design. The building starts out beautiful and stays beautiful. The residents also help contribute to the community and the wider neighborhoods. Our research shows that property values continue to increase in the neighborhoods that have affordable housing.”

Empirical evidence on the subject of the impact affordable housing has on neighboring property values does indeed support her claim. One recent 2015 Stanford study, for example, by Rebecca Diamond and Timothy James McQuade, examined the effects of a neighboring spillover of property developments financed by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Results showed that the surrounding property values had increased by 6.5% inviting more economically diverse and cosmopolitan homeowners while seeing the local crime rates decrease (https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/working-papers/who-wants-affordable-housing-their-backyard-equilibrium-analysis-low) . Another study in 2014 conducted by the privately owned Maxfield Research Company and commissioned by the non-profit, Family Housing Fund, looked at the property values and sales in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and their impact by the development of affordable housing. Data also showed no negative effects on them. Instead, “home sales displayed similar or stronger performance in the period after affordable rental housing was built compared to a control group (Family Housing Fund Public Education Initiative May 2014).”

Despite the prevailing evidence, the tumultuous housing crisis plaguing both Los Angeles and the country as a whole does see communities struggling to keep their homes as the cost of living continues to increase, and gentrification seeps into cities pushing local residents out of their homes. In a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, a record number of 1,000 Section 8 vouchers have been on a waiting list for a little over a decade due to the homeless situation in Los Angeles (http://laist.com/2017/04/04/section_8_waiting_list.php) . In a 2016 UCLA study on development around transit areas and gentrification, data suggested that much of the gentrification has currently centered on or near areas where subway and light-rail transit stops are located pushing residents further away as a new, younger demographic took occupancy attracting new investors and private developers (http://la.curbed.com/2016/8/30/12712942/gentrification-map-los-angeles-county) . As a result, affected residents worry about their futures and whether they’ll still have a home the next day. In light of this eventuality, communities had banded together forming neighborhood councils to add another, personal voice to the current discussion on the homelessness issue affecting Los Angeles. As such, members from some of those neighborhood councils accepted the mayor’s invitation and attended 28th St Apartments as he toured the facility. They took this opportunity to voice their concerns to Clifford Beers staff asking questions concerning the allocation of affordable housing funds and what other options are available to improve the housing situation near them.

Staff carefully explained to them the process and the challenges that developers generally encounter, especially non-profit organizations, like Clifford Beers Housing. While on the tour, visitors kept drilling the staff on what options were examined before making the final decisions on 28th St Apartments resulting in a surprising discussion on some basic development issues. For example, visitors learned that the parking issue is one of the biggest challenges to overcome especially in DTLA where a single parking stall can cost at least $50,000 per tenant prompting staff to figure out a viable solution. When asked how gentrification has impacted Los Angeles, Mrs. Okeke replied,

“Gentrification is happening. What we would want to be the goal would be sustainable development that really lifts all people. Housing is getting more expensive. What we would ideally want is that the number of jobs and the pay scale per working people also increase with the housing costs so that people could continue to afford the housing. We don’t want the gap between the wealthy and the poor to continue to expand because then you’re getting like the Bay area. You have million dollar homes, million dollar incomes of just 5 or 1% of people. Then you have the people working at the gas stations in San Francisco who have to live 2 blocks away or have to live with their cousin because there is absolutely no possible way to afford to live in the area where you work.”

Affordable housing is plagued by bureaucracy, red tape, and funding at all levels of government. Funding for development alone is a labyrinth prompting developers to jump through various hoops just to gather enough capital to get the proverbial ball rolling. Much of the funding is done through tax credits which are prone to investment fluctuations. Money may be available one year but then unavailable the next. Non-profits, as a result, have to advocate and innovate ways of gathering the necessary funds to maintain certain projects which entails an interesting cat and mouse game of lobbying.

“We’re always advocating for more attention to be paid to funding at the state level. Last year, our staff and a lot of our residents went to Sacramento to talk to CA senators to ask for more money for affordable housing. That resulted in the state passing a bill called No Place Like Home, which is several billion dollars for affordable housing. So, that was good. We’re always trying to advocate for more money and attention for affordable housing on all levels from the federal to state to county to city levels…We really try to be as innovative as possible in the way we come up with new ways to fund housing. So, we don’t and we can’t only rely on tax credits because they’re so inconsistent, and you can’t always expect that money to be available. We have to make sure that we can sustain and continue to build more affordable housing even if that money isn’t available (Claire Okeke, Director of Marketing Public Relations, and Grants).”

With the recent votes approving Measures H and HHH, organizations like Clifford Beers Housing hope to increase more opportunities to better secure funds for continued projects on affordable housing and solicit additional government assistance to green light new projects. The key however is to keep the neighboring communities engaged and to not only empower them to help such projects succeed, but to also support new endeavors to cover the greater Los Angeles area.

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According to Cristian Ahumada, Clifford Beers Housing Executive Director, who spoke to visitors during Mayor Garcetti’s visit,

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“We’re seeking to improve the city and have that level of engagement [from the neighborhood councils] and have the discussion [on the topic of homelessness] as the mayor had discussed today. What we’re seeking is the creation of a model that is a successful model. So, when you look at the 28th St Apartments, you’re outside and you can see that it’s this beautiful building that has been restored and has provided homage to a wonderful African-American architect. And what is the greatest respect that we can provide to that individual than to have preserved those common spaces as housing spaces and housing for the most vulnerable in the community. And in so doing that, we have a beautiful building that has been well-maintained and serve as a model wherein the very near future, when we access HHH and replicate these [projects] again and again throughout the city in various models.“

The issue of homelessness in the US is a very complicated topic intertwined in a web of political chess and wrangling in order to educate key stakeholders and advocate for the truly vulnerable populations of this nation. Los Angeles in particular has a very potent dilemma as space is severely limited and existing structures that could provide potential locales to house the city’s most impoverished are stymied by zoning, building codifications, bureaucratic red tape, prevailing societal misconceptions, and political, legal hurdles. Organizations like Clifford Beers Housing strive to overcome such challenges in order to meet its goal of providing permanent housing coupled with the provision of quality social services to the county’s chronically homeless and families who run the risk of ending up on the street. Mayor Eric Garcetti is a key partner for such non-profit organizations whose political capital and clout can help tip the balance in favor of the city’s disenfranchised. As more families are affected by the current housing situation in California and, subsequently, the rest of the nation, continued outreach and advocacy are encouraged to better gain additional support from other key stakeholders who too can help tip the scales to help affected communities. For more information on Clifford Beers Housing, readers can visit http://cbhousing.org. Both the Mayor’s Office and the LA Housing Authority can be reached at https://www.lamayor.org and http://www.hacola.org .

The Face of a Democracy? UCLA students protest the US Presidential Inauguration as an uncertain future looms over the nation

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Written by James Rodriguez Daza

29, JANUARY 2017, LOS ANGELES–On a cool, brisk Friday morning, in front of the US Capitol building in Washington, Donald J Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017 as the 45th President of the United States of America. Following a contentious and polarizing election campaign, President Trump delivered his inaugural speech describing a dystopian nation under siege by unemployment, poverty, a failing education system, violent crime, a crumbling infrastructure, immigration, a weakened military, foreign trade, Islamic terrorism, and an out-of-touch federal government. Mostly catering to his base that put him in the White House, President Trump vowed to return the US to its greatness from which it had purportedly fallen uniting the country in the process. However, his nationalistic, populist rhetoric (as it has become known) along with his growing distrust and antagonism toward the media and frequent posts on social media have widened the rift along partisan lines raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill while concerning foreign allies abroad.

Recent debate stirred from Trump’s camp over the inaugural ceremony’s attendance numbers had received heightened attention during the administration’s first week which have frustrated some in the Republican Party noting that it has distracted from tackling major policy agendas important to the party itself. The Trump administration had disputed claims that the attendance numbers at the inaugural ceremony were far less in comparison to President Obama’s 2009 inaugural ceremony attendance numbers arguing that (according to Trump’s White House Press secretary,  Sean Spicer) Trump’s ceremony attendance was actually “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

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According to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) statistics on public transportation ridership, which operates the Metrorail, on that day, 193,000 passengers rode the Metro before 11 am. The whole day recorded 570, 557 passengers—a considerable lower number to the average weekday ridership of 639,000 passengers. Since the US Park Service does not track crowd estimates during events held at the National Mall where the ceremony actually took place, the only measurable figures were the WMATA stats and overhead imagery photos which were shared throughout social media and in print publications with comparison shots taken at the Obama inaugural ceremony. According to a New York Times estimate, 160,000 people were in areas in the National Mall, which is a far lower number to the estimated 1.8 million who had attended Obama’s inauguration setting the highest attendance record to date for people attending the National Mall. The controversy escalated when Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, had said during an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s Meet the Press that Spicer’s claims were presented as “alternative facts” prompting Todd to correct Conway by calling them “falsehoods”.

The Trump inauguration itself prompted a little over 60 Democrats to boycott the ceremony while inspiring a nationwide walkout among college and high school students to protest Trump’s transition to power and igniting an increase in attendance for the worldwide Women’s March that took place the following day. The UCLA walkout in particular highlighted the degree of fear, anger and discontent with the direction the country was heading as the Trump inauguration was taking place foreshadowing the height of organized social resistance that the Women’s March eventually demonstrated globally.   

Organized by Socialist Students UCLA, the UCLA Walkout on the Trump Inauguration was scheduled to take place on the same day Trump took the oath of office. Several student groups and organizations attended and sponsored the event. Young Progressives Demanding Action, the UC-Student Workers Union (UAW), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) public service worker union, The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN), and BASH (Bruins Against Sexual Harassment) were among them. According to the Facebook event page for the walkout, approximately 1,000 attended the event. The rally began in front of the Powell Library where protesters gathered during the heaviest of a weekend –long string of torrential showers and freezing temperatures to hear a number of speakers announcing their reasons for attending the walkout while declaring their collective resistance to an administration whom they felt did not represent but instead threaten their interests and security. It was a collective rallying cry against the administration’s efforts to conduct mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, the promotion of xenophobic rhetoric and policies against the Muslim community, sexual harassment and efforts to curtail women’s’ reproductive rights, discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community, the reopening of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and corporate tax policy initiatives. The crowd then (accompanied by police patrol cars staying vigilant against any potential unruly behavior) marched to the Reagan Hospital and through the neighboring Westwood Village up to the Wells Fargo Bank chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” while a few speakers lent their voices to the crowd. Upon returning to campus, protesters gave one last round of public speeches reminding the audience that this day of resistance is only the beginning. They encouraged on-lookers to stay vigilant and call out the administration on its activities.

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The student march was an opportunity for all to voice their grievances against the new administration, but it was also an opportunity to bring attention to issues directly affecting the university and the UC system as a whole. Hannah Birch (UCLA researcher and one of the event’s organizers) said that the rally was an opportunity to call on the UC regents “to develop a system to hold perpetrators of sexual assault on [campus] accountable. Making the UC a sanctuary university and to pay its workers living not poverty-level wages.”  Although the linkage between Trump’s inauguration and the university’s own issues concerning student and staff grievances may seem mutually exclusive, organizers claim that they are related in that the Trump administration’s policies reflect an ideology of bigotry, misogyny, bullying, and corruption that are symptomatic of the current state of the recent administration of university affairs at the UC level. Considering that the US Senate confirmation hearings were still being conducted during the weeks leading up to the inauguration, protesters were concerned about the new President’s appointees particularly that of Betsy DeVos for the US Secretary of Education nomination who received scrutiny after her responses to education policy questions and issues.  According to Birch, “students are frustrated to see an official [like DeVos] appointed to [positions] only because of the money and the influence that she has given to the Republican Party. It emphasizes an un-democratic system–an appointee that wants to privatize education which would dismantle education and devalue the quality of education. You see politicians like Bernie [Sanders] question her about these issues of corporate money. When these politicians are tied to corporate influence, obviously they can’t represent the interests of ordinary people like you and me and Wall Street. I feel that her position in education is the epitome of a system that is failing us and not representing the people.”  Viola Ardeni of BASH also cited the growing trend in the privatization of education and feared that the UC system is dangerously following a similar path especially as the new administration takes over and has the authority to affect education policy that would benefit the upper class more than the middle and lower classes motivating her organization to protest the inauguration. She said, “We want to make sure that education is available, but not only to the people who have the money to pay for it. Education has to be more available to people. It’s not free; it has to be accessible. The Trump administration is composed of billionaires that do not have an interest in that. And we have seen over the years UCLA behaving more like a business than a research and education institute.”   

Now, BASH was founded a couple years ago after a sexual harassment case involving a member of the faculty had emerged which was one of the topics that was brought up more frequently during the rally as well. It highlighted the UC system’s recent Title IX investigation into the case, which was settled in 2014 that involved Gabriel Piterberg (a tenured professor and director of UCLA’s Center of Middle-Eastern Studies) who was the center of that sexual harassment investigation. Title IX is a statute in the US Department of Education’s civil rights law that protects against sexual discrimination in education programs and activities. It applies to any institution that receives federal financial assistance from the US Department of Education’s funds. With respect to the Piterberg case, there were numerous student allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior bordering on sexual assault. A settlement was reached which required a $3,000 fine, a quarter-long suspension without pay, and sexual harassment training in exchange of ending the investigation without pressing charges with the Academic Senate. Both students and faculty found the decision far too lenient and felt it sent a troubling message that UC professors may engage in sexual harassment with impunity.  One BASH activist said, “ …It means that if you’re a tenured professor at UCLA and you commit sexual harassment, your rights are protected more than those of the students. And we can’t stand for that.” When asked her reasons for attending this rally, aside from rejecting the Trump administration’s transition to power, she replied, “We want Professor Piterberg’s resignation. Second, we want reform to the Title IX procedure; so that, it’s transparent and held by a third party not by the UC system itself or its people. Thirdly, we want these changes to be UC-wide so that other universities are protected the same way,” In order to find the link between the presidential inauguration and the UCLA Title IX investigation, Ms. Ardeni chimed in. “When you have a ‘grabber’ like Trump in office, it gives the possibility for the presence of someone like Piterberg on campus. The university is covering the story. We want the university to publically state that they want Piterberg to resign. What they are doing is what politics in the high level do. They set what Trump set. The Republicans accepted what Trump said. They didn’t agree with the way he was addressing the people but they still accepted him. We do not want UCLA to behave the same way.”  Jonathan Koch, the unit chair of UAW 2865, the UC Student Workers Union, believed that the incoming Trump administration wouldn’t protect the many rights afforded to UC students and feared that the student body would be left alone to fight for their inherent student protections. “We’re out here to ensure that there is pressure from below on the UC regents to make sure they adopt a robust sanctuary policy. To make sure they adopt a robust democratic policy against sexual harassment and sexual violence, and to make sure they protect public education. We know with the incoming administration, there won’t be any pressure from above. So, we have to generate sufficient pressure from above too for the benefit of workers and students and the entire community here in California.”

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When talking to students and organizers about the incoming administration and what it meant for them, a resounding theme of uncertainty and abandonment from the highest levels of leadership was felt across the board inciting a reaction of rejection against the status quo. In a way, the sentimentality from most protesters  is that they have been cast aside and the only one who really demonstrated a chance at building an inclusive society where they would have had a continued voice at the federal level, Bernie Sanders, was sabotaged. Birch said,

 “I think everyone felt so dejected when they saw the primaries rigged against him, the most popular politician in the US, and they saw the right wing, Trump’s cabinet, kind of capitalize on that vacuum of rejecting the status quo and the establishment. So, I think everyone here today is just upset to see a bully like Trump take office on a platform of hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia. Our current system is not democratic, and that we know a better system is possible that meets [everyone’s] needs as well as provide a platform open to discussion and to debate where everyone is included in that discussion. What we see is the current system works in favor of an elite few, the billionaire class. That is why we are rejecting the Democratic Party to lead us in that fight to defeat Trump. That’s why we’re calling on our own movement to build a party for the 99% that refuses corporate cash that is politically independent from the two parties and that it fights for issues like fighting for $15 an hour federal minimum wages, police accountability, reproductive rights, and mass deportations and mass incarcerations. Everyone is frustrated with the status quo. They see that the policies aren’t representing them, and they see that this system, our current system, punishes the most vulnerable people while the billionaire class benefits the most , the class that created all these inequalities. So, I think they have two different ways of articulating that frustration and the right wing take is into this kind of ‘divide and conquer’ tactics of pitting people against each other of racism, of distracting people from the greater, systemic problem that’s going on. But I think that the fundamental issue is that people want a rejection of the status quo and want something that is democratic and inclusive.”         

Aubrey, a transgender woman who attended the rally, said,

“For me the Trump administration represents a movement. A reactionary movement to [what some here call] “identity politics”. They even call it PC culture or things like that and to greater understanding between different people. I think that’s tied in with more people that have access to higher education. There’s a greater awareness from people different than us and how to bridge differences and understand and respect differences. So, I see the Trump administration as representative of this backlash against that…the liberalization of the general public. It’s a white supremacist, fascist… At the same time it’s also incorporative of white moderates as well that aren’t sure what to think. So, [the administration] uses politics of fear and leverage against any kind of ideas that want to bridge connection and build understanding between diverse peoples of different circumstances and communities. [The inauguration} affected me greatly. As a transgender woman in the US, I’m greatly fortunate to live in California which I feel very protected by the state legislature and by the people around me and by the university in many respects. But I also feel like the inauguration itself is very disturbing…We tried to build this representative democracy, and it feels that there are these loopholes that allowed this…white supremacist…that is kind of overt or its not, but I think it’s overt personally…But it really hurts on a personal level. As if they’re saying to me and my friends and my chosen families and my communities that ‘you are powerless. You are not valid, and you will not be participating in the future that we have envisioned…That we have been able to enact. That’s devastating. At the same time, the purpose of rallies like this, and organizing like this–coming together as communities to actively politick against the administration. To tell them that ‘No.’ We are here, and we are going to be represented. We’re going to be involved in this future. The future they envisioned is not a future that we will allow to happen.”

Jose of BAMN, a national and civil rights organization that has been around since 1995 organizing high school walkouts across the country not only in defense of DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) but also in defense of undocumented Immigrants in general, said

“We want to start calling on people to take action because Trump said he wants to deport 3 million people. Walk outs, marches, protests, strikes. No business as usual until we defeat Donald Trump. He must go by any means necessary. Trump has made very clear that the only real program that he has is a program of mass deportation, of attacks on immigrants. It’s clear from the few people that he has appointed to his cabinet, that the majority of them are notorious anti-immigrant bigots. His whole cabinet is committed to the hunting down of immigrants. Jailing immigrants and deporting immigrants including undocumented students. Undocumented young people who have the program. He has made it very clear throughout his campaign that he wants to eliminate DACA.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy started by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the US as minors to defer deportation through a renewable 2-year relief plan in order to apply for a work permit. To qualify, applicants must have entered the US before the age of 16 and before June of 2007. They must currently be enrolled in school, have a high school degree, or was honorably discharged from the US military. They must be at least under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 to apply and must not have a criminal conviction on their record. Most importantly, they must not be deemed a threat to national security. The program itself does not provide a pathway to citizenship, but it does provide a valid work permit that would allow immigrants to stay in the US and work. According to Jose, the immigration rights movement applied sufficient pressure on the Hill to afford at least 750,000 young undocumented immigrants a chance at a better life in the US.

“Coming to UCLA was unheard for a lot of undocumented students. Now that Trump has become president, that’s something he can get rid of with a stroke of a pen. And let almost 1 million young people in limbo once again with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. The people who are in danger are not just the people who has the program, but also the family members who are undocumented…We have to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jr. He did not turn a movement into campaigning for the Democrats or the Republicans. The Civil Rights movement was an independent rights movement fighting for equality. Obama was elected on a promise that he was going to support immigrants, and instead he’s leaving office having deported more people than any president in the history of the US. If Hilary Clinton was elected, she was going to follow his policies as well with deportation. And I think the only thing that could’ve changed that is if there’s a movement fighting with the demands for full citizen rights, for no more deportations, for ending the detention centers which are modern concentration camps. And doing what we did today and doing that all over the country. This is a time for local and national leaders to join the movement. There were millions of people…more people who voted against Trump than people who voted for him. And people all over the world who knows the danger of Trump. Somebody who could drive America into a Third World War, a nuclear war that would be devastating for humanity. Not just for the US and China but for all over the world. He’s a serious threat to humanity and they need to join the movement that is calling for not just opposing Trump but to get rid of him.”

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Although many of the reactions from protesters on that day was spurred by a growing fear of what President Trump would do once in office and rejecting his legitimacy as the leader of the free world, the fact of the matter is that since his inauguration, he has signed a number of presidential executive orders that included starting the process of reviewing and repealing certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, increasing border security and immigration enforcement, reopening the Dakota pipeline, building a wall on the US-Mexican border, establishing ethic commitments by executive branch appointees, and banning immigrants with visas re-entry into the US for a period of 90 days particularly those from countries with Muslim-religious affiliations. Presidential memorandums were also issued that initiated a hiring freeze on federal employees, a withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the construction of American pipelines and the Keystone XL pipeline, a plan to defeat the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, and the reorganization of the National Security Council and Homeland Security.  A list of the presidential orders can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions.

It’s only been a week, and the ramifications of such orders are already being felt. President Trump warned state governors that if their states refused to assist locating and deporting undocumented immigrants, federal funds that normally would be allocated to them would be withheld until they complied, which raised constitutional concerns in both parties considering that it infringed on the 10th amendment that deals with States’ Rights and the jurisdiction of the federal government. On January 28, 2017, the ACLU was able to convince a NY federal judge to issue a stay on the execution of the ban against immigrant re-entry until the Court could review the constitutionality of the presidential order. Moreover, tensions between foreign states have escalated since Trump took office. With respect to the wall that has been ordered to be constructed on the US-Mexican border, the administration has said that Mexico would pay for its construction which infuriated Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that resulted in the cancellation of a scheduled meeting he had with Trump on the administration’s first week. Now, a 20% tax on all Mexican imports are being discussed which analysts fear may affect American tax payers increasing the cost of goods. Angered by the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific partnership, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced over that weekend their commitment to stand side-by-side with President Nieto in solidarity against Trump’s recent foreign policy stance. Iran also showed displeasure from the executive order that banned Muslim immigrants and foreign refugees from entering the US who either held visas or had applied for political asylum. To say that these recent events represent an unprecedence would be an understatement. Both the country and the world do not know what to expect next from the Trump administration only that uncertainty may lead to confusion and misunderstanding. What is definite is that the 21st century is an era where globalization and climate change are very real, and no one country can hope to succeed alone. No one leader can hope to steer the ship without the support of his crew. Trust is needed which objectively speaking is currently lacking on all fronts.