LA IS FOR EVERYONE
To me, there is nothing more beautiful than how many different kinds of people call Los Angeles home.
We are truly a city rich in diversity and cultural wealth. More than a third of the people living in LA County were born in another country. I’m proud to count myself among them -- I was born in India before my family emigrated to the US when I was six years old.
Immigrant Angelenos have formed families and communities here, live in households with mixed immigration statuses, and are integral members of our communities, neighborhoods, businesses, and schools. Immigrants contribute about a third of California's total GDP, with undocumented immigrants contributing a substantive portion of that. 13% of America's undocumented youth, also known as DREAMers, live in Los Angeles.
Yet when Trump’s draconian policies have caused devastating harm to our immigrant community, elected officials in LA have simply not stepped up to protect residents in the way that we all deserve. Despite the urgency of the crises immigrants are facing, the City Council’s Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights, and Equity Committee (on which my opponent David Ryu sits) in the Council has met just four times in 2019, with thin agendas that have not at all grappled with the enormity of the costs that residents are facing from the federal anti-immigrant agenda.
Angelenos deserve better.
As one of the most diverse cities in America, Los Angeles has the potential to be a model for other cities of protecting immigrant communities in the face of a hostile federal government. This policy lays out how we can effectively and quickly build a more just and welcoming place for all of LA’s residents.
QUICKLY PASS LEGALLY BINDING SANCTUARY CITY PROTECTIONS
The brutal policies of Donald Trump and ICE deportation squads have poured gasoline on fears of detention and deportation that have always shadowed immigrant Angelenos. Since taking office, his administration has made many incredibly harmful changes.
While some members of our city’s leadership have spoken out against Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, they have been slow to make legally binding changes to ensure that immigrants are protected. Mayor Eric Garcetti told the press at one point that he didn’t know what the term “sanctuary city” really meant, and a motion in front of City Council to make LA a “city of sanctuary” finally passed in February of 2019, two years (!) after it was initially proposed. Even then, that declaration was purely symbolic -- it did not change a single city law or practice.
The slow-walking of sanctuary protections has had real impacts: in 2017, nearly a third of LA residents reported fearing that accessing any government services would put them at greater risk of deportation. LAPD also reported seeing a drop in reports of sexual assault from Latinx residents after Trump entered office, which they attributed to fears that interacting with police would place them at risk of deportation.
We can and must act quickly to set these fears at rest.
Protections for immigrants currently in place in Los Angeles include Special Order 40, which has been on the books for decades and prohibits LAPD from asking about or acting on immigration status. Mayor Garcetti also signed Executive Directive 20, which states that the City will not cooperate with federal immigration agents to enforce federal civil immigration law, but these directives are non-binding and insufficient.
Los Angeles needs to go further than proclaiming itself a “city of sanctuary.” To truly protect immigrants, it must pass a binding ordinance enshrining sanctuary principles into law in the city that prohibits the city and local law enforcement from participation in immigration enforcement in any way. This prohibition must also include:
- Refusing to share information with federal immigration authorities like ICE, CBP or HSI.
- Refusing to collect information about nationality and birthplace from residents at any point of contact. The City of Los Angeles should simply not be in the business of collecting information that can be used for immigration enforcement.
- Prohibiting all federal immigration agents and ICE contractors from accessing non-public city buildings -- under all conditions and without exception.
FUND AND EXPAND THE LA JUSTICE FUND
The Los Angeles Justice Fund was established in 2017 in response to expected crackdowns on immigrants by the Trump Administration, and provides legal defense for Los Angeles residents facing deportation. The City provided $2 million over two years to the fund, and the County provided $3 million. Despite repeated requests from lawyers and advocates for extending and increasing the funding (time that could be far better used serving clients), City leaders have tabled requests for more funding and postponed making a decision on the fund for next year.
We must not only re-fund the LA Justice Fund, but also expand funding to ensure that more community members are covered. We should be providing adequate amounts of funding so that all immigrants facing deportation in Los Angeles are entitled to a right to counsel, because Angelenos should be able to stay with their loved ones in the communities they call home.
The Fund is also designed with certain carve-outs. In the press conference announcing the fund, Mayor Garcetti stated only “good and law-abiding immigrants” are provided access to this deportation defense, while residents with certain prior criminal records have been prohibited from accessing the fund -- even if they have already been rehabilitated, with no statute of limitations. In sharp contrast, New York’s Immigrant Family Unity Project provides universal coverage, reducing the costs of complex intake processes and reducing the time for record and background checks before taking on clients. Indeed, the vast majority of legal defense funds across the country do not have these kinds of carveouts.
In a policing and criminal justice system that already excessively targets and penalizes Black and Latinx residents, such carve-outs unduly punish already vulnerable residents, violate the principle of equal protection under the law, and should be removed from our program.
CREATE A MUNICIPAL ID PROGRAM
Over and over again, it is clear that the climate of anti-immigrant sentiment nationally has led to real fear among immigrants to access services and to fully participate in our collective civic life. In 2017, then Police Chief Charlie Beck reported that fewer Latinos were reporting domestic violence and sexual assaults, because of fears of being reported to ICE. Locally, we can combat these fears by creating a municipal ID program that will ensure that all residents, regardless of documentation, feel welcomed, safe, and part of the collective of the city.
Chicago launched the CityKey program and New York City launched IDNYC with this idea in mind. To assuage fears that information collected as part of the program could endanger residents, the municipal ID program should not retain information provided by residents to obtain the ID.
The IDs can also be used to encourage participation in our collective civic life. Both in Chicago and in New York, the municipal ID comes with many cultural benefits, including museum entry, discounts at participating businesses, and other perks. Increasingly, after 9/11 and the resulting increased security protocols, many facilities require some form of identification just for entry. A municipal ID would ensure that all residents of Los Angeles are able to move through the city easily, use its buildings and services, and access things like banking and library services.
A municipal ID can also ensure that Angelenos are able to access other kinds of services at the municipal level. For example, I discuss providing additional eviction prevention funding and legal support for all city residents in my housing and homelessness policy. A municipal ID program could help us to ensure that all residents are able to access these resources, and are encouraged to do so without fear of being identified by ICE.
TARGETED CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS
The city must also take critical action in the areas where Angelenos encounter the most harm. We must reform our criminal justice system to reduce the chances of immigrants being caught in the police-to-deportation pipeline. For example, national policies require that federal immigration authorities receive the fingerprints of anyone booked into LAPD custody, which can lead to identification by ICE. Local lawyers and immigration advocates report cases in which an individual has been taken into custody by ICE soon after being arrested by LAPD, even if they were ultimately not charged with a crime. As a result, changes in criminal justice policies are important for protecting immigrants. LAPD and the City Attorney should formalize and clarify processes for citing people for misdemeanor offenses and not booking, fingerprinting, or arresting individuals unless absolutely necessary to limit information sharing with ICE and putting residents at risk.
In New York, guidelines to issue civil tickets rather than criminal summonses for petty offenses like public drinking and public urination that were part of a broader Criminal Justice Reform Act were also useful to protect residents from ICE. Decriminalizing crimes of poverty and petty crimes is a well-documented method of building healthier communities, especially considering that our immigrant communities can face extreme consequences for the same minor offenses committed by citizens.
FULL LANGUAGE JUSTICE AT CITY HALL
As a city that represents residents who speak a range of languages, we must be committed to providing important City information, interaction with City services, and access to political debate in all languages. For example, recent City Hall meetings about setting fees for licenses for street vendors had either no translation offered or fewer translation devices than were required for attendees. Hundreds of street vendors and community organizers attended these meetings to provide input on the fees for vendor licenses, but attendees were forced to provide translation for one another during or after the discussion, a real disadvantage in a discussion that has immense impact on their livelihood.
THE POTENTIAL OF A PUBLIC BANK
Every Angeleno deserves access to financial services to cash checks, make online payments, and access affordable credit, especially for online and electronic payments, regardless of citizenship status. There are often obstacles to obtaining banking services for immigrants and, currently, many of those needs are served only by extractive payday lenders and other expensive shadow banking services which target the most vulnerable with exorbitant interest rates and fees. Some Angelenos cannot obtain a debit or credit card, which makes life in the 21st century expensive, if not impossible.
The passage of the Public Banking Act allows cities and counties in CA to create public banks that could address some of these issues. A Municipal Bank of Los Angeles could potentially provide limited check cashing and secured credit accounts for unbanked Angelenos, including undocumented immigrants and the unhoused, in partnership with LADWP or the US Post Office. AB 857 permits cities to establish public banks with express social purposes and to offer credit and banking products in partnership with community banks and credit unions, and even directly to consumers where private banks fail to address the needs of the community.
Most of the retail functions necessary are already a part of the everyday business of the post office and can be easily added to the functions of LADWP. Any cost to provide these services could be paid for by user fees, which would be much lower than those charged by payday lenders and comparable private banks. With a way to deposit their wages without exorbitant fees, and the means to interact with an increasingly digital economy, a public bank could ensure that Los Angeles's undocumented residents can fully participate in our vibrant and growing economy.
HELPING ALL ANGELENOS TO THRIVE
At a time when the rights of immigrants in this country are under daily attack, Los Angeles has the opportunity to define what a better future for our nation could look like. And we have the power to make that future into a reality without waiting for Congress to act or a new President.
We just need people in power who have a clear vision for change.
As an immigrant to this country myself, I have immense gratitude for the opportunities that it offered me, and I am deeply committed to using the powers of our City government to ensure that we are fighting for the ability of every Angeleno to thrive.