Category: Immigrant Rights

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Two-thirds of the people who live in Oakland are not white and Oakland has a long history of struggle for racial justice.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Yet the situation of most whites is quite different from the situation of many Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and indigenous people.  In fact, Oakland has the seventh worst income inequality of any major city in the country. (Statistics on wealth gaps for Asians and indigenous groups are not available from those doing these calculations.)

We need to put changing this at the center of the city’s efforts. In the one place where we have some real power, local government, we need to say that we understand institutional racism still exists and we want to do something about it – officially

It won’t be easy. The whole country is full of policies that uphold racism, but there is a lot more we could do if we focused and strategized, especially on the policies and practices that produce the racial wealth gap.

We need a city Department of Race and Equity because the racial wealth gap in the U.S. is 13 to 1 between the median white and the median African-American family and 10 to 1 between the median white and the median Latino family.

These gaps in wealth and income result from a national history of overt and covert racial discrimination – slavery, U.S. seizure of Mexican land, share-cropping, red-lining; English-only policies; bracero programs; immigration policies and a thousand other events and policies.

And these gaps contribute to housing, health, and policing inequities as well. Here are just a few current local specifics which a department of Race and Equity might look into:

African Americans are 28 percent of the Oakland population. Yet they were hired for only 5 percent of the hours on city-funded construction projects last year;

Latinos are 41 percent of Oakland students, but only 13 percent of its teachers. A city department would, of course, need to work collaboratively with the school district if it were to help in rectifying this imbalance.

Oakland is lauded for multi-cultural music and art. Yet city support for minority-owned venues is often lacking;

Oakland has lots of new fancy restaurants, but not many Black or Latino or Asian folk earn the fancy tips at the front-end of these houses.

Some city departments seem to have many employees of every ethnicity. Yet the department that plans the city’s economic future seems to be overwhelmingly white.

The last “disparity study” commissioned by the city showed statistically significant underutilization of “minority” owned and women owned firms in both construction and professional services contracts.   There was also a significant underutilization of Asian, Latino, and African-American firms in construction sub-contracts.

Non-white contractors have reported a good-old-boys network, difficulty in receiving information on the bid process, difficulty in obtaining financing, and other issues.

Oakland is blessed with dozens of activist and non-profit organizations that work on these issues, but we often feel that we are fighting a multiple-headed beast, winning in one place, only to lose again when someone forgets that a new policy or procedure is supposed to be in place.

We need an official department in city government that is responsible for caring whether two-thirds of the residents receive the same economic, political, and social benefits as the other third.

We need a Department of Race and Equity

Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is author of “Organizing to Change a City” (2012), Peter Lang, and host of Education Today on KPFA 94.1 FM.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Latinos Underrepresented in Teaching and Other Jobs in OUSD

Supt. Antwan Wilson: “We have to embody the diversity of this community”

Members of the Latino Education Network (L to R): Victor Martinez, steering committee of LEN; Emma Roos, co-chair; Yolanda Schonbrun, co-chair; and Jorge Lerma, lifetime educator. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members of the Latino Education Network (L to R): Victor Martinez, steering committee of LEN; Emma Roos, co-chair; Yolanda Schonbrun, co-chair; and Jorge Lerma, lifetime educator. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

While Latino youth make up 41 percent and still growing numbers of students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), they are a disproportionately small part of the OUSD workforce, significantly in the classroom, where only 13 percent of the district’s 2,120 teachers are Latino or Hispanic.

A number of Latino high school students and graduates report that they never had a Latino teacher during the years they attended school in the district.

Latino workers are significantly underrepresented in almost every major job classification. The numbers, which were released by the school district to the Latino Education Network (LEN) in September 2014, are stark.

Among 240 custodial services workers, 7.5 percent are Latino; 125 principals, assistant principals and child center administrators, 21.6 percent; 105 members of the staff of the OUSD police department, 10 percent; 130 food preparers and others in nutrition services, 9.4 percent; and 864 teachers, aides and other staff in special education, 10.3 percent.

Among the reasons that these statistics are important is that students need role models they recognize and the ability of teachers and other school staff to deeply understand the needs, family lives and culture of students directly impact the success of children in schools, according to many educators.

Another reason is that the OUSD is the second largest employer in Oakland with 7,664 employees, and its hiring and contracting policies are important to everyone who lives in the city. When the school district does not hire Latinos, it impacts workers and the educational futures of families of children who attend the schools.

According to Victor Martinez, LEN steering committee member, the district for years has claimed to be sympathetic about need to increase the numbers of Latino teachers and other employers, but nothing changes.

“Latino groups have been raising issues for 40 years, and it seems we’re still in the same place,” he said. “We’re not interested in appeasement or window dressing. We’re interested in systemic change, institutional change,” he said.

Says Emma Roos, also a LEN co-chair, “We continue to work with the district, through community advisory committees and finding areas where we can be of assistance.”

“We see small changes, new faces, but nothing dedicated to the urgent needs of Latino students,” she said.

Added LEN member and lifelong educator Jorge Lerma, “Though Latinos are large in number, things are done for us but without us. Latinos are not involved in designing and implementing and bringing their life issues into (educational programs).”

“The Latino community is significantly underrepresented in decision making, and that reflects in academics at the schools,” said Lerma.

Symptomatic and particularly upsetting, said Roos, is that the district has only 28 bilingual aides to help out in the classrooms, and only 14 are Spanish speaking. Roos is also concerned that number of high achieving students who were honored at the OUSD annual Latino Honor Roll dropped this year after going up for several years in a row.

“We’re calling our status a state of emergency,” said Lerma. “They’re calling it ‘unrecognized bias,’ but it’s recognized by us.”

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson in a public statement pledged to work with Latinos to make changes. “To lift up and meet the needs of our growing Latino community, we have to embody the diversity of this community,” he said.

He said the district is working with the Unity Council´s Latino Men & Boys program “in eight of our schools serving over 200 young men and their families, providing academic support, male mentorship, and health and wellness programs, as well as career development and culturally-based activities.”

In an email to members of LEN, Brigitte Marshall, OUSD Chief Talent Officer, head of the human resources department, wrote about the efforts the district is taking to improve hiring of Latinos.

“Several months ago, I initiated a demographic comparative analysis of departmental staffing from which the demographic imbalance of various district departments could clearly be seen,” Marshall wrote.

“As a result of this, I have started the work of naming the issue with department leaders and working with them to develop strategies to improve their recruitment and hiring practices to ensure progress toward more representative staffing.

“We are challenged by the current limitations of our data tracking capabilities and recognize that the need to be able to demonstrate progress in hiring diversity rests in part in our ability to track the data correctly.”

Roos said she was glad the district was seeking to improve data collection, “But if legal, moral and educational issues are once again trumped by technical glitches, we are all lost.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (


Latino Students Are “Overlooked and Poorly Represented” in Oakland Unified

By Jorge Lerma

Latinos are not getting fair representation.

Latinos make up 41 percent of Oakland’s student population and are still overlooked and poorly represented in the policy and decision-making apparatus of the Oakland Unified School District.(OUSD).

Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

OUSD is a multicultural, multiracial and multilingual urban blend of students of whom most are poor, of color and immigrants. The largest single ethnic group, to the surprise of many, is the Latino and Mexican-American population.

Because the system often lacks the knowledge, sensitivity and awareness of the differences in the Latino community, it routinely categorizes all Spanish surnamed Latinos as either English Language Learners or as immigrants. T

This completely ignores the large, multigenerational and historic presence of not exclusively, but predominantly, Mexican Americans who, like Native Americans, share a common history of not being immigrants but being an indigenous people.

Mexicans have had a presence in the United States, particularly in the American Southwest, since before this area became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Since this time, the citizenship and ability to exercise their rights as such has been an uphill battle.

Despite this long presence in society, Mexican-American students, families and the community continue to be disenfranchised. They are poorly represented in all areas within the OUSD, including teachers, administrators and classified workforce.

We in the Mexican-American community consider this widespread underrepresentation to be a contributing factor that directly correlates with the violence and physical mistreatment Latinos are receiving at the hands of the school site security officers of the Oakland Unified schools.

The gross underrepresentation, coupled with little to no cultural competence, is only compounded by the lack of sensitivity to the needs of special-needs students. This has been demonstrated in the events that have recently been at the forefront of the media.

The new Oakland Unified School District leadership must break from its biased past and begin to work with the Latino community to ensure a better, safer learning environment for Latinos and other students of color.

Brown lives matter, too. Let’s be a district that embraces and responds to the needs of our new urban blend and the realities of our district. It is time to discard the black-and-white paradigm used to define our discussions on inclusion and equality.

Our world is ever changing and evolving, it is multicolored, multilingual and multicultural. Our urban school districts must also evolve to better serve the needs of this population.

Jorge Lerma is a lifelong educator and member of the Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland (ECHO) and Latino Education Network (LEN).

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 30, 2015 (

Support Grows for City of Oakland Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

A number of community leaders are speaking out in support of a new city department designed to decrease inequities and racial barriers in city policies and operations, such as housing, development contracts, employment, and education.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

The proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, developed and led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks and supported by several councilmembers, seeks t address some of the main issues are frequently being raised by Oakland residents: gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, jobs at city-funded projects and access to city contacts, environmental and air quality, as well as other health conditions in minority and disenfranchised communities.

“We think about gentrification and displacement, and we think about the role that the city plays in perpetuating the invasive class remake of our city,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“We know that a department like this is at the core of the types of change that we need to see on a local level to stop that tide of displacement and to stop gentrification from continuing to happen,” Clark said.

The department would answer directly to the City Administrator and would be implemented as soon as December of this year – if approved by the City Council.

The department would provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials to address systemic racism in city operations “with a focus on how the city does business, including human resources, contracting, access, funding and decision-making,” according to the proposal.

“The city spends enormous amounts of money on development in Oakland. Twenty-eight percent of the people who live in this city are African American, yet they get only five percent of the hours on those jobs,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, an education professor and member of OaklandWorks.

“What happens when you don’t have anything specifically devoted to dealing with an issue as major and primary and hurtful as racism in this society is, people get afraid to bring it up,” Kelly Epstein said.

“If we do the work of actually allocating and designating a department to that work, then people won’t be shut down when they want to bring up the fact that there is great inequity,” she said.

There is the notion that there are two Oaklands, residents have said: one has access to minor investment from the city, declining jobs and parks and schools that are closing operating limited resources. The other Oakland has access to better schools, parks, greater investments that benefit the community and more responsive government.

Imagine East Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood compared to the Glenview. Some neighborhoods require a bus ride or long drive to complete such daily tasks as grocery shopping or going to the bank.

“There’s no way that a city should be able to develop, do any type of business and not represent the citizens that live right there,” said Esther with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “It’s time for all of us to step up, be responsible and understand that we need to start leading with our hearts before our pockets.”

“There is an urgency with respect to people of color being able to have equal participation in this city,” said Councilwoman Brooks.

In response to inquiries of how much it will cost to operate this new department, Brooks said, “Think of the costs that communities have suffered for far too long not being able to participate fully in the government that they pay into. When do they get that return in dividends?”

“We will have to look like we have looked for other things that have been unbudgeted and find a way to make this happen. I would hope that we don’t just look at the dollars and cents, but we will look at truly moving a full community forward,” said Brooks.

Some of the organizations supporting the Department of Race and Equity are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), ONYX Organizing Committee, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

The proposal will go to the City Council on March 31.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (

Our Schools Need Latino Teachers

Latino students two


By Francisco Ortiz, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch and Kitty Kelly Epstein

Marisol, a very effective Bay Area high school teacher, says that she never had a Latino teacher until she was in the 10th grade.

“Having a Latino teacher made me much more positive about education and caused me to think about teaching,” she said.

Latino students threeMarisol’s experience is not unusual.   Fifty-three percent of students and only 18 percent percent of teachers in California public schools are Latino. There are schools in the Bay Area that have hundreds of Latino children and not a single Latino teacher.

Currently, one of the authors of this article, Mr. Ortiz, is the only Spanish-speaking Latino teacher for the entire upper-elementary grades (4-6) at his school.

He says, “I am able to effectively communicate with the newcomer students in my classroom, as well as other newcomer students in grades 4-6, something which may not always be possible for monolingual English speaking teachers.”

“Although I teach sixth grade,” he continues, “parents from other classrooms say they hope that their children will be my students in the future. Kids from grades 2-5 often see me in the halls and express their excitement to be in my classroom.”

Latino students 1Latino students want to succeed. Whether it’s cultural capital, linguistic

Francisco Ortiz

Francisco Ortiz

capital or a combination of both that allow Latino students to feel more empowered and confident through having Latino teachers, this ever growing and crucially important resource should not be ignored, especially since the Latino population is the fastest growing ethnic group in California’s schools, he said.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled Lynch

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled-Lynch

Asian, white and Black students also need Latino teachers to share their language, along with their cultural and global wisdom.

Some authors treat the lack of Latino teachers as a problem of recruitment, and some have even argued that Latinos are not interested in becoming teachers.

In reality there are many barriers that stand in the way of Latinos earning the teaching credential.   Standardized tests continue to be a significant barrier for Latinos entering the teaching profession.

Due to the racial wealth gap, many Latino families are challenged by the high fees for the assessments and by the requirement of many programs that candidates work for free as a student teacher.

Another barrier for Latinos who have English as a second language is the writing section of the standardized assessment. Test takers are required to write all responses in English.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Although Spanish is the first language for 40 percent of California students, there is absolutely no credit given for Spanish fluency in fulfilling the requirements for credentialing.

Additionally, traditional recruitment strategies are often not effective for recruiting Latinos. Recruitment of college graduates and career-changers through community-based organizations is more effective than the traditional bureaucratic routes.

In our view the recruitment of teachers of color is a far better way to improve American schools and stabilize the teaching force than the over-testing of everybody, which is currently the favorite project of many policy-makers.

Kimberly Mayfield-Lynch is chair of Black Women Organized for Political Action and chair of the Education Department at Holy Names University.

Francisco Ortiz is a Bay Area teacher and a graduate student researching issues of Latino teacher recruitment.

Kitty Kelly Epstein hosts Education Today on KPFA – FM and writes on issues involving education and urban policy. (A Different View of Urban Schools (2012) Peter Lang).

Courtey of the Post News Group, February 27, 2015 (

“Let Our People Come Out of the Shadows”

President will extend legal status to five million undocuented immigrants


 By Post Staff

In a rare primetime nationally televised address, President Obama Thursday evening announced the most sweeping executive action on immigration in decades.

The president will circumvent Congress, extend legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, increase numbers of visas for valuable high-skilled workers and strengthen security along the Southwest border.

“Our immigration system has been broken for decades, and every minute we fail to act, millions of people who live in the shadows but want to play by the rules and pay taxes have no way to live right by the law and contribute to our country,” Obama said in a video posted to Facebook.

According to the White House, Obama will “maximize the use of his authority” to extend temporary legal status to more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

The president will legalize the status of 4.1 million parents and families of U.S. citizens who have been in country more than five years with no criminal record.

The executive memoranda will also bring relief to 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, so-called Dreamers, and will become eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Current age limits for the program will be dropped, sources say.

Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District in East Oakland, thanked President Obama for his steps to legalize immigrants.”

“We have a ways to go to complete solve our immigration problem, but that is something that will require joint efforts of the president and Congress,” said Gallo.

“On my street and in my neighborhood, people are arriving daily,” he said. “We as a country need to solve the immigration issue so we can welcome them, and they can work productively.”

Councilmember Lynette McElhaney also praised Obama’s action.

“It’s about time,” she said. “This is the most compassionate, sensible and practical thing the president can do it.”

Too many families have been ripped apart by deportations, McElhaney said. “The president is taking a humanitarian step, and it is welcome news to people in Oakland. Now is time for Congress to act.”

Mayor Jean Quan on Thursday invited community members to join her to watch and discuss the president’s announcement. “Our city has long prided itself on its reputation for diversity and inclusion, and our immigrant communities are an integral part of Oakland’s fabric,” Quan said.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee said the president’s action is “in line with our nation’s interest and character, namely, compassion, economic growth and keeping families together. We must never forget that we are and will always be a nation of immigrants.”

“I continue to urge the Republican leadership of the House to call a vote and pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Lee said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 20, 2014 (

Mayoral Candidates Consider Plan to Activate Community Involvement

 Community task forces designed to debate, develop and implement city policy were an innovation established in Oakland almost a decade ago (shown above). Some people are now seeking to build on that experience  to establish new task forces to involve and empower residents in an ongoing way.

Community task forces designed to debate, develop and implement city policy were an innovation established in Oakland almost a decade ago (shown above). Some people are now seeking to build on that experience to establish new task forces to involve and empower residents in an ongoing way.

By Post Staff

Several of Oakland’s mayoral candidates have expressed interest in creating communitywide action task forces that could potentially involve hundreds of Oakland residents in developing, passing and implementing policies that will affect the future of the city.

The goal of this process would be to take residents out of their traditional role as passive observers of city decisions or participants who try to intervene at the eleventh hour to halt or modify policies and ordinances they do not support that are advocated by city staff, the mayor or City Council.

Proposals so far include task forces on the arts, jobs, economic development, youth and education, police accountability and public safety, housing and tenant rights, protections and encouragement of small businesses, increased transparency and public involvement in city government and creating opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Participants would volunteer for a task force in which they have interest and expertise.

Elected officials would be asked to pledge to support active community involvement by bringing completed task force proposals to the City Council for a full discussion and a vote.

A similar task force process was pioneered during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums, which involved 900 residents for a number of months, and led to about 150 polices and programs being proposed and about 80 being implemented.

These policies and programs included the first-ever appointment of a resident of West Oakland to the Port Commission; an industrial land-use policy; removal of a barrier to local hire policy; the creation of a Business Assistance Center;“Banning the box” on city applications; creating a position within the Mayor’s office to work on the re-entry of previously incarcerated individuals;  and continuing the compliance period on the Riders consent decree.

Other initiatives included a successful project to diversify the teaching force; return of the school district to local control; “green workforce development,” enhancing the “culture of learning” which led to yearly Back to School rallies at City Hall; anti-drop-out initiatives; and health services in the schools.

Already, the Post has received an offer of $10,000 to help facilitate this community engagement process.

Anyone interested in participating in a task force can send their name and area of interest to

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 24, 2014 (

Dan Kalb Proposes Law to Protect Renters from Landlord Harassment

Members of Just Cause: Causa Justa are backing the Tenant Protection ordinanace. Photo courtesy of Causa justa

Members of Just Cause: Causa Justa are backing the Tenant Protection ordinanace. Photo courtesy of Causa justa

By Ashley Chambers

An ordinance was introduced at the city’s Community and Economic Development meeting this week to provide additional protections for Oakland residents have been harassed or intimidated into not asserting their tenant rights.

Introduced by City Councilmember Dan Kalb, the Tenant Protection Ordinance would offer tenants the ability to protect themselves against various forms of harassment by their landlord, including “failing to provide, or threatening to interrupt housing services required by contract or by law;” removing a tenant’s personal property without prior consent“ and “attempting to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion.”

Coupled with rising rent prices in Oakland, this kind of harassment has displaced many Oakland residents, pushing them out of the city, according to housing rights activists.

“The primary goal of this is to deter these kinds of inappropriate or, in some cases, harassing behaviors that take place from time to time,” said Kalb at Tuesday’s meeting.

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

“I think we have a certain obligation to protect our tenants and protect what we would call the economic diversity of our city and those who want to continue to live and work here,” he said.

A similar law prohibiting landlord harassment already exists in San Francisco, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and East Palo Alto.

Council members heard over 60 speakers on Tuesday, including landlords and tenants who shared their experiences of harassment.

According to Ana Baires Mira, a tenant’s rights attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza in the Fruitvale District, “Of the approximately 480 Oakland tenants who receive legal services at Centro Legal de la Raza, approximately 40 percent face some type of harassment outlined in the ordinance.”

One of Mira’s clients, Maria, an immigrant single mother, was living in “deplorable conditions,” and her landlord refused to make any repairs. Her landlord threatened to evict her if she went to the rent board, Mira said.

Maria still went to the rent board, and her rent was decreased by 40 percent. However, her landlord has yet to make repairs on her apartment.

“Many tenants fear making complaints because of landlord intimidation and retaliation,” said Wendy Georges, manager of the TRUST Clinic with the Alameda County Public Health Department, which supports the proposed ordinance.

Several members of the housing rights organization Causa Justa: Just Cause highlighted the need for tenant protections.

“My landlord has entered my home on many occasions without giving me prior notice,” said an emotional Alice Kennedy, an Oakland resident and member of Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“My electrical wires in my garage have been crossed with my neighbor’s wires, so my neighbor controls my electricity in my garage,” she said. ”I’ve talked to my landlord about the issue, and he says there’s nothing to do about it to reverse what has been done.”

“I believe the tenant protections are needed in Oakland now because they will protect seniors and the disabled from harassment from landlords who violate our rights,” she continued.

The CED Committee is scheduled to vote on the Tenant Protection Ordinance at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (

Oakland “Locks Arms” to Aid Refugee Children

Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Noel Gallo speak Wednesday at a meeting in the Mayor Office bringing together groups and community leaders  to  aid Central American child refugees in Oakland and other Bay Area Cities. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Noel Gallo speak Wednesday at a meeting in the Mayor’s Office bringing together groups and community leaders to aid Central American child refugees in Oakland and other Bay Area Cities. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken A. Epstein

The Oakland City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution committing to adding the humanitarian relief effort for unaccompanied immigrants to the United States, authored by Mayor Jean Quan, Vice Mayor Larry Reid and Councilmember Noel Gallo.

“The bottom line here is clear and urgent: we are talking about children who need our help, and Oakland stands shoulder to shoulder with everyone offering that help,” said Mayor Quan.

“This is a humanitarian crisis that requires a compassionate and urgent response,” said Councilmember Gallo. “We must do what we can to support the health and wellbeing of these children. Our goal is to ensure that these unaccompanied children get the services they need, and are able to move from federal shelter facilities into the homes of relatives or host families as they await the results of their immigration proceedings.”

Seeking to put teeth in the resolution, Gallo on Wednesday convened a meeting in the Mayor’s Office with representatives of over 30 of churches, nonprofits and community groups to coordinate efforts to meet the children’s and families’ pressing needs. The representatives were mostly from Oakland but also from other East Bay cities and San Francisco.

“We’re reacting to the situation, but we’re not prepared,” said Rev. Pablo Morataya, pastor of Primer Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana on High Street in Oakland.

His church is supporting two families, one from Guatemala and another from Honduras, who are each living in one room in small apartments with relatives.

“The necessities are housing and legal assistance,” he said. “They are already in court up here. And there are young people coming into our city. We don’t know yet how many, but there are many, many of them.”

According to attorneys at the meeting, the young immigrants and adults are entitled to legal representation, but the government does not pay for it. To retain a private lawyer typically costs at least $6,000, and a case can take between two and three years.

Centro Legal de la Raza in the Frutivale District is representing as many of the new immigrants as it can and is referring other clients to nonprofits and private attorneys who are willing to work without cost, said Barbara Pinto, an immigration staff attorney at Centro Legal.

“Locally, we’re locking arms” to help the new arrivals, said Lariza Dugan-Cuadra of the Central American Resource Center of Northern California in San Francisco. She said she knows of 60 families that are going to court in the next few weeks.

Oakland International High School has already taken in 50 immigrant children this year, “and we’re a small school,” said Carmelita Reyes, principal of the Oakland public school.

“We’ve been triaging the best we can, trying to find lawyers – it’s a nightmare,” she said. “Asking someone in the third grade who doesn’t speak English to (represent) themselves is ridiculous,” she said.

Gallo said that that he is working closely with Supervisor David Campos in San Francisco, and Gov. Jerry Brown is willing to provide resources. But so far, the U.S. government is mostly talking about militarizing the border and has not been forthcoming with much aid to help take care of the children.


Councilmember Noel Gallo Calls for Support for Migrant Children

A Border Patrol agent stands on a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in South Texas brush country north of Laredo, Texas, Tuesday, June 6, 2006. According to agents, the children were separated from their families after the Border Patrol apprehended a large group of immigrants that crossed into the U.S. illegally. They spent the next 11 hours in the brush until agents found them. This came  a few hours before President Bush visited the Laredo Border Patrol Sector. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A Border Patrol agent stands on a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in South Texas brush country north of Laredo, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

By Ken A. Epstein

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District, is seeking to promote a alliance between Oakland and San Francisco to pressure the federal government and involve local churches to provide humanitarian aid to Central American refugee children who cross the border and eventually arrive in the Bay Area.

“My understanding is that the children come across the border with the idea of connecting with a family member in the U..S. ” and a number end up in San Francisco and Oakland, Gallo said.

In Oakland neighborhoods, Gallo is seeing mostly young people, as young as 4 years old, along International Boulevard. A few are moving in near where he lives.

Many of those who come to Oakland are from Guatemala.

Noel Gallo speaking with students

Noel Gallo speaking with students

The new immigrants are often in desperate need of housing, medical care and other kinds of assistance. “I cannot do it alone, and Oakland cannot do it alone,” said Gallo, adding that he is contacting the Catholic Church and Christian churches, which are most likely to be able to provide immediate assistance.

“We’ve always had a good number of families from Guatemala in our elementary schools and at Fremont High. Some speak Spanish, others speak their native language, which is not Spanish,” he said.

He also hopes city governments can help push the federal government to be more humane to the migrants. “We’ve made contact with the consulates of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, ” said Gallo, “and we’re working with David Campos of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. We want to put pressure on the feds to be more responsible. Maybe we do it as a joint effort.”

The so-called child-migrant “surge,” expected to reach as high as 70,000 this year, began in 2011 and became a crisis this year.

Gang violence in Central America, especially in Honduras and El Salvador, is driving a substantial exodus to other countries throughout the region. Often, Teenagers in these countries are being recruited to join gangs. If they refuse, the gang will often retaliate against them and their families.

The children also face violence – including kidnapping, rape and murder – during the danger filled journey to the U.S.

Pope Francs this week issued a statement on the migrant crisis.

“Globalization is a phenomenon that challenges us, especially in one of its principal manifestations which is emigration,” he said. “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

“A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world,” he said.

He called for support for “The tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence: This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain.

“As a first urgent measure, these children (should) be welcomed and protected.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 21, 2014 (