An open letter to the OCCORD community from the Board of Directors

Dear friends,

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.

Recent Resignations

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 protected], or contact the Vice Chairman of the Board Cesar Covarrubias at [email protected] 

Ada Briceño
Board Chair



Queridos amigos,

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.

Renuncias recientes

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 protected], o comunicarse con el Vicepresidente de la Junta, Cesar Covarrubias, en [email protected]


Ada Briceño

Presidente de la Junta

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Press Release: OCCORD files lawsuit against City of Santa Ana

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.



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.

MLK Reminds Us Change Comes Through Struggle

(Wikipedia Commons). Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.


“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.


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Delayed Citizenship Processing is Voter Suppression

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.

Tell Amazon to stop doing business with racist hate groups!

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.

Sign the petition today!

Human Smuggling by Boat Increased in OC and So Cal

Orange County is likely to see more human smuggling in small fishing boats or rafts along the coast, like two cases in June, due to “zero-tolerance” federal enforcement of immigration rules on the California-Mexico border, said U.S. Border Patrol spokesman William Rogers.

“As we have been concentrating more on enforcement at the border, it definitely pushes the smuggling organizations to try riskier things,” Rogers said in a telephone interview. “They’re definitely becoming more desperate and are going to more dangerous lengths and it’s definitely concerning.”

Since October 2017, the Border Patrol has counted 20 attempts by human smugglers to land pangas—fishing boats—along the California coast from Imperial Beach in San Diego County to Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County, according to Rogers. He called it a “substantial” increase from the 11 that occurred between October 2016 and September 2017.




'We have a reaction as mothers to what’s been going on.'

What began as an online support group for lawyers with children has become a mobilizing force for thousands of people planning to bombard congressional offices nationwide on Friday in protest of the federal government’s treatment of migrant children and their parents.

Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigration attorney in Texas, wrote that she recently hit “the lowest moment in [her] career” when she met with an asylum seeker who had been separated from her son under the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy. According to Lincoln-Goldfinch, the woman had been holding the 5-year-old in her lap when an officer approached and informed her that he would be taking the boy “to the other side.”

My son clung to me and said he didn’t want to leave me,” she told Lincoln-Goldfinch. “The official grabbed him out of my arms and took him away and I just stayed there crying and crying.”


Janus decision

Today, the Supreme Court overturned more than four decades of precedent by making fair share fees for public sector workers unconstitutional in the Janus v. AFSCME case. This decision makes it easier for anti-worker extremists to divide working people and further rig the economy.

This decision was the result of hundreds of millions of dollars spent by corporate billionaires over decades to take away working people’s freedom to stand together in a union – but these efforts will ultimately fail.

No court decision can extinguish the desire of working people standing together in unions to create better lives for our families and communities. We will not allow a court decision to stand in the way of the fight for living wage jobs, safe workplaces, equal pay for women, fair treatment of immigrants and dignity at work for everyone.

California needs strong unions to stand up to the rich and powerful who rig the economy against workers, and workers aren’t about to let these corporate billionaires reverse the progress that our movement has made. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us to keep our unions strong. No court decision or politician can stop us from standing together in a union to get a better deal for our hard work.

Now, more than ever before, we must show the world we are proud to be union strong! We urge you to talk to friends, family, and coworkers about why you support unions. Tweet or post on Facebook about why you support workers rights to stand together for better pay and conditions (use the #Union or #UnionStrong hashtag). Even add a #UnionStrong graphic to your Facebook profile photo.

Today, we commit to not only continuing to sustaining the labor movement – but strengthening it so more working people can negotiate a fair deal in return for their hard work. Despite this decision, we will continue to lead the fight for a balanced economy that gives everyone a fair shot at the American Dream.

In solidarity,

Shakeel Syed
Executive director


Anaheim $18 Minimum Wage Initiative Advances to November Ballot

Voters in November will decide whether Anaheim Resort-area companies that receive city subsidies should be required to pay their employees $18 an hour by 2022, after a split Anaheim City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to place a union-backed initiative on the November general election ballot.

Council members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring and Stephen Faessel voted no, saying they want to ask for an economic impact report before placing the item on the ballot.

If approved by voters, the initiative would require any company within the Anaheim Resort district receiving a city subsidy – and potentially businesses with contractual relationships with those companies – to pay at least $18 an hour by 2022, with the minimum wage increasing each year after that based on cost of living increases.

A coalition of worker unions supporting the ballot measure gathered more than 21,000 signatures in less than three weeks for the initiative, with the county Registrar of Voters confirming at least 13,185 of those signatures are registered voters in Anaheim, the qualifying threshold to appear on the ballot. Verification of signatures stopped once that threshold was reached.


Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention

On the morning that Jose Azurdia died, an officer at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California told a nurse Mr. Azurdia was ill and vomiting. The nurse told him “she did not want to see Azurdia because she did not want to get sick.” This began a series of unconscionable delays in getting Mr. Azurdia care for what turned out to be a fatal heart attack.

Thongchay Saengsiri suffered from the symptoms of congestive heart failure for most of the 15 months he was detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Lousiana, including fainting, swelling, anemia, coughing, and shortness of breath. Instead of properly diagnosing and treating these classic symptoms, a nurse recommended he increase his fluid intake, which likely increased his risk of heart failure.

Rafael Barcenas Padilla died from bronchopneumonia after a delay in transferring him to the hospital from the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, where nurses recorded his dangerous low oxygen levels over the course of three days that should have prompted immediate hospitalization.