How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Microcredit expands for L.A. entrepreneurs

Microloans in LA - 1

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Client Mercedes Pedroza works out at Extreme Workout Team in Huntington Park on Tuesday morning, Nov. 18, 2014. Funding help for the fitness studio came from Grameen, an international micro-loan foundation.

Microloans in LA - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Grameen borrower Celia Beatriz Rivas, owner of Extreme Workout Team, has received four loans for her fitness studio. The loans have gone towards equipment for the studio.

Microloans in LA - 3

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Celia Beatriz Rivas has been receiving loans from Grameen for two years. Rivas went to larger banks asking for loans, but all of them said no.

Microloans in LA - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Stationary spin bicycles cost Celia Beatriz Rivas $200 each. Grameen micro-loans have also helped Rivas purchase dumbbells, weight machines and other equipment.

Microloans in LA - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Clients Mercedes Pedroza, left, and Sahara Leon work out together on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at Extreme Workout Team in Huntington Park. One week ago, Celia Beatriz Rivas moved the fitness studio to a larger space.

Microloans in LA - 6

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Client Sahara Leon says she likes Extreme Workout Team because it's more affordable and personalized than larger chain gyms.


Thumping dance music rattled her Huntington Park fitness studio, as Celia Rivas ran her students through a circuit of aerobics, weights and spinning. 

Originally from El Salvador, Rivas has a passion for keeping other immigrant women fit.

"My part is doing the exercise," Rivas said. "Their part is to eat healthy."

But this studio almost didn't happen. A divorce had left her with credit card and car payments she couldn’t make on her own, destroying her credit score.

At a time no other banks would consider her for a loan, she learned through an acquaintance about a non-profit microlender called Grameen America which was offering $1,500 to entrepreneurs.

"I was like, no, [there] has to be a catch," Rivas said. 

Helping would-be entrepreneurs

Grameen founder Muhamad Yunus pioneered the practice of offering small business loans to poor villagers in Bangladesh with no credit - and won a Nobel prize for his efforts.

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Left out of immigation reform: Waits for family visas drag on

Visa backlogs will continue, despite President Obama's executive action on immigration.

Carlota Lasmarias' younger brother and sister have been waiting since the mid-1990s to come to the United States from the Philippines.

"They want to feel the American dream," said Lasmarias, an accounting clerk living in Los Angeles. "I told them: it’s nice here for your children to grow up here."

But there is no immediate relief in sight for the logjam of people waiting to come on family-sponsored visas from her native Philippines and other countries where demand far outstrips supply.

Hopes that the U.S. government would improve wait times were dashed when President Obama failed to directly address the issue in his recent immigration order. He instead created a task force that will take up visa backlogs.

"The job is still not yet done on family visas," said Congresswoman Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, who promised to work with the new task force.

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Immigration reform: Mexican consulate in LA braces for surge in applicants

Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles

Los Angeles World Affairs Council via Flickr

Carlos Sada, Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles, said expects a surge in document requests from immigrants planning to apply for protection from deportation under Obama's executive action.

The Mexican consulate in Los Angeles is planning to expand its hours and grow its staff by as much as 30 percent to accommodate Mexican nationals seeking deportation relief under Pres. Obama's recent immigration action. 

Consul General Carlos Sada told KPCC he wants to add 20 to 30 more employees to his office of about 100. The additional staff would help Mexican nationals compile the documents they need to seek protection from deportation from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - like Mexican passports or consular ID cards required to prove their identities.

"I do not feel that overwhelmed, but I want to be prepared as possible," Sada said.

Mexican immigrants are expected to benefit from President Obama's executive action on immigration more than any other group. Sada said many do not have birth certificates, let alone photo ID.

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Immigration: Deportation action a relief to some, but many Californians still won't qualify

Obama Immigration speech

Stuart Palley/ KPCC

Onlookers watch as President Obama is shown on a projector near the intersection of Alameda St. and the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, addressing the nation with reformed immigration policy. President Obama addresses the nation with reforms in immigration policy in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday Nov. 20, 2014.

Gerardo spent the summer of 2013 going through his files, making sure he had every school record, every mortgage statement, every credit document meticulously in order.
 
The restaurant chef and father of four U.S.-born children arrived here more than 20 years ago — too late for amnesty. In his 40s by the time deferred action rolled around in 2012, he was too old for that. (We are not using his last name; he agreed to speak with KPCC if we protected his identity.)

His hope, at the time, was the immigration reform bill that had just cleared the Senate would make it through Congress and become law. It didn’t happen.
 
Then Thursday evening, as he watched President Obama’s immigration speech at home, everything changed.
 
“I just jumped out of the sofa," Gerardo said. "This is something I have been waiting for, for so many years. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally.”
 
Among the immigrants who will qualify for temporary relief from deportation under Obama's executive order are people like Gerardo and his wife: parents of U.S. Citizens or legal residents who have lived here five years or more.
 
Also protected will be immigrants who arrived as children before the start of 2010, regardless of their age now.

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Immigration reform: Obama to sign executive order; Republicans won't 'stand idle'

Obama Immigration speech

Stuart Palley/ KPCC

Onlookers watch as President Obama is shown on a projector near the intersection of Alameda St. and the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles Thursday addressing the nation with reformed immigration policy. President Obama addresses the nation with reforms in immigration policy in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday Nov. 20, 2014.

President Barack Obama was in Las Vegas Friday to sign his executive order shielding from deportation millions of immigrants who are in the United States without authorization. While the order touches on almost every aspect of the immigration system – from immigration courts, to border security, to background checks — many details of how it will work are still unclear. Republicans, meanwhile, have said that the president's unilateral move was "damaging the presidency" and that the Republican-run House will not stand by. Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona has already filed a lawsuit contending that Obama acted outside his constitutional authority.

Updates

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