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How CHIRLA Is Educating L.A.'s Undocumented Community About Their Rights

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By Tatti Ribeiro

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) has been at the forefront of Los Angeles’ immigrant rights movement for more than 25 years. CHIRLA operates a rapid response network for raids, which is how news of last month’s raids first spread.

Among many other things, CHIRLA also holds free weekly "Know Your Rights” workshops for community members, but in the days after the raids they held the workshops every hour on the hour. Rock The Vote’s Tatti Ribeiro spent a Saturday at CHIRLA last month, documenting the scene. Below is Ribeiro's February interview with Elizabeth Rodriguez, an information and referral specialist in CHIRLA’s community education department.

What is the feeling right now at CHIRLA, compared to how it usually is on a day-to-day basis?

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Right now we’re getting a high volume of calls and walk-ins. A lot of people are concerned. There’s a lot of urgency. I think people just want clarity of what is happening. There have been a lot of executive orders that the president has made, but to the immigrant community there have been three that affect us. The language that is being used is not clear to our community. What are the details? What do they mean?

What are the details exactly?

There are three executive orders. They are a little hard to explain, but the way I communicate them to the community is like this. There’s one where he wants to build a wall. Number two, he wants to also take a look into the interior, and what he means by that is safety in communities. What he means by that is everybody is a priority, like criminals—but what he means by criminals is anyone who is undocumented. They don’t necessarily have to have a criminal record, in his eyes, just by being undocumented you are already a criminal and are a priority to him. Before there used to be priorities, but he took away all of that. Now, everybody is a priority.

Number three is about the refugees. Any refugees coming into the country, specifically those from Iran, Iraq and many more. Right now, it’s on hold [President Trump issued a revised version of this executive order yesterday, see below for CHIRLA’s official response, which was released Monday morning].

Specifically in L.A., what are the main points people should know about their own safety and rights?

I think right now it is very important for the community to be informed that they do have rights and how to practice those rights. A lot of times, we’re misinformed. Immigration officers are trained to get information they want to hear and because we are misinformed, we tell the information that we’re not supposed to provide. Right now, it’s crucial for people to know what their rights are. Here at CHIRLA, we provide very detailed orientations every Thursday at 6 p.m. and explain how to create a family plan, so when that time comes they know what they need to do.

How did you get involved with CHIRLA?

I’ve always been an activist. I come from hard-working, immigrant parents, so I’ve always wanted to be involved in policy being implemented. Not only to protect my family, but also the rest of the 11 million that are here and undocumented. I have a bachelor’s degree in community studies from UC Santa Cruz and my focus was education and immigration. After that, I joined the Americorps program Public Allies through City Tech. It was a 12-month internship where they placed you based on your interest and my interest has always been education and immigration. CHIRLA was interviewing for a position, so I started out as an intern and then I got hired as an information specialist.

Do you think the information is being retained and that people are able to use it in their everyday lives?

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Yes, it is just a matter of practicing it. It may seem very complex, like you have the right to remain silent, but it’s just a matter of practicing it. They only thing you need to provide to an immigration officer is your name and your date of birth. That’s it. They don’t need to know anything else. The less you say, the better chances you have to fight your case when you visit a judge. Then, the attorney has the leverage to defend you.

What has happened with these recent raids?

Let’s make no mistake, this has to do with Donald Trump and the actions he’s been trying to implement. Let’s not be ignorant about it, it’s tied to what he’s trying to do.

We got a lot of calls from the community, foundations, and allies, so we knew that these raids were happening. We were not certain of how many, but we had an approximate idea. ICE was denying it, saying that none of it was happening and that they always had raids. We put a lot of pressure on ICE and so they had to come out with a statement. They took around 140 people, it was a little bit more than we had anticipated. They said they had “criminal records” but that’s not necessarily true. We got a hold of a few people that were being detained and the attorney ran through their portfolios and there were no criminal records.

How long does a victim of a raid have from when they are put in a detention center to possibly being deported?

It can take time. Until they give you the opportunity to fight your case with a judge. That’s why it’s important to have an attorney as soon as you are detained. The first thing that you want to do is your call to your family member, and then your family member will be able to get you an attorney as soon as possible. That’s why we need to prepare a family plan, these procedures can be very expensive and people need to save money ahead of time. Unfortunately, most of our communities are low income and are not able to afford an attorney that charges $3,000 and up.

CHIRLA is located at 2533 W 3rd Street, Suite 101, in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Know Your Rights workshops are held every Thursday at 6 p.m. at CHIRLA. You can donate to CHIRLA here.

This story was co-published with Rock the Vote. Rock the Vote is the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in the country driving the youth vote to the polls. Since 1990, Rock the Vote has fused pop culture, music, art and technology to fulfill its mission of building long-term youth political power. Rock the Vote is dedicated to mobilizing the vote, protecting voting rights and advocating for an electoral process and voting system that works for the Millennial generation, America's largest and most diverse population in history. To get Rock the Vote updates on upcoming events, election reminders and candidate, visit Engage on social media, by following Rock the Vote on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @rockthevote. You can donate to Rock the Vote here.