How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Is MTA having second thoughts on Boyle Heights development?

Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Mariachi Plaza's "kiosko," with the historic Boyle Hotel in the background. A proposal to develop retail and medical office space at the plaza has drawn controversy.

On Thursday, county Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials will seek public input on three developments in Boyle Heights. One that’s drawing controversy is at Mariachi Plaza, the iconic gathering place at First and Boyle.
The proposal recommends building roughly 120,000 square feet of retail and medical office space surrounding the plaza, named for the musicians who have gathered there for decades.

MTA officials say their goal is to increase ridership by building amenities like housing and retail near the tracks. But unlike two planned development at nearby stations, this one isn't getting as much community support.

The two other Boyle Heights site plans involve affordable housing. This one doesn't. The proposal also calls for tearing down an existing structure that houses several small merchants.
“If we have to move, what is going to happen to us?," said Minerva Villa, who with her husband owns a snack and ice cream shop on the plaza. "I’m concerned about that.”


In immigration news: Border bill, California health policies, how Alhambra cops reach Chinese immigrants, more



A fence runs along the U.S.-Mexico border between the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro ports of entry in and near San Diego, across from Tijuana. A House committee is set to begin marking up a new border bill this week that, among other things, would authorize 27 new miles of border fence.

House Homeland panel to take up border security bill this week - USA Today The House Homeland Security Committee is set to begin marking up new border security legislation this week. The bill "would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent all unlawful entries into the U.S. along the entire southern border within five years, and high-traffic areas within two years. Such an achievement is known as "operational control.'" It would also authorize 27 miles of new border fence. 

Majority of Americans Back Obama on Cuba, Immigration — Wall Street Journal According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, "President Barack Obama has broad popular support for his plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and grant legal status to four million more undocumented immigrants." Obama’s economic approval rating is 49 percent, better than it has been since January of last year.


Alhambra police use WeChat as bridge to Chinese immigrants

WeChat Alhambra

Josie Huang/KPCC

Lauren Zhang, who was visiting a friend in Alhambra, scrolls through her WeChat account. "All Chinese use it," Zhang said.

Very few Alhambra police officers know Chinese, but their department is becoming world-renowned for its use of Chinese social media. 

The Alhambra Police Department recently opened an account on WeChat, China's biggest mobile messaging service, with about 500 million users.  The move comes a year after police joined Weibo, the popular microblogging site that is a cross between Facebook and Twitter.

The goal is to improve communication with the estimated 30,000 Chinese immigrants in the city who prefer Chinese social media platforms to American ones.

“A lot of them don’t speak English or don't speak English very well but they still are our constituents," said Sgt. Jerry Johnson.

With WeChat, users can text tips in Chinese to police and ask about everything from identity theft to the city’s upcoming Lunar New Year festival.  They receive texts back in Chinese, crafted by volunteers and the few staffers fluent in the language.


Local Cuba travel agents expect a boost in business

Santiago De Cuba Prepares For Visit Of Pope Benedict XVI

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A woman walks under a Cuban flag in Santiago de Cuba. The Obama administration has relaxed rules for travel to Cuba. But U.S. travelers must still go for a specific purpose.

Within a day of President Barack Obama's announcement that he'd loosened travel to Cuba, local travel agents who book trips to the island were planning to expand their business.

The biggest changes won't affect Cuban Americans as much as other U.S. citizens, who until now have had to obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to visit legally. They're still limited on reasons to go - but now they can get a visa through a travel agent.

Agents warn that it's still not like, say, booking a vacation to Cancun.

"One thing that has not changed is that tourism is absolutely forbidden," said Patrick Ela of Crown International Travel, a longtime Cuba travel agency in West Los Angeles.  “You cannot go as a tourist – you have to go with a purpose.” 

A newly expanded list of purposes is outlined on the Treasury Department website:


In immigration news: Mexican birth certificates available in US, states' anti-executive action lawsuit gets hearing, more

California Report

Marcus Teply/KQED

People study the California Driver Handbook at the Mexican consulate in Orange County, Calif. Mexican consulates in California have seen demand for services increase as immigrants apply for special state driver's licenses, and also prepare to apply for immigration relief under executive action. Consulates in the U.S. are accommodating Mexican nationals seeking documents by now providing them with copies of their birth certificates, without their having to leave the country.

Mexican consulates now providing birth certificates to immigrants - Southern California Public Radio Mexican nationals in the United States will now be able to obtain copies of their birth certificates at consulates in the U.S., without having to leave the country. The new service comes as California's Mexican consulates are swamped with immigrants seeking personal documents. Many are applying for new driver's licenses under AB 60, and also preparing documents in anticipation of applying for immigration relief under the new White House immigration plan. Some consulates will soon extend their hours as well.

Seeking Legal Immigration Status, Longtime New Yorker Can’t Return to U.S. - New York Times The story of Angelo Cabrera, 40, who in New York "survived for 24 years as an undocumented immigrant by working menial jobs while also earning two university degrees and running a volunteer social services group, an effort that earned him a wall of commendations and a profile in People magazine." He returned to Mexico last year in hopes of legalizing his status here, but was barred from returning; he's now living with his parents in a rural village.