A New Beginning, Building on a Legacy
As Orange County communities continue to face the pandemic and unprecedented economic impacts, OCCORD is beginning a new chapter in our fight for working families. The board of directors is proud to introduce Ely Flores as our new Executive Director after an extensive search. Together with our strong team of staff, board, community leaders, volunteers, and supporters, Ely’s new leadership will move us forward with a renewed commitment to our mission: bringing workers, families, and community partners together to organize and advocate for good jobs, strong neighborhoods, and an inclusive democracy in Orange County.
Ely comes to us with a strong background in campaigning, organizational leadership, and community development. In his most recent role as California Director of Civic Engagement for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, he led state-wide citizenship, voter engagement, and 2020 Census efforts. Ely was instrumental in leading the largest census outreach program in California to ensure that Latinos get accurately counted. He holds a Masters in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University and a Bachelors in Organizational Management from Ashford University. (To learn more about his background, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ely-flores-6a3a7315/)
Since our founding 15 years ago, OCCORD has always been a community-labor partnership. Now, as we continue this legacy, we are keeping the same commitment to build and shift power in Orange County. Following a wave of staff and board transitions over the past year, Ely joins all of us on OCCORD’s board of directors in affirming our aspiration to center justice, leadership, and accountability in everything we do.Together, we will rebuild, renew, and transform OCCORD into the next version of what’s needed for the future of Orange County.
As we look ahead, the board would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been part of the OCCORD family over the years. In particular, we appreciate the leadership of Maggie Valenzuela as acting Executive Director for the past year, and her continued participation during this transition. We also recognize our dedicated staff who have moved their work online in the midst of the pandemic -- continuing to provide citizenship education, Leadership Academy training, access to resources, and a powerful voice on urgent economic issues facing working families. And, we send our gratitude to all of the past board members, staff, community leaders, volunteers, and supporters who have contributed so much to our mission and impact.
We’re glad to share with you this message from the new Executive Director:
“Dear Friend, Ally, and Partner,
Changing the world and our community starts at home. I take on this new role with the utmost respect and humbled by the legacy of those who have led before me. We are at a time where healing, growth, and transformation is necessary for us and our community, and it starts with me. When we are inspired, we can inspire others. My commitment to the mission and the communities we serve is to continuously learn, improve, and evolve as individuals and an organization. The values that will guide my leadership are mindfulness, dialogue, collaboration, and change. I invite you to join me in this new beginning for the organization. Your mentorship and allyship is needed during this time. As we enter this phase of a revisioning process, your support, no matter how big or small, is greatly appreciated. I would like to thank Margarita “Maggie” Valenzuela for her leadership as acting Executive Director and everyone who has contributed to the legacy of OCCORD. Thank you to those who will join us and make history together.” - Ely Flores
We hope you will join us in welcoming and working with Ely. Thank you again for being part of the OCCORD community.
Cesar Covarrubias, Board Chair - Executive Director, Kennedy Commission
Eric Altman, Board Treasurer - Owner/Consultant, Eric Altman Consulting Inc., founding Executive Director of OCCORD
Amanda “Andie” Byrd, Board Member - Vice President Membership & Sustainability, Southern California Grant-makers
Alejandra Ponce De Leon, Board Member - Policy & Research Analyst, Advancement Project California
Marisol Ramirez, Board Member - Council Aide, City of Anaheim
Dr. Carolina Sarmiento, Board Member - Board member, El Centro Cultural de Mexico, Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dear Governor Newsom,
While all Californians are struggling with the economic and practical realities of living under a
statewide Shelter In Place Order and the coronavirus pandemic, one group of California residents
will be the hardest hit: undocumented immigrants. More than two million undocumented
immigrants make California their home. Nearly one in ten California workers is an
undocumented worker. Over seventy percent (70%) of undocumented Californians have resided
in the U.S. for more than ten years.
A report from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented
immigrants contribute over $3 billion dollars in taxes to California. The state controller has
estimated that undocumented immigrant’s labor is worth more than $180 billion per year to
While many Californians are able to comply with the Shelter in Place Order while continuing to
earn money by working from home, remote work from home is simply not an option for the
majority of California’s undocumented workers. A recent EPI study found that very few
low-wage workers, especially Latinx workers, are able to work remotely. Due to the Shelter in
Place Order, these workers are losing their jobs or having their hours drastically curtailed.
Moreover, even though these workers pay taxes and contribute to the state’s prosperity,
undocumented workers are unable to access vital benefits such as unemployment insurance.
The inability to earn a living will have a devastating impact on undocumented immigrants.
Already, undocumented immigrants are living precariously - over half live at or below 150% of
the poverty level. Accordingly, it is imperative that the state meet these workers’ basic needs so
that they can comply with the Shelter in Place Order without fearing that they will not be able to
feed and house their families.
California has taken the lead in protecting and expanding rights for undocumented immigrants.
A majority of Californians support state and local government action (in the absence of federal
leadership) to protect undocumented immigrants.
We ask for that same leadership to protect our most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19
pandemic. We urge the Governor and the California State Legislature to exercise their authority
to allow access to benefit programs, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, and
immediately take the following actions:
1. Create and fund a “Disaster Relief Fund” housed within the Employment
Development Department (EDD) for undocumented workers, or other workers who are
not eligible for benefits administered by EDD, and who are unable to work as a result of
the COVID-19 pandemic, either because of a lay-off, reduction in hours, a
shelter-in-place order, or because they are taking care of a child whose school or
childcare has closed due to the current pandemic. This “Disaster Relief Fund” shall be
funded exclusively by the State of California, and shall be administered as follows:
a. The EDD shall create an online and paper application similar to the
existing applications for State Disability Insurance or Unemployment Insurance;
b. The Disaster Relief Fund will be administered by EDD’s State Disability
Insurance / Paid Family Leave Unit;
c. The Disaster Relief Fund shall provide qualified individuals with
immediate cash relief until such time as the Emergency Proclamation is lifted or
until the qualified individual is able to return to work;
d. Workers who apply to the fund will have to establish base period earnings
equivalent to what would be required under Unemployment Insurance;
e. Each eligible worker shall receive $600 per week;
f. Multiple forms of identification will be accepted in applications for this
program, such as: identifications issued by the State of California, Individual
Taxpayer Identification Number, Consular Identifications, Passports, or lapsed
Social Security Numbers;
g. Multiple forms of earnings verification will be accepted, including tax
returns and self-reported income;
h. All payments made from the Disaster Relief Fund shall be retroactive to
the date of the Emergency Proclamation or the date that the individual had their
work hours reduced or eliminated, whichever date falls later;
i. The EDD shall immediately increase its staffing in order to administer the
Disaster Relief Fund and expedite processing;
j. All information or documentation obtained by EDD from applicants to the
Disaster Relief Fund be used exclusively for the purposes of administering these
programs and shall not be disclosed to any other entity or individual for any other
k. Implementation of the Disaster Relief Fund shall commence no later than
May 1, 2020.
2. Allocate $10 million to Community Based Organizations that are geographically
diverse serving undocumented immigrants to provide cash benefits to undocumented
immigrants to pay for groceries, rent/mortgage, emergency home repairs,
transportation, medicines, and tools.
3. Broaden eligibility for the California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), including the
Young Child Tax Credit (YCTC), to include all immigrants, and immediately making it
retroactive to tax year 2019.
4. Commit to establish a permanent income replacement program within the
Employment Development Department for individuals who do not otherwise qualify for
unemployment benefits, but who are unemployed through no fault of their own. This
fund would be administered separately from UI, but using the same criteria for
determining the duration, amount, and timing of benefits.
As organizations supporting the undocumented community, we hear firsthand from workers who
are impacted by the current pandemic. We want to share with you just a few stories to highlight
the need for immediate action on this issue:
“I and my coworkers are not able to work at the moment. Because we are not
generating any income and don’t have any resources that can support us through
this crisis, we plead with you, Governor Newsom, to provide the necessary
support for us workers who also contribute to the economy. I live with my
mother and siblings and help to support the whole family, so the impact is
household-wide. I also support the living costs of my children and at the moment
I no longer have enough. I received $400--one week’s pay from my
restaurant--before it was shut down. We are at home, so we bought food for this
week, but our money is running out. I will not be able to cover the cost of food for
my children. What happens when the $400 runs out?”
- JC, Koreatown Immigrant Worker Alliance member and restaurant worker,
translated from Spanish
Erika is a house cleaner, nanny and caregiver. She has been doing this for 4 years
and absolutely loves this work. However, since the outbreak of the virus, she’s
had all her employers cancel on her and have told her not to come. She says,
“They have basically shut me out.” Her daughter struggles with asthma and now
has a serious bronchitis infection. Erika has no way of paying for her daughter’s
medicine and is trying to borrow money from friends and family but doesn’t
know how much longer she can keep doing that. She does not have any paid time
off or any health insurance and she is asking the government to please include
domestic workers in legislation that will offer them basic benefits and protections
because they are completely vulnerable right now.
- California Domestic Worker Coalition/National Domestic Worker
Mr. Guzman is a florist worker in the Santa Paula area, he regularly worked 50 to
55 hours a week but due to the crisis we are facing, his employer decided to
reduce his hours to just 30 hours a week and fired 15 other workers. He was one
of the 7 lucky ones who still worked with their reduced hours. Mr. Guzman is
very concerned and is constantly looking for another job that will ensure he works
all week. For now, he is the only one supporting 4 children in total a family of 6.
He hopes that this crisis will pass soon, at this point he is more worried about
working than the virus because if he does not his family will have no food.
- Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)’s indigenous
leaders, translated from Spanish
Maximo Alvarado is 46 years old and is a father of 4 in Ventura, CA. He has
owned his landscaping business for over 20 years. He and his wife used to
commute to Santa Barbara 5 days a week to landscape 4 large properties a week,
but now due to the Coronavirus pandemic is only going out two days to do only
one of the properties. His income drastically changed from $2,500 a month to
$900 which doesn't even cover his rent of $1,300. His wife who is an independent
domestic worker recently had all her houses cancel so she has absolutely no
income because of the Coronavirus.
- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)
“I've been working at a shirt company for 16 years. All of a sudden last week
without any prior notice, they told us that we were getting laid off. I talked to my
union rep at the company and she told us that we need to file for unemployment.
How am I or any other worker here going to file for unemployment if we have no
documents? Shouldn't we get paid while we are off? How am I going to pay my
bills? How is anyone going to pay their bills? I don't know where to turn or what
to do. How will I provide for my family? How will I pay rent?”
- - Jose, a garment worker in Los Angeles
California has the second highest statewide concentration of undocumented workers in the
country. The state cannot afford to ignore the suffering of this segment of our community during
an unprecedented public health crisis. We urge the Governor to take immediate steps to provide
relief to undocumented immigrants.
9to5, National Association of Working Women
Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment
Asian Americans Advancing Justice - California
Asian Law Alliance
CA Food Policy Advocates
California Association of Food Banks
California Domestic Workers Coalition
California Employment Lawyers Association
California Faculty Association -SF State University
California Immigrant Policy Center
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA)
California National Organization for Women
California Nonprofits Association
California Reinvestment Coalition
California Women's Law Center
Center for Workers' Rights
Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)
Centro Laboral de Graton / ALMAS
Centro Legal de la Raza
Children's Defense Fund - California
Chinese Progressive Association
CLEAN Carwash Campaign
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
County Welfare Directors Association
Dolores Street Community Services - La Colectiva / Day Labor Program
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy
Employee Rights Center
Equal Rights Advocates
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
Future Leaders of America
Garment Worker Center
Golden State Opportunity
GRACE Institute/End Child Poverty in CA
Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network
Healthy Kids Happy Faces
Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA)
Instituto Laboral de la Raza
Jewish Center for Justice
Jobs with Justice San Francisco
KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance)
Korean Community Center of the East Bay
La Raza Centro Legal
Labor and Community Studies, City College of San Francisco
Latinos in Action 2020
Legal Aid at Work
Legal Aid of Marin
Los Angeles Worker Center Network
MAIZ San Jose
Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
National Council of Jewish Women - California
National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles
National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Employment Law Project
National Immigration Law Center
National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles
National Lawyers Guild SF Bay Area Legislative Reform Committee
Never Again UUSF
North Bay Organizing Project
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development
Parent Voices CA
Partnerships for Trauma Recovery
PAWIS (Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants)
Refugee & Immigrant Transitions
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) the Bay
Sacred Heart Community Service
Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition
Santa Cruz Community Health
Santa Cruz Community Ventures
SEIU-United Service Workers West
Senior and Disability Action
Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN)
Street Level Health Project
Thai Community Development Center
The Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund
The Unity Council
TODEC Legal Center
Together We Will - San José
UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program
UCLA Labor Center
UndocuFund for Disaster Relief
UNITE HERE International Union
United Educators of San Francisco
Voices for Progress
Warehouse Worker Resource Center
Western Center on Law and Poverty
Women's Foundation of California
Women’s Employment Rights Clinic -Golden Gate University
Working Partnerships USA
Young Workers United
Labor Secretary Su
*Abajo Se Encuentra La Version En Espanol*
We at OCCORD hope that you, and your families, and your families are safe and in good health. OCCORD is a community-based nonprofit organization based in Orange County, CA. We advocate for inclusive democracy, good jobs, and a healthy and just environment. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to millions more of our neighbors these workers' crucial worth and strength. Working long hours, exposed to large volumes of customers, and risking infection, all for our sake, essential retail store workers are unsung heroes who have found themselves at the frontlines of this crisis.
Now more than ever, we need our state and its leaders to do everything in their power to support these workers. Please Join Us in Telling Gov. Gavin Newsom to Take Executive Action to Support our Grocery and Pharmacy Store Workers
We call on the state of California to designate essential retail workers as emergency frontline personnel. This must include, at a minimum:
- Right to wash their hands every 30 minutes, or as needed
- Right to personal protection equipment (gloves and masks)
- Institution of plexiglass at check stands and pharmacy counters
- Access to sanitizers and increased sanitation activity
- Customer crowd control and security guards
- Standardized and limited operating hours for all grocery and drug stores (to allow for sanitation)
- Right to free COVID-19 testing
- 14 days additional sick days for workers impacted by COVID-19
- Right to paid child care
We know there are many demands on the governor, but essential retail workers are a critical link in our food chain supply. California must enact an emergency order now in order to protect them and our communities.
Can you please sign the online letter to Governor Newsom today?
*We would appreciate it if you'd notify us once you've sent your letter by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Thank you!*
In solidarity & gratitude,
Interim Executive Director
On behalf of OCCORD’s Board of Directors, I am writing to share several important updates with all of you as community members, partners, and supporters of our mission. OCCORD is in a time of transition which we hope will ultimately be transformative. With new interim leadership building on the dedicated efforts of our staff over the past 14 years – along with strong support from key partners such as LAANE, the Partnership for Working Families, and the Kennedy Commission – we are moving forward in service of good jobs, strong neighborhoods, and an inclusive democracy in Orange County.
Over the past few weeks, several of OCCORD’s employees have resigned including our Executive Director, Shakeel Syed. The Board is now engaged in a process of understanding and addressing the reasons for this turnover. Our assessment is that the organization is in compliance with our rules and regulations. However, we are deeply committed to ensuring a supportive environment for the people who keep the crucial work of OCCORD moving ahead. Please know that we will take whatever steps are needed to make OCCORD’s work truly sustainable for our staff and our community.
Appointment of Interim Executive Director and Executive Search
We are pleased to announce the appointment of Margarita Valenzuela as Interim Executive Director of OCCORD as of September 16 th . Maggie brings more than 15 years of experience as an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 11 and elsewhere, with a successful track record of quickly building and leading teams. She is also a longtime OCCORD supporter who stepped forward to offer her service on an interim basis because of her personal commitment to our work. She first became involved with us when an OCCORD citizenship fair helped one of her family members become a U.S. citizen, and she has volunteered with us ever since. Maggie’s first priority will be to listen to staff and stakeholders in developing shared workplans to deliver on OCCORD’s commitments over the next few months.
During this interim period, OCCORD will be working with the well-known national organization RoadMap Consulting to engage the Board, staff, and stakeholders in a guided transition process. This will include a broad and inclusive search for our next Executive Director. We will keep you informed and invite the community’s input as this process continues.
On behalf of the entire Board and staff, I want to thank each of you from my heart for being part of OCCORD’s mission, which we all know is so very crucial in this moment for our community. You can count on us to continue communicating openly with you as we move forward. I hope that we can
continue to count on your friendship. I ask this for the sake of the work that we exist to do here in Orange County.
Please know that you are welcome to reach out with any questions or wisdom to share. You can contact me at email@example.com, or contact the Vice Chairman of the Board Cesar Covarrubias at firstname.lastname@example.org.
En nombre de la Junta Directiva de OCCORD, les escribo para compartir varias actualizaciones importantes con todos ustedes como miembros de la comunidad, socios y partidarios de nuestra misión. OCCORD se encuentra en un momento de transición que esperamos sea en última instancia transformador. Con el nuevo liderazgo interino que se basa en los esfuerzos dedicados de nuestro personal en los últimos 14 años, junto con un fuerte apoyo de socios clave como LAANE, la Asociación para Familias Trabajadoras y la Comisión Kennedy, estamos avanzando en el servicio de buenos empleos, vecindarios fuertes y una democracia inclusiva en el Condado de Orange.
En las últimas semanas, varios de los empleados de OCCORD han renunciado, incluido nuestro Director Ejecutivo, Shakeel Syed. La Junta ahora está involucrada en un proceso de comprensión y abordar las razones de esta rotación. Nuestra evaluación es que la organización cumple con nuestras reglas y regulaciones. Sin embargo, estamos profundamente comprometidos a garantizar un entorno de apoyo para las personas que mantienen el trabajo crucial de OCCORD en el futuro. Tenga en cuenta que tomaremos los pasos necesarios para que el trabajo de OCCORD sea realmente sostenible para nuestro personal y nuestra comunidad.
Nombramiento de Director Ejecutivo Interino y Búsqueda Ejecutiva
Nos complace anunciar el nombramiento de Margarita Valenzuela como Directora Ejecutiva Interina de OCCORD a partir del 16 de septiembre. Maggie aporta más de 15 años de experiencia como organizadora con UNITE HERE Local 11 y en otros lugares, con un historial exitoso de construcción y liderazgo rápidos de equipos. También es una partidaria de OCCORD desde hace mucho tiempo que dio un paso adelante para ofrecer su servicio de manera interina debido a su compromiso personal con nuestro trabajo. Primero se involucró con nosotros cuando una feria de ciudadanía de OCCORD ayudó a uno de los miembros de su familia a convertirse en ciudadano de los EE. UU., Y desde entonces se ha ofrecido voluntaria con nosotros. La primera prioridad de Maggie será escuchar al personal y las partes interesadas en el desarrollo de planes de trabajo compartidos para cumplir con los compromisos de OCCORD en los próximos meses.
Durante este período intermedio, OCCORD trabajará con la conocida organización nacional RoadMap Consulting para involucrar a la Junta, el personal y las partes interesadas en un proceso de transición guiado. Esto incluirá una búsqueda amplia e inclusiva de nuestro próximo Director Ejecutivo. Lo mantendremos informado e invitaremos los comentarios de la comunidad mientras este proceso continúa.
En nombre de toda la Junta y el personal, quiero agradecer a cada uno de ustedes de corazón por ser parte de la misión de OCCORD, que todos sabemos es muy crucial en este momento para nuestra comunidad. Puede contar con nosotros para continuar comunicándonos abiertamente con usted a medida que avanzamos. Espero que podamos seguir contando con su amistad. Pido esto por el trabajo que tenemos que hacer aquí en el Condado de Orange.
Tenga en cuenta que puede comunicarse con cualquier pregunta o razonamiento para compartir. Puede contactarme en email@example.com, o comunicarse con el Vicepresidente de la Junta, Cesar Covarrubias, en firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presidente de la JuntaRead more
After failing to comply to demand letter, the City of Santa Ana is facing a lawsuit over violating the Surplus Lands Act, a state law that prioritizes parks and affordable housing development on surplus land.
- A coalition of residents, community groups, and non-profit organizations have urged City Council to ensure these lands are prioritized for the community; however, the City has misled the public through a lack of transparency and community involvement.
Santa Ana, CA - Today, OCCORD filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Ana, seeking to stop the City from illegally selling over 400,000 square feet of City-owned land. The lawsuit alleges that the City violated the Surplus Land Act when, on March 5th, the City authorized the release of an RFP to dispose of 88 parcels for commercial, for-profit development, rather than making the parcels available for affordable housing or open space, as the Act requires.
OCCORD took this action after it and other community stakeholders repeatedly informed the City of the need to comply with the Act and of the community’s demand that the parcels be used for affordable housing or open space. But the City charged ahead, ignoring the law and refusing to engage in dialogue with community members. Any sales of land under the RFP would only compound the City’s illegal action.
The release of this RFP is not just illegal, it is yet another tactic by the City Council and Mayor Pulido to strategically and intentionally sell our communities to the highest bidder. Fabiola Aguanita Flores, a long-time resident of 20 years says, “We have the right to know what is going on in our community and our City has to serve the community first. We are searching for justice and they should give priority to what the community truly wants. They can’t act however they want and feel. As humans and a community, we have all the right to be a part of that process. Instead of them helping us and working with us, they are oppressing us.”
Flor Barajas-Tena, Deputy Director at OCCORD, said today,“ For years residents have been asking the City to prioritize these lands for parks and community-led projects and for years these parcels have remained vacant. To add insult to injury, the City now wants to sell these lands with the speculative hope that they will capture more sales tax revenue, which will ultimately just go to fund police raises.”
The lawsuit highlights the fact that the City faces a housing affordability crisis, but is using public resources for other purposes. Over half of City renters pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Mortgage payments are over 30% of income for nearly half of the City’s homeowners. City residents voted to pass a sales tax increase in November 2018 for “Homeless Prevention,” but the City plans to use most of the revenue to cover its budget shortfall while approving $25 million for police raises.
Santa Ana’s substantial public lands present an opportunity to mitigate gentrification and displacement and improve the quality of living by developing affordable housing and green space. These public lands are valued community assets that should be developed to benefit local residents, families, and youth, and OCCORD expects and demands that City officials hold themselves accountable to the community in making decisions about public resources.
“We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life we celebrate today. Even as the so-called “blue wave” of the 2018 midterm elections gives many people cause for renewed optimism, we must stay mindful of this distinction.
November’s elections saw unprecedented numbers of people of color, women, and community-based candidates gain office, both across the country and at home in Orange County. For many of us, dismayed by the hate, racism, and anti-democratic actions in our country’s government, these midterms signaled a turning of the tide. Yet while we do have cause for celebration, let’s remember that history is still in the making in Orange County.
The “new” Orange County remains within and under the “old” system. Old interests and new ideals stay at odds. Corporate interests continue to ignore community needs. And, the politics of changing demographics dominates the discourse.
Electoral wins are fleeting, partisan victories. We must ensure that we change them to enduring community victories. Changes in our political systems, changes in our economic structure, changes that outlast any one official or politician or administration.
Victories, that creates space for change, like the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. When the United States won the American Revolution they went from an abused colony of England to an independent nation. That is change. The Civil War determined the very nature of the nation that we wanted it to become. That is change. The Women’s Suffrage Movement did not just earn women the right to vote but made them whole. That is change.
“Change,” says MLK, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
In every election cycle, established and aspiring politicians call on people to stand with them. And many people do. It is a good thing, but not merely enough. The time between each election cycle determines the difference between wins and victories, between the makers of history and those made by it.
Our mission now is not simply to write a new chapter in the old history book but rather a new story altogether in Orange County. And that is a history, we can claim: we will have made it, rather than made by it.
Shakeel Syed, Executive Director, OCCORD
Since 2009, we at OCCORD have helped thousands of Orange County residents apply for U.S. citizenship. These aspiring Americans come from a variety of backgrounds, but they have at least one thing in common: all of them are eager to become part of our community and democracy.
Yet there is currently a backlog of 729,400 applications for citizenship applications before USCIS. This is an 87.59% increase of backlogs in the past two years. Now lawfully present immigrants who have filled out the 21-page naturalization application, paid their $730 fee, and submitted their fingerprints for a background check may have to wait as long as 20 months before their applications are processed, and they can take their naturalization exam and be sworn in as U.S. citizens. These numbers are not just concerning on paper. In our work with naturalization applicants in Orange County, we have watched many of our clients wait over two years for naturalization after completing the process.
We believe this is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to suppress voters and undermine our democracy.
The USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration provides data on the number of people eligible to naturalize in the United States. In Orange County, they estimate that there are 175,167 lawful permanent residents, or “green card” holders, who are eligible to apply for citizenship. This is 7.4 percent of Orange County’s total population. About 27 percent of lawful permanent residents in Orange County are Asian, while about 63 percent identify as Latino.
If they all naturalized, they would increase the citizen voting age population by 9.1%. That’s right, just about 1 out of every 10 voters is being denied their constitutional right to participate in our democracy.
Not only has USCIS already accumulated a huge backlog of applications, but the newest data shows that the agency has decreased its processing of applications and that the backlogs have increased in almost two dozen states and territories. The states with the largest numbers of pending citizenship application are California with 137,538 applications, Texas with 97,788 applications, New York with 94,491 applications, Florida with 87,722 and New Jersey with 30,896 applications.
These growing backlogs come during a political climate in which the Trump administration has increased immigration enforcement, targeted people who have legal immigration status or potential forms of relief, including DREAMers and hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status recipients, and shocked the nation with different forms of inhumanity in their immigration policies.
USCIS itself is not immune to these anti-immigrant policies. In February 2018, the agency changed its mission statement to remove the words "nation of immigrants" and inserted language focused on "protecting Americans" and "securing the homeland," presumably from immigrants, the same people they are intended to serve. USCIS recently took the unprecedented step of opening an office to strip the citizenship of naturalized citizens. Francis Cissna, Director of USCIS, is also reportedly a part of a working group comprised of White House advisor Stephen Miller and officials from different executive agencies that are planning new attacks on immigrants in advance of the midterm elections.
As the adage goes, ‘better to light a candle than cry in darkness.’ In this instance we invite you to join us in lighting up the switchboards of our elected representatives. Call your Representatives and Senators and let them know that America is a country of immigrants, and our immigrant citizens deserve their rights and their votes. USCIS is not a weapon to be used against our friends and neighbors. Democracy deserves your five minutes. Reach out today and find them here.
Violent, authoritarian ideologies, including neo-Nazism and white nationalism, are on the rise. And Amazon, the so-called “everything store,” serves as a platform for individuals and groups pushing these ideas to grow their movements and make money.
A report by the Action Center on Race and the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families finds that despite its stated policies, Amazon enables those who traffic in hate by allowing the sale of hate symbols and imagery on the site, including confederate, anti-Black, Nazi and fascist imagery — even in products that are targeted toward children.