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Church, city share resources with anxious immigrant community

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Bishop David O'Connell and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti listen at the Day of Immigrant Action event at Dolores Mission on March 16. Both men spoke at the event. (Photo/Alexandra Cooper)

Rosa Bonilla, a U.S. citizen and mother of three, is worried about her Boyle Heights neighbors who are undocumented.

“The pain that we are living is a reality,” she said March 16 at Dolores Mission during an event marking the nationwide Day of Immigration Action. More than 60 cities participated in the effort to provide practical help and resources to immigrant communities.

“Every day I pray and cry for my closest family,” Bonilla said before a church crowded with media and parishioners. Bonilla said undocumented immigrants aren’t paid as well and are afraid when they leave their homes in the morning. They believe they could be arrested and not go home that evening.

But, she added, having the support of the Catholic Church and Mayor Eric Garcetti gives her hope.

“I’m an immigrant too,” Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell said after Bonilla had finished her remarks. He spoke in English and Spanish, both with a brogue.

“Though I’m not from Mexico — I’m from Guatemala,” he said to laugher. “No, no, I’m from Ireland.”

Bishop O’Connell explained the Church is forming an alliance with city officials so that “our people feel welcomed.”

“We are a family, in good times and bad times. We are not going to abandon anyone,” he said. “But we cannot be victims. We must organize, take classes, go to meetings.”

Bishop O’Connell noted how, for years, the Church has helped immigrants get driver’s licenses and helped those with green cards become citizens.

“We cannot continue like this, with so many people living in fear,” he said. “Before we have a change in law, we have to have a change of heart.”

Mayor Garcetti, who grew up in Boyle Heights, recounted how his Salvadoran grandfather came to Los Angeles. He ended up serving in World War II and became a citizen.

“This is a difficult time, but we know that love is stronger than hate,” Garcetti said. “In Los Angeles, we are fighting for you.”

The mayor, restating a declaration he made earlier that day, said police in Los Angeles would not work as U.S. immigration officials. Libraries and schools will continue to be safe places, the mayor said.

“Please, continue to participate in the life of this city,” Garcetti said. “We will continue defending your rights.”

The Constitution is for everyone, “with or without papers,” he said. The Church and city are working together to inform immigrants of their rights.

LAPD Captain Al Labrada, who also spoke, repeated the mayor’s promise that the police would not act as immigration officials.

“Our great fear is that you will not report crime,” he said.

But not everyone was convinced. When the chief finished his remarks, a group began to chant, “¡La migra, la policia, la misma porqueria!” Or, “Immigration, the police, the same filth.” 

Sandra Ruiz, an attorney with the Loyola Justice Clinic, gave some tips for undocumented immigrants — much of which can be found on red cards being distributed among the community (see below). For starters, if a person comes to your door, don’t let your children answer, she said.

If it’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, immigrants should ask if they have a warrant before opening the door. They should then ask to see the warrant and who is named — either by having it slipped under the door or seeing it through a front window, according to Ruiz. The warrant should say the full name of the person in question.

The person named on the warrant should then go outside rather than let the ICE officials inside, Ruiz said. She also recommended the entire interaction be recorded on someone’s cell phone and a photo should be taken of the warrant itself.

Ruiz also recommended that undocumented immigrants, once apprehended, should tell officials that they are invoking their right to remain silent. Even letting ICE officials know their country of origin could hurt their case, she said, and they shouldn’t sign anything at all without seeking counsel from a lawyer.

Undocumented immigrants stopped walking down the street can also invoke their right to remain silent. If stopped, Ruiz recommended asking if they are under arrest. And if not, she then suggested they ask if they may leave. Ruiz also said that under no circumstance should they carry around fraudulent identification.

Families with undocumented immigrant members should also have a plan in case an undocumented member is arrested. That includes having a hard copy of phone numbers and a plan if parents are detained while their children are at school.

Maria Flores, a Dolores Mission parishioner, said many in the neighborhood are terrified.

“This has been a great help to us,” she said of the evening. “It’s a lot to take in. But we need to know what to do. And now we know.

 

Cards given to attendees contained the following information on how immigrants or those being stopped or questioned can exercise their Constitutional rights in English and Spanish:

I do not wish to speak with you, answer your questions, or sign or hand you any documents based on my 5th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

I do not give you permission to enter my home based on my 4th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution unless you have a warrant to enter, signed by a judge or magistrate with my name on it that you slide under the door. I do not give you permission to search any of my belongings based on my 4th Amendment rights.

I choose to exercise my constitutional rights.

These cards are available to citizens and noncitizens alike.

 

Usted tiene derechos constitucionales:

• NO ABRA LA PUERTA si un agente de inmigración está

• NO CONTESTE NINGUNA PREGUNTA de un agente de inmigración si el trata de hablar con usted. Usted tiene el derecho de mantenerse callado.

• NO FIRME NADA sin antes hablar con un abogado. Usted tiene el derecho de hablar con un abogado.

• Si usted está afuera de su casa, pregunte al agente si es libre para irse y si dice que sí, váyase con tranquilidad.

• ENTREGUE ESTA TARJETA AL AGENTE. Si usted está dentro de su casa, muestre la tarjeta por la ventana o pásela debajo de la puerta.

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