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Standing Up for Sanctuary in Los Angeles

Tessie Borden - 09/28/2017


Since their inception, Indivisible groups around the country have been pitching in on fights for justice for immigrants in their own communities.

This September, an Indivisible group celebrated a major win, in a major American city.

Indivisible Highland Park, in Los Angeles, has taken on a critical role in the fight for sanctuary policies in LA. On September 7th, members of the Los Angeles City Council announced they would formally become a “sanctuary city,” a symbolic declaration immigration rights groups have sought for a long time. Indivisible Highland Park is continuing to keep the pressure on the city to commit to law enforcement policies that go further to protect immigrant families.   

As the Indivisible network kicks into high gear to take on tough fights at the congressional level, we’re incredibly inspired by the work of groups like Indivisible Highland Park and thrilled to support them.

Indivisible Highland Park in Los Angeles sprang into action after the February arrest of Rómulo Avélica-Gonzalez, a father who was dropping off two of his daughters at school when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents stopped him and took him. All this happened while his daughter Fátima sat sobbing in the back seat, videotaping the whole thing on her phone. She posted the video on social media, and it went viral.

As neighbors of this family, we at IHLP decided to partner with the National Day Labor Organizing Network, which took on Rómulo’s case and then secured representation from one of the foremost immigration attorneys in Los Angeles.

We began a campaign for the city to pass a sanctuary ordinance that would prohibit local police and sheriff’s deputies from collaborating with federal immigration agents. About 70 percent of deportations arise from direct or indirect collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Most deportations begin with arrests by local officials. Los Angeles has some rules against local police acting as immigration agents, but they are outdated and not enough.

In April, a local shop let us use its windows for an art installation about the need for sanctuary in Los Angeles. We held a candlelight vigil and had people sign postcards asking for LA to become a sanctuary city.

In June, we participated in a “unity forum” sponsored by José Huizar, a City Council member whose district spans part of our neighborhood. IHLP artists made Hollywood Sign-style letters to promote the sanctuary message. They were a big hit with folks who got curious enough to come by our booth.

A week later, we took part in another event by the other City Council member who’s in our neighborhood, Gil Cedillo. The event featured members of Rómulo’s family. We brought our letters and set them up against the wall, and we again engaged people on the topic. Cedillo heads an immigrant affairs committee in the Council, and we had been meeting with his staff almost since the beginning. We also spoke at meetings of the immigrant affairs committee and of the council at large.

Most recently, we had two victories: Rómulo Avélica was freed on bond on Aug. 30, and on Sept. 7 the City Council designated Los Angeles a sanctuary city. The move is largely symbolic, but it allows us to begin the work of drafting an ordinance with teeth. We are now organizing a Sanctuary Town Hall for Oct. 5, to show Cedillo that there is citywide interest in a local ordinance prohibiting police from collaborating with ICE. We are pulling in support from labor and immigrant rights groups, and we will have an all-star cast of speakers who are legendary in this arena. But we are particularly reaching out to the Indivisible network and hoping to have a big presence from Indivisible and PeoplePower groups in council districts.

As IHLP, we understand that our power in this arena lies in being allies. Immigrant rights groups have been pushing for sanctuary in L.A. for a while, but because politicians saw them as representing people who largely can’t vote, they have ignored these advocates. We are large groups of politically active voters. We see immigrants as members of our community. What happens to immigrants happens to us. And we will lend our constituency to those who have been in the trenches, fighting for the rights of our fellow residents. We’re not leading this fight in many ways, but we have an important, integral role to play.

Los Angeles Times – City Council members seek to label L.A. a ‘sanctuary’ for immigrants

LAist – Why Is The City Attorney Taking A Harsh Stance Against An L.A. Father Fighting Deportation?

LA Weekly – Activists Want ICE Out of L.A.’s Eastside, Northeast Communities

Advocates Seek Creation Of Ordinance Establishing LA As ‘Sanctuary City’

La Opinión – Proponen hacer de Los Ángeles una zona libre de arrestos de “dreamers”

El Universal – ‘’El miedo que generan va más allá de la imaginación’