CHIRLA Testimony: L.A. Civil Unrest - Community Blueprint for the Next 20 Years

Statement by Jorge Mario Cabrera on behalf of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)

LA Civil Unrest: Community Blueprint for the Next 20 Years
Public Hearing, April 24, 2012
The Los Angeles Human Relations Commission

Good evening, my name is Jorge-Mario Cabrera, Director of Communications for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).  

I was a college student in 1992 and as soon I heard the news of a disturbance, I hopped on the first bus that would take me back to Bell Gardens where I met my mother.  We hugged and hugged as we watched the smoke towers billow in the short distance.

CHIRLA was founded in 1986 to advance the human and civil rights of immigrant and refugees and to contribute to positive human relations in Los Angeles.  It is in the promotion of our mission that we provide testimony tonight as we reflect on 20 years since the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest.  

I want to remind everyone that in 1992 many of the organizations serving immigrant communities were fairly new and focused on the burgeoning population of immigrants, especially those fleeing war torn countries of Central America.   CHIRLA and its coalition partners responded during the 1992 civil unrest by defending immigrants living in South Los Angeles and caught up in the mass arrests by police from being deported back to the very countries they were fleeing.  CHIRLA staff leaders actively participated with the City of Los Angeles leadership and with other CBOs to quell the unrest and to bring a deeper understanding of the immigrant communities that had suddenly been “discovered” living in South Los Angeles. 


Today we are here to offer our concerns recommendations to contribute to a shared community blueprint for the next 20 years.  

CHIRLA continues to be committed to the deep foundational and relationship work necessary to foster positive human relations in the City of Los Angeles and beyond.  We have worked on many Los Angeles City and County initiatives to decrease hate and intolerance and promote dialogue and collective action across lines of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. However over these past 20 years we have seen the erosion of resource investment to programs that support this very work.  We are cognizant of the budget challenges facing our City, County and nation and know that every single department in the City of Los Angeles is suffering from budget cuts, but we cannot truly say that we support positive human relations if our city is not investing sufficient resources to these crucial programs.  Los Angeles is home to one of the most diverse communities in the world, 42% are foreign born, and this City must make immigrant integration and cross cultural and race work a cornerstone its foundational work for the future.  Specific recommendations have been outlined in countless reports including, “Los Angeles on the Leading Edge: Immigrant Indicators and the Public Policy Implications” written by the Migration Policy Institute in April of 2008.  Integration is the antidote to marginalization and exclusion, the core ingredients for unrest.

The other antidote to unrest is the promotion of massive civic participation by all residents of Los Angeles.  There are so many residents who have never had contact with their elected representatives and their only contact with City Hall or government is the contact they have with uniformed officers that patrol their streets. There is mass disenfranchisement in Los Angeles that needs to be diminished.  The disenfranchisement is especially true for our young people who are not being brought into the political system and therefore do not have a voice on the decisions about education, jobs, healthcare, etc. that impact their lives. We also have thousands upon thousands of young people who continue to be undocumented and without immigration reform are trapped in legal limbo and with an uncertain future.  This situation is unsustainable and needs to be addressed by aggressive advocacy on their behalf at the state and national level but also in whatever measure can be achieved by our own local intervention. 

In 1992 there were 3.8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today there are 12 million undocumented immigrants and Los Angeles is home to over 1 million undocumented immigrants.  Los Angeles is home to mixed status households with 84% of the population having at least one immigrant in their household.  As we think about the future of Los Angeles we must recognize that being actively involved in fixing our broken immigration laws needs to be a priority for the leaders of Los Angeles.   In 2012, law enforcement contact with Los Angeles residents is not just with the Los Angeles Police Department but also with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Because of significant changes in our federal laws and policies ICE has become an ever present law enforcement agency in the City of Angeles.  Many Los Angeles immigrant residents often confuse their interactions with ICE and local law enforcement officers.  Because of the use of programs such as Secure Communities that force collaboration between ICE and local police departments, the immigrant community cautiously interacts with the Los Angeles Police Department.  This is an unfortunate outcome considering that after the Rampart Police Scandal and the 2007 McArthur Park melee, LAPD leadership, previously under Police Chief William Bratton and now Police Chief Charlie Beck, are much more engaged with the immigrant community and open to collaborate and work with the immigrant serving organizations. We saw this most recently in the changes made to the vehicle impound protocols under Special Order 7 – this was a small important step in the right direction for us.

But by having ICE pay such a prominent role in the City of Los Angeles, much of the hard work to improve community relations by LAPD is being undermined.  CHIRLA recommends that the City of Los Angeles opt out of police ICE collaboration programs, such as Secure Communities, that assist in the deportation of undocumented immigrants  We are very concerned that the discontent and outrage felt by a vast number of Angelenos who see their families being torn apart and their loved ones being deported will be expressed in uncontrolled protest in the streets of Los Angeles.  I want to reiterate that we are working closely with the LAPD on many of these issues and today we want to publicly voice our concern on these matters so that we are proactive in our resolutions. 

Finally, we continue to stand against racial profiling whether it be of immigrant, Latino, Muslim American, African American, youth, etc.  CHIRLA supports local ordinances, as well as the federal End Racial Profiling Act, supported by many of our Members of Congress, that prohibit racial profiling and will advocate actively at the national, state and local for policies that prevent and protect against discrimination. To that effect, we are concerned about the newly issued Special Order 1 of the LAPD that appears to consider certain non-criminal activities like taking photographs as “suspicious”. We highly recommend as part of the Community Blueprint for the next 20 years that the City of Los Angeles adopt a zero tolerance policy on racial profiling.