How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigrants without legal status able to apply for professional licenses in CA

Sergio Garcia speaks at The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) news conference on Aug. 27. Garcia, 36, is a law school graduate who passed California's bar examination, but he's living in the United States illegally. California

Nick Ut/AP

Advocates say the new law was inspired in part by Sergio Garcia, an immigrant in the country illegally who was issued a law license after the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor earlier this year.

Immigrants in the country illegally can apply for professional licenses under a new California law that aims to integrate them into the working world and generate new tax dollars for the state.

The new law - SB 1159 - requires all 40 licensing boards under the California Department of Consumer Affairs to consider applicants regardless of immigration status by 2016.

The law change follows a landmark state Supreme Court case earlier this year in which justices ruled that lawyer Sergio Garcia should be admitted to the California bar despite lacking legal status.

Denisse Rojas, who's applying to medical school, said the new law is a huge relief for students pursuing careers that require licenses, such as medicine and dentistry. 

"For there to be something in legislation in California that says immigration status shouldn't prohibit someone from obtaining a professional license — that's extremely beneficial, " said Rojas, a 25-year-old University of California, Berkeley graduate and a student leader in Pre-Health Dreamers.

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In immigration news: Legal help for migrant kids, high bar for asylum seekers, immigrants in the military, more

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Graham Clark

An illustration of an immigration court judge hearing the cases of immigrant teens in Los Angeles. Legislation signed this weekend by California Gov. Jerry Brown is to provide $3 million in funds for nonprofits to help provide legal counsel for minors in deportation proceedings.

Gov. Brown signs bill for lawyers for immigrant kids - Associated Press Legislation signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown over the weekend is to provide $3 million in funds to qualified nonprofits in order to provide legal counsel for children in deportation proceedings. Many of the recently arrived migrant children from Central America lack legal representation in immigration court; more than 4,600 are now living with relatives and other sponsors in California as their cases wind through the court system.

Illegal Immigrants Seeking Asylum Face a Higher Bar - Wall Street Journal Immigration officials are reportedly raising the bar on what constitutes "credible fear" of persecution or torture as recently arrived migrants from Central America seek asylum. From the story: "In July, the most recent month available, 63% of those who claimed they were afraid to return were found to have met that criterion, down from 83% six months earlier, according to a report released to immigrant-rights groups by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services."

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Community groups boost efforts to strengthen Asian-American vote

Courtesy New America Media

A flier advertising where to vote for South Asian communities. Asian American community groups have been making efforts to tap the potential of Asian American voters, whose participation at the polls has increased in recent elections but is still lower than that of other groups.

As the midterm elections near, Asian-American community groups are trying to tap the voting potential of the nation's fastest-growing racial demographic.

It's estimated there are as many as 9 million eligible Asian-American voters, but their participation at the polls still lags behind that of white and black voters and is slightly behind that of Latinos.

Grassroots efforts in Los Angeles include a soon-to-open phone bank in 14 different Asian and Pacific Islander languages, which kicks off Oct. 9. It's being coordinated by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group that’s engaged in voter outreach.

"Our plan is to target 30,000 registered voters who are infrequent voters,” said Eugene Lee, who directs the group's voter outreach efforts, “meaning they have only voted in three of the past five elections, they are newly registered, or they are young voters between the ages of 18 to 24."

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Sears project stirs gentrification talk in Boyle Heights

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The Sears, Roebuck & Company product distribution center in Boyle Heights first opened in the 1920's. The space has gone empty and unused for 22 years.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

LA real estate developer Izek Shomof bought the 23-acre property in November 2013. Plans to turn the building into a mixed residential, retail and office space are awaiting approval by the city.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The 1.8 million-square-foot building served as one of Sears, Roebuck & Company's largest mail-order distribution centers.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Hamid Behdad, president of Central City Development Group, looks at the view from the fourth floor of the former Sears, Roebuck & Company mail-order distribution center.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Surveillance cameras and other old equipment are left on the fourth floor of the former Sears, Roebuck & Company mail-order distribution center.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Ulisses Sanchez, who works for developer Izek Shomof's team, grew up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Developers hope to build 1,000 loft-style apartments in the 11-floor Sears, Roebuck & Company former distribution center.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Maria Cabildo of the East LA Community Corporation worries many of the neighborhood’s lower-income residents will get priced out if more upscale projects like Sears come online.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Previously, developer Mark Weinstein bought the property also with hopes of transforming the building into a mixed-use space. But those plans never came to fruition.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Workers roller-skated through the floors of the distribution center to fill orders more efficiently.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Although the distribution center closed in 1992, a Sears retail store remains open on the first floor.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Developers hope to transform the roof atop the former Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center into common spaces for residents including a park, lounge, pool and possibly a restaurant.


Since the 1920s, the Sears Roebuck building has sparkled as a Boyle Heights landmark — 11 stories tall.  Several football fields wide.  An Art Deco treasure that draws tourists.

But inside, there isn't much to see. Sears shut down what was one of its biggest distribution centers two decades ago when its mail order business dried up.  A retail store still operates on the ground floor, but the rest of the building is gutted and covered in grit.

Ulisses Sanchez is unfazed. "I just see a lot of endless opportunity," he said.

Sanchez works for the development team that wants to transform the 1.8 million sq.foot building into a mix of shops, offices and more than 1,000 apartment rentals. Tenants would enjoy central air and heat insulation, and have access to a swimming pool, tennis courts, lounges.

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Employees of Monrovia military contractor out of work after reported ICE audit

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Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images

File: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) badge on a uniform is viewed on March 5, 2014 at the preview of a temporary exhibition at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment spotlighting ICE's work and accomplishments in Washington, D.C.

Employees of a Monrovia company that makes products for the U.S. military say they and more than 100 coworkers are out of jobs after a federal immigration audit.

Some said they’d spent years working for Vinyl Technology, Inc., a company whose website lists services such as vinyl and plastic heat sealing and industrial sewing for the medical, military and aerospace industries.

Raymundo, who said he was a supervisor, said he was recently asked by his employer to produce documents showing he could work legally — which he didn’t have.

"They gave us like 10 days to bring the papers to the company," said Raymundo, who said he'd worked there for 18 years. "If we don't have it, we're fired."

Raymundo said he and others were let go. He spoke while en route to collect his final paycheck.

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