How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

In immigration news: Homeland Security funding, newspaper vandalized, state immigration laws, more



Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson at a July press conference in Washington, D.C. House GOP leaders are now planning a bill that would fund most of Homeland Security; some have threatened to withhold funding for the agency as part of a battle over President Obama's recent executive order on immigration.

G.O.P. Aims to Fund Homeland Security While Blocking Obama’s Immigration Plan- New York Times House GOP lawmakers are putting together a bill that "would fund most of the Department of Homeland Security while preventing President Obama from carrying out his recent executive action on immigration, in an effort to appease their more conservative members." The department was funded only short-term last month. Meanwhile, Obama has threatened to veto attempts to undo his executive order on immigration from November.

Newspaper's immigrants headline criticized, building defaced - Associated Press After the Santa Barbara News Press published a headline last weekend reading "Illegals Line Up for Driver's Licenses," the newspaper building wound up vandalized Wednesday night or Thursday morning with spray-painted messages such as: "Fight back" and "The border is illegal not the people who cross it." The story drew heavy criticism online, with a petition calling on the paper to retract it and apologize for its use of "illegals." The term goes against AP style guidelines for media.


LA labor coalition joins the fight against El Super grocery chain

El Super boycott

Josie Huang/KPCC

Picketers with United Food and Commercial Workers ask customers at the Highland Park location to join a boycott of El Super stores.

A Los Angeles-area coalition of some 300 unions is calling on members to stop shopping at El Super, one of California’s biggest ethnic grocery chains.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor on Thursday threw its support behind a boycott of the Mexican-owned company, which is in a contract fight with some of its workers. 

The discount grocery chain has more than 40 locations in Southern California, many in Latino, working-class neighborhoods — some of the very same places where the federation’s 600,000 members live and shop, according to its leader Rusty Hicks.   

"We can have quite a substantial impact," Hicks said, noting family, friends and supporters of union members would also be recruited.

Union boycotts of groceries are nothing new. One of the nation's largest was the 2003-2004 supermarket strike affecting more than 800 Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons stores in California. That was a much larger effort that spanned nearly five months, and involved nearly 60,000 workers.

The chains lost more than $2 billion in sales, but in the end, workers had to concede to many of the cost-cutting measures the companies demanded to compete with Walmart.


In immigration news: Border drones, GOP immigration strategy, H-4 visa holders hoping to work, more

U.S. Air And Marine Predator Drones Launch For Missions Overlooking U.S.-Mexico Border

John Moore/Getty Images

Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by the federal government before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

House GOP plots immigration strategy - Politico House Republican leaders are planning "to move as early as next week on legislation to override Obama’s actions that could protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations." This strategy will also involve Department of Homeland Security funding; the department was only funded short-term last month. GOP lawmakers chose to put off challenging President Obama's executive order on immigration until this year, when they control both the House and Senate.

'No evidence' costly drones help secure border, Inspector General says - Southern California Public Radio According to the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, the expensive aerial drones used to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border don't do much: "Drone surveillance was credited with assisting just 2 percent of illegal border crossers. In an audit of the apprehensions near Tucson, the drones assisted in just 2,000 of the 120,000 crossers captured by DHS." And they cost lots of money: "When pilot salaries and equipment costs were included the cost was $12,000 an hour."


Spouses of high-skilled visa holders look forward to getting their own jobs

H1B Wives - 1

Susanica Tam/ KPCC

Shalini Sharma at her home in Irvine, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015.

H1B Wives - 2

Susanica Tam/ KPCC

Shalini Sharma at her home in Irvine, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015.

H1B Wives - 3

Susanica Tam/ KPCC

Shalini Sharma at her home in Irvine, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Sharma worked as an architect in Mumbai, India but cannot work in the United States because of her visa status, which is contingent upon her husband's. Sharma may be affected by the executive order issued by President Obama that could qualify spouses of H-1B visa holders to work.

Shalini Sharma loves spending time at home with her two young sons, make no mistake. She loves being able to cheer on her youngest as he learns to ride a scooter, and helping her eldest with his homework.

But she really misses her work.

“I am an architect," said Sharma, who arrived in the U.S. almost six years ago. "I was a professional architect in India, and I was an interior designer. I had my own practice.”

Sharma isn't your typical stay-at-home mom who traded career for kids. She's in the United States on what’s called an H-4 visa, granted to dependents of work visa holders. These are typically high-skilled workers on H-1B visas, more than two-thirds of whom are men.
These dependent spouses, many of them from South Asia, aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. But in many cases, they are as well-educated and skilled as their partners.


Used car dealers hope for a sales boost from newly licensed immigrant drivers

Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Used cars at Discount Auto Plaza, one of several used car dealerships along Firestone Boulevard in South Gate. Some used car dealers that cater to an immigrant clientele are hoping for a boost in sales due to California's AB 60, which allows immigrants without legal status to apply for driver's licenses.

There's a stretch of Firestone Boulevard in South Gate that’s lined with used car lots, advertising precios bajos – Spanish for low prices – and salespeople there are preparing for what they hope will be a boom in sales.

"They're going to buy Hondas, Chevys, also Nissans," said Jose Rodriguez, a manager at Discount Auto Plaza on Firestone, one of many small used car dealerships on the commercial strip, in the heart of a long-established Latin American immigrant neighborhood.

When he says "they" - he's referring to newly licensed drivers under AB 60, the new California law that allows immigrants without legal status apply for special driver's licenses. In the past, he says many unlicensed drivers preferred to buy cars that were fairly cheap and disposable. They worried that their car might be impounded if they were caught without a driver's license.