L.A. NOW

Southern California -- this just in

Category: Immigration

Local police can decide whether to hold illegal immigrants, state attorney general says

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday told local law enforcement agencies that they were not obligated to comply with a controversial federal program launched in 2008 with the goal of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

It was Harris' first public assessment of Secure Communities, under which all arrestees' fingerprints are sent to federal immigration officials, who then may ask police departments to hold suspected illegal immigrants so deportation proceedings can begin.

While the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June of this year showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals. Those numbers, she noted, changed little since Immigration and Customs Enforcement pledged a year earlier that the program would be reformed to better target the most serious criminals.

"Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be," Harris said. The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that "immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision" about whether to honor them.

Some elected officials and local law enforcement agencies have complained that -- in addition to pulling in those arrested for minor offenses -- Secure Communities had made undocumented immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they themselves were the victims.

On Tuesday, immigrant-rights advocates applauded Harris' announcement.

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Alleged birth center for Chinese women may close [Google+ hangout]

Times reporter Cindy Chang will join City Editor Shelby Grad at 2:30 p.m. for a Google+ hangout about a Chino Hills residence allegedly housing women from China who want to give birth to U.S.-citizen children.

The home is on the verge of being shut down after complaints about traffic and a sewage spill.

[Update: Video discussion has been moved from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.]

From Chang's Tuesday story:

A website that city officials believe is associated with the business describes a full range of services, from shopping trips for pregnant women to assistance obtaining American passports for newborns.

A 30-day stay at the Chino Hills facility, along with a month of prenatal care, costs $10,500 to $11,500, according to the Chinese-language website, www.asiamchild.com.

Asiam Child is based in Shanghai, with branches in Anhui province and Nanjing, the website says.

The property owner, Hai Yong Wu, did not return a call seeking comment. A man who left the hotel in a black BMW on Monday afternoon would not speak to reporters.

So-called birth tourism appears to be an active but largely under-the-radar industry in Southern California. One local Chinese phone book has five pages of listings for birthing centers, where women from China and Taiwan stay for a month or so before going home with their U.S.-citizen babies. When the children get older, they may return here to study, perhaps paving the way for the rest of the family to immigrate more easily.

In San Gabriel last year, code enforcement officials shut down a facility where about 10 mothers and seven newborns were staying.

Federal immigration officials say there is no law prohibiting pregnant women from entering the U.S. But obtaining a visa through fraud would be a crime, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Workers sue Melrose Avenue car wash over labor practices

A group of workers has filed suit against a Melrose Avenue car wash owner, seeking $500,000 in damages and alleging he failed to pay them for their hours worked.

The lawsuit, brought by nine workers at the Melrose Strip Auto Detailing and Car Wash at 7673 Melrose Ave., also claims owner Jae Choi didn’t pay workers overtime and didn’t give them breaks or time off when sick.

A manager of the car wash had no comment on the lawsuit, but said he would pass along a request for an interview to Choi and his attorneys. No one responded to the request for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest in an effort dating to 2008 by local unions to push car wash owners to clean up what worker advocates claim is widespread abusive labor treatment of the region’s car wash workers.

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O.C. immigration detention center named among nation's 10 worst

Inside the Theo Lacey detention center. Credit: Karen Tapia

A report released today by Detention Watch Network names an Orange County immigration detention facility as one of the 10 worst in the country.

The group, which advocates reforming the U.S. immigration detention system, is calling on President  Obama to close the 10 facilities. In addition to the Theo Lacy Facility in the city of Orange, they include Pinal County Jail in Arizona, two facilities in Texas, two in Georgia, and one each in Florida, Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey.

The report alleges that all 10 facilities provided inadequate medical care, recreation and nutrition.

“The appalling conditions in jails and prisons that house immigrants have reached a tipping point,” said Andrea Black, executive director of Detention Watch Network, in a conference call with reporters. “People continue to suffer in conditions that are an affront to human dignity.”

Cmdr. Steve Kea of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which runs Theo Lacy, disputes the ranking as largely based on anecdotal evidence. The facility is inspected regularly by federal authorities and receives high marks, Kea said.

The Sheriff's Department houses about 475 male immigration detainees at Theo Lacy and another 320 or so detainees, both male and female, at the James A. Musick Facility. The federal government pays the sheriff $118 a day for each detainee.

According to the report, staff members at Theo Lacy have used racial slurs against detainees and have engaged in abusive behavior, including kicking detainees’ feet to wake them in the morning and throwing detainees' lunches on the ground.

The report alleged that authorities at Theo Lacy punished detainees using solitary confinement. It cites several instances in which detainees allegedly did not receive needed medical care. Detainees are afraid to file grievances, and those who do complain sometimes do not receive a response, the report states. Some meals are described in the report as “moldy," "frozen" and lacking fruits and vegetables.

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Husband pleads not guilty in slaying of Iraqi immigrant

Kassim Al-Himidi wipes his tears after a memorial for his wife, Shaima Alawadi, at the Islamic Center of Lakeside in March. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

The husband of an Iraqi immigrant pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a murder charge in her death, as the couple's teenage daughter fled the courtroom in tears.

Kassim Al-Himidi, 48, was ordered held without bail after entering his plea in the bludgeoning of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, 32.

Alawadi, a mother of five, was found bloody and unconscious in the family's home in El Cajon, east of San Diego, on March 21. She died three days later.

A note near her body suggested the killing might be a hate crime, but investigators eventually concluded that it was a case of domestic violence.

The couple's 18-year-old daughter, Fatima, who found her mother's body, left the El Cajon courtroom in tears after the brief hearing.

Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos agreed with Deputy Dist. Atty. Kurt Mechals that Al-Himidi should be held without bail.

"We fear there is a possibility that if he were to post bail, he would flee to Iraq," Mechals said.

A readiness hearing was set for Nov. 20 to further discuss the possibility of bail and whether Al-Himidi should be required to relinquish his passport. Father and daughter went to Iraq for Alawadi's burial.

Mechals declined to discuss what evidence led El Cajon police to seek charges against Al-Himidi, except to say that investigators spent "a huge amount of time trying to determine if this was a hate crime or a domestic violence murder."

Court records indicate that Alawadi was considering divoring her husband and moving to Texas to be with relatives.

A preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 28. Al-Himidi was arrested Thursday after obeying a request by police to come to the police station to discuss the case.

Members of the family declined to talk to reporters. "The family is looking for justice for their mother, and they believe the El Cajon police and the legal system will sort it out," Mechals said.

The couple moved to the United States in the mid-1990s and had lived in Dearborn, Mich., and El Cajon, both major centers for immigrants from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

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Photo: Kassim Al-Himidi wipes his tears after a memorial for his wife, Shaima Alawadi, at the Islamic Center of Lakeside in March. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Little Saigon gets its first Vietnamese American mayor

Tri Ta on the campaign trail in Westminster

In the weeks leading to his historic win, Tri Ta roamed Westminster City Hall, often hearing: "Hello, Mr. Future Mayor. This way, Mr. Mayor."

The six-year councilman would greet fellow workers with a salute or a handshake but didn't respond to the titles.

"I'm grateful to have the trust of so many people," he said during a gathering to help residents prepare for natural disasters. "I like having the chance to meet new faces."

After Tuesday's election, he'll have plenty of opportunity as the first Vietnamese American mayor in a city that gave birth to Little Saigon -- the largest Vietnamese district outside the country itself.

Ta, currently the city's mayor pro tem, won more than 42% of the vote in the five-candidate race.

On Wednesday, he continued making the rounds, visiting radio stations for interviews. He and his wife, Que Anh Doan, a pharmacist, are authors of three books of poetry. They live with their two daughters in the Mission del Amo mobile home park near Little Saigon.

In previous years, two other Vietnamese American candidates - Chuyen Nguyen and Andy Quach - mounted mayoral campaigns. But both failed.

Now Ta, 39, can claim victory. As he drove from one appointment to another after the election, buzzed on just a couple of hours of sleep, he reflected: "I'm so happy. The phone has not stopped ringing" with more than 100 callers, in addition to Facebook messages.

Ta, recruited for the job by current Mayor Margie Rice, said he's been learning the ropes by attending meetings in her place. He expects the next month to fill up with the details of transition, before taking the oath of office Dec. 12.

"She has guided me," he said of Rice, "and I want to continue her good work. I am thankful for the city staff, for my community members and for support across this whole city. I truly thank everyone."

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Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: Tri Ta on the campaign trail in Westminster. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times.

L.A. Council backs creating city ID cards, asks for bids

Los Angeles City Council members Wednesday gave enthusiastic backing to the creation of a controversial city identification card that could be used by illegal immigrants to open banks accounts, borrow library books and pay utility bills.

Councilman Ed Reyes called it a way for the city’s poorest workers to “come out into the light.”

While the federal government has failed to pass immigration reform, the city of Los Angeles is able to manage its own affairs, said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a chief sponsor of the card plan.

An ID card that would allow as many as 400,000 residents who now live in a cash economy to access banking services and learn the intricacies of finance is beneficial to everyone, Alarcon said, not just undocumented immigrants who are expected to be the main benefactors.

"Everyone has used their service at one time or another,'' he said. "And yet we don’t want them to say who they are and what their address is."

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Sergio Romo wears 'I just look illegal' shirt at S.F. Giants parade

San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo made a political statement with his T-shirt "I just look illegal." Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

It was a typical championship parade for the San Francisco Giants: confetti fell to the streets, players waved and the crowd in orange and black roared.

Talk back LABut pitcher Sergio Romo's T-shirt -- which said, "I Just Look Illegal" -- may be the most talked-about part of the celebration.

As The Times' Dylan Hernandez wrote last week, Romo was raised in Brawley, Calif., a small farming community about 20 miles north of the Mexican border. His parents, who met in Brawley, were born in Mexico.

For many of the city's residents, Hernandez writes, Romo represents "the latest link in a chain of baseball players that dates back to the 1930s."

Many of these players would cross the Mexican border on weekends to compete in adult leagues in the city of Mexicali. Promising young players would be invited to play shortly after they entered high school. In this way, a devotion to the game was passed from one generation to the next.

So when pitcher Sid Monge broke in with the Angels in 1975, many of the players in town felt he took part of them to the major leagues with him. They felt the same way about Rudy Seanez, who played 17 big league seasons with nine teams, including the Dodgers. And now they feel like that about Romo.

"Everybody has a little story about Rudy, Sergio and Sid," said Rusty Garcia, who was Seanez's pitching coach at Brawley Union High.

Romo is remembered as the child who used to tag along with his father on weekends to Mexicali. Memories of those days were shared over lunch recently at Las Chabelas, where six men gathered at a back table to trade stories.

"Remember how much of a pain he was?" Reyes asked the others. "Sergio was so hyper when he was a little kid."

Romo's shirt quickly drew reaction on Twitter as images of his shirt circulated. See some of the comments below and tell us what you think:

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Suspected smugglers in Jeep try to jump border, but fence wins

It was what appeared to be a midnight smuggling run pitting a Jeep Cherokee versus the 14-foot border fence.

The fence won.

Suspected smugglers on Tuesday tried to go up and over the barrier at California’s Imperial Sand Dunes on a makeshift ramp, not an uncommon tactic employed by Mexican smugglers since border fencing was erected in the area in recent years. 

But the Jeep high-centered on the way down, leaving the rear wheels spinning in the air.

When U.S. Border Patrol agents arrived minutes later, the vehicle was hanging from the barrier, suspended between Mexico and California. The hatchback of the Jeep was open, leading authorities to believe the suspected smugglers may have somehow retrieved the drugs before fleeing.

Their ramp, U.S. Border Patrol authorities said in a statement, was “not quite up to the task.”

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Surprising results in poll on immigration laws in California

A new poll had some surprising results on how Californian view immigration laws. As The Times Cindy Chang reported Sunday:

In the nearly two decades since Californians voted to bar undocumented immigrants from utilizing public schools and hospitals, the state's electorate has become increasingly tolerant toward people who are in the country illegally, although it remains tough on border security and enforcement, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows.

The shift is partly explained by the growing clout of Latinos, who now make up 20% of California voters. But the attitudes of whites also appear to have changed.

If placed on the ballot today, a measure similar to Proposition 187 would be supported by 46% of voters, according to the poll, with 44% against — a statistical tie, given the 2.9% margin of error. In 1994, by contrast, the proposition passed with 59% of the vote.

Chang will talk about Prop. 187 and other aspects of the poll on a Google+ Hangout today. One issue is Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration:

In the current poll, the divergence between white and Latino respondents was especially wide on a measure criticized because it could lead to racial profiling. Latinos would strongly oppose a proposal similar to Arizona's SB 1070, which allows police to ask for papers if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally. While a majority of poll respondents approved of the idea, 67% of Latinos opposed it.

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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