Bell to Open Shelter for Central American Refugees

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More than 100 Los Angeles and City of Bell residents packed the City of Bell Community Center Wednesday evening to discuss a letter from the Salvation Army proposing to open a 30 day shelter for 137 Central American children. Thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have recently made the dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S to flee gore and corruption that has plagued their countries.

Though the Salvation Army’s proposal is humanitarian at heart, many residents at the meeting argued against it.

A Bell community member remarked during public comment, “These people coming into our country are breaking the law. I am totally in disagreement of having these children here. These parents should have the responsibility of protecting their children. What they did is kick them out to the streets like dogs. I am in total disagreement of that.”

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Some residents spoke up in favor of housing the children in the currently abandoned warehouse that is owned by the Salvation Army. One speaker commented, “We are all products of immigration. Each and every one of us. When Murrieta residents spoke with xenophobic attitudes against these children, who have been redirected to a Detention Center where they sleep sitting up, 30-40 in a room, they do not understand the traumatizing experience of being an immigrant. Of being new again in the U.S.”

After three hours of public comment, the City Council unanimously voted on supporting the effort to turn an abandoned building into a temporary refuge.

Like many cities and neighborhoods in Southeast Los Angeles, the City of Bell is a city of immigrants, primarily Mexican and Lebanese.

This decision does not automatically mean that the warehouse will be turned into a shelter just yet.The vote was to support a letter the Salvation Army drafted to receive federal funds in order to build and upkeep the shelter. The shelter will be built once those funds are received. Bell residents will not be paying a dime.

“I think the community of Bell is a compassionate community, full of kindness and understanding,” Mayor Nestor E. Valencia said. “While not wealthy, we can come together in this humanitarian effort and be a fine example of ‘America the Beautiful.’ ”

Israel-Palestine Conflict Spills Into Westwood Streets

Westwood traffic slowed to a crawl Sunday afternoon as more than a thousand pro-Palestine demonstrators crowded the four corners of the Wilshire/Veteran intersection. The demonstrators rallied against U.S.’s foreign aid to Israel as they continue to illegally occupy Palestinian land.

The demonstrators initially chanted and cheered on the sidewalk as traffic-jammed drivers honked in support, waved Israel or Palestine flags, booed, and even flipped off protesters. Then they marched for about a mile to the Consulate General of Israel on the intersections of Wilshire and Granville.

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This demonstration follows one held last Saturday which occurred in the same place. That rally reinforced Israel’s actions as a mean of self-defense. It followed another protest two weeks prior in front of the Federal Building, denouncing the U.S. foreign aid and a July 8th Israeli operation that has caused more than 445 Palestinian casualties and about 15 Israeli soldiers and citizens.

Sunday’s demonstration included various Palestinian-support and Palestinian-American organizations and groups, as well as UCLA professors and students.

The demonstrators gathered at the Wilshire Federal Building at 3 p.m. and began to march down Wilshire Blvd at 5 p.m., temporarily shutting down the busy street with Palestinian flags and calls for peace. Their destination was the Consulate General of Israel, about a mile away on Wilshire Blvd. and Granville. After, at about 5:50pm the marchers began to move back towards the Federal Building.

A small counter-demonstration of about a dozen supporters of Israel and its actions were present at one of the corners of the Wilshire and Veteran intersection.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been a hot button issue here on the UCLA campus, as USAC (Undergraduate Student Association Council) voted down the resolution “to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights” with a 5-7-0 vote in a secret ballot.

In more recent campus news, future UC Student Regent designate and UCLA student Avi Oved has been accused of a possible conflict of interest after leaked e-mails made headlines on the Daily Bruin and the Daily Cal. A group-me text named “BruinsAgainstBDS” also came to light, where Oved asks “Should I sit on the investment committee lol (aka where divestment would come to… slash never really because it doesn’t stand a chance” and 2014-2015 USAC Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral responding “Yes.”

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Economic Opportunists or Refugees?: A Report Back

It is not rare to find Aztec dancers, the LAPD, ICE, and a swarm of news microphones on the same block in Los Angeles. But on July 7, the streets of Downtown Los Angeles rattle under mid-summer heat as supporters of the Central American children seeking refuge in the U.S. take over the streets for a town hall and demonstration. As delegates like Hillary Clinton, Vice-president Joe Biden, and President Obama urge the Honduran, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran governments to stop encouraging children to immigrate into the United States, approximately 75 demonstrators showed their support for the immigrants.

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The afternoon town hall brought together community members and organizations including the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Homies Unidos, USEU, IDEPSCA, the Bus Riders Union, and a myriad of others. The gathering included a number of speakers breaking down the issue and myths as to why the children are coming to the United States. Demonstrators gathered in front of the Federal Building on 300 N. Los Angeles Street.

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Members of the aforementioned organizations spoke to tell Obama to “respect the 2008 Anti-trafficking law, which protects and provides refugee status to minors from Central America”, according to the flyer. A subsequent rally followed the speakers.

Regarding the issue, President Obama said in front of the White House on July 1st, “I sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they work with me to address the urgent humanitarian challenge on the border, and support the immigration and Border Patrol agents who already apprehend and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year”.The Federal Government’s response to the issue has been to treat the children just like they treat all other incoming immigrants: sent to detention centers and await deportation.

The issue has been framed in terms of economic opportunity for the children instead of seeing them as refugees.

Though this attitude has saturated mainstream presses, UCLA Chicana and Chicano Studies Professor Leisy Abrego, one of the speakers, comments with a different perspective: “(The mainstream medias) are trying to connect it to undocumented migration in general, but this is different because they are refugees who are fleeing a situation that is a result of wars, the war and drugs and neo-liberal policy that the U.S. supports in the region. These are the consequences of these failed policies but in the media we are talking about them as just undocumented immigrants who are seeking economic opportunities.”

Days prior to this town hall in Los Angeles, citizens in Murrieta, California, waving U.S. flags and “STOP Illegal Immigration” signs, turned around a bus full of incoming migrant children. They were instead sent to a detention center in San Diego where 30-40 bodies can get packed a single cell, forcing many to sleep sitting up.

“We have to send a clear message: just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay,” Hillary Clinton said in a CNN-hosted town hall weeks prior regarding the children.

A counter demonstration responded to the anti-immigration rally and demonstrators on Sunday, July 6, welcoming the children and condemning Murrita’s xenophobic attitude. The tension was met by police in riot gear in case they needed to quell down any conflicts. By the end of the day, 5 pro-Central American immigrant demonstrators were assaulted and arrested by police.

“I am here as an American who is saddened by the conditions that I see in this country. We have a crisis. We have a crisis in leadership. We have a moral crisis. We have a crisis that is fueled by hatred, racism, and xenophobia. I am saddened that in Washington Congress is failing to act, and the president is failing to lead” 1st District City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, a speaker of the town hall and author of the CA DREAM Act, said.

The sun beats on the backs of the supporter as they chant and scream “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” into open windows of buzzing automobiles. Some passing cars honk in solidarity. Children walked up and down the street holding a banner reading “Welcome Refugee Children/ Bienvenidos Ninos Refugiados” as a local paletero cooled the demonstrators with frozen paletas and nieves. Though the heat, LAPD, and ICE’s ardent presence made sending a message a tad uncomfortable, this did not stop the citizens from sending home their message.

Abrego also included and concluded, “Sadly the Obama Administration is reacting as if it were just any other migration, and rather than thinking about the most humane way of handling children who have risked their life to get here, they’re asking for changes in the few policies that protect these children to instead fast-track their deportations.”

The children, as of now, are still stuffed inside the detention centers.  Both pro-refugee supporters and anti-immigration protesters wait for more information in order to make their next move.

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