Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

How the '86 immigration reform bill changed the lives of one LA family

New citizens Oscar and Martha Mendoza visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC
Kitty Felde/ KPCC
Extra Audio:

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to work on an immigration reform bill, as the House prepares to release its own version.

The last time Congress passed a comprehensive immigration bill, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, "Top Gun" was the box office king, and a Bill Buckner error in the World Series became the stuff of legend. The 1986 immigration reform bill put two million undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship.
The story of two of those immigrants was documented a quarter century ago, as a young couple made their way through the process that led to their American dream.  
The story of Oscar and Martha Mendoza began with a stack of paper three inches high — rent receipts, paystubs, tax returns, even refund checks for coins lost in that ancient technology known as a payphone. Oscar said he got a big box, "and every time when I receive papers, I put them in."
Oscar Mendoza came to the U.S. in 1979 in the trunk of a car. He was 19 when he fled El Salvador after his uncle was killed in the civil war. Oscar met Martha on a bus near L.A. She was also undocumented, an immigrant from Mexico. They married and got jobs — he at an auto detail shop, she at a balloon factory. By the time our interview took place in 1987, they had two American-born children: five-year-old Tony and two-year-old Kelly.
Oscar had heard rumors of a new law that promised legal status. It was the Immigration Reform and Control Act — signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Oscar knew he'd need proof that he'd lived and worked in the U.S. for a number of years. That box of papers became the Mendozas’ proof they could qualify for citizenship. 
Sitting down with volunteer attorney Marina Manessy, Oscar began to cry: "This is my life you know." Manessy said the papers were the only way he had of remaining in this country. "He has a great deal at stake here," she said. "He has children who were born here. The country means a lot to him."


Add your comments

LA mayor's race: What about the parks? (MAP)

This pool at the Expo Center at Exposition Park is operated year-round by Los Angeles city Recreation and Parks Department.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

Los Angeles Mayor race 2013Los Angeles mayoral candidates talk about improving quality of life, and for many residents that translates into access to parks and recreation programs. But today's parks system is financially stressed.

It's a story of closed pools, locked gates, unlit fields,  canceled or diminished recreation programs and barely-staffed playgrounds.

It's noon on a weekday and Jackie Robinson Stadium at the at the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex in Baldwin Hills is locked but a few locals have found their way in through a back service gate.

Pedro Ochoa is power-walking around the track, perspiring under a heavy sweatshirt, five-pound weights  on each wrist.  He comes here most days to burn calories as he rehabs a knee injury sustained at his warehouse job.

But he won't come at night.

"Now it's a lot improved, but I think it needs some police or somebody because at night a lot of things happen," Ochoa said.


Add your comments

California Speaker Pérez calls for new rainy day fund

California Assembly Speaker John A Pérez (D-LA), seen here in a file photo, told the Sacramento Press Club that with California’s economy in recovery, now’s the time to act: “We must pivot from ending the crisis and turn to the future."
Courtesy California State Assembly, Democratic Caucus

The state of California has collected $4.6 billion more in tax revenues this year that expected. What if the government stashed a fraction of that for a rainy day?

Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-LA) told the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday  that such a move would insulate the state from revenue swings like the ones in recent years that forced lawmakers to slash funds for public education and vital health and welfare services.

Pérez said with California’s economy in recovery, now’s the time to act:  “We must pivot from ending the crisis and turn to the future."

The speaker wants to put a measure on the 2014 ballot that would preserve any Capital Gains Tax spikes that exceed 6.5 percent of the state’s general fund budget. The speaker’s office reports that’s occurred in about half of the past 20 years.


Add your comments

LA County officials in DC to talk immigration, guns, dollars

LA County Supervisor Don Knabe meets with lawmakers on Capitol Hill

LA County officials are in Washington this week, telling members of Congress how federal laws are affecting Southern California.

One of the messages: an unintended consequence of the proposed immigration bill could mean L.A. County picks up the tab for the health care of more than a million people.

It's a nexus between immigration reform and new health care laws. Tucked away in the 844-page Senate immigration bill is a provision that forbids undocumented immigrants from getting health insurance through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act — until they complete their provisional status. L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe says that's 15 years of no federal dollars. 

Knabe says the county currently gets about $600 million annually from the federal government to partially reimburse hospitals for treating the uninsured. Because the immigration bill also forbids any entitlement dollars from being spent on the undocumented, the county would lose the money.


Add your comments

LA City Attorney race: Rocky backs Trutanich

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich greets the crowd during primary election celebration at Rocco's Tavern in Studio City on primary election night in March.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Facing a tough re-election campaign, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Wednesday touted the endorsement of a man he once criticized: former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

When he first ran for the office in 2009, Trutanich knocked his predecessor for settling too many lawsuits against the city for too much money. Trutanich also said he’d bring more “professionalism” to the job. Outside City Hall Wednesday, with Delgadillo by his side, the city attorney sounded a different note.

“Rocky was a good city attorney,” Trutanich said. “I’m proud to have him standing with me.” Delgadillo added: "Different leaders have different priorities.”

Trutanich faces a stiff challenge from former State Assemblyman Mike Feuer in his bid for a second four-year term. Delgadillo defeated Feuer for city attorney in 2001.


Add your comments