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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

One of the most interesting cases Megan Beaman Jacinto has handled as a civil rights attorney involved a class of farmworkers. About 70 percent of the 60 workers in the crew were female—and in need of protection from gender discrimination.

“One day, about 32 showed up at my office,” she says, “and I ended up with 42 clients in a suit for discrimination. Their supervisor was always on them about what tasks they could perform and (wanted) to bring more men into the crew, and if they didn’t, then they were terminated. This is common for farmworkers. I sued for discrimination, and it took until we were readying for trial for a settlement to finally get done. It had taken four to five years. This is one of the cases I’m most passionate about.”

Beaman Jacinto grew up poor in rural Iowa.

“Where I came from,” she says, “it was about 99 percent white, and yet there was evidence of a lot of racism. It was about when I was in middle school that I realized it just wasn’t right to treat or speak about people by making those kind of comments or jokes. A passion developed in me in opposition to racism. I became ostracized—but that motivated me.”

Beaman Jacinto, 38, the oldest of four siblings, was influenced to pursue education by her parents.

“My dad was a factory worker, and my mom was a homemaker until she began working after I graduated high school,” Beaman Jacinto said. “They also maintained a very small family farm with about 30 cattle. They really emphasized the importance of education. Our rural schools were typically underachieving, and I finished all regular classes by the 10th-grade. My mom found other opportunities for us to learn.

“I always knew she would be there for us. It’s a type of advocacy that’s reflected in the way I stand up for others. And there was always an emphasis on treating other people the way you want to be treated.”

After high school, Beaman Jacinto majored in sociology at Grinnell College. “I wanted to better understand where racism comes from, and my responsibility as a white person,” she recalls. “At that point, I had no professional role models.”

Beaman Jacinto finally found a mentor in an American-studies professor who had been a Black Panther and had managed a group of civil rights lawyers who fought against racism. “It was like a light bulb went off,” she says. “I thought that potentially, I could make a difference.”

Before law school, Beaman Jacinto spent some time in San Francisco (“I was a waitress,” she laughs) and Chicago, where she went into an urban-studies program.

While studying law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Beaman Jacinto says she realized she had the drive to help others. “I worked in student clinics, and I always strove to make the greatest impact. My goal was to find meaningful work, so I applied all over the country, with private law firms and nonprofits. I got an offer from California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and came to Coachella 12 years ago. It was my first job out of law school, and the great bulk of the work was representing farmworkers.

Beaman Jacinto worked with CRLA for four years before setting out to build a private practice. “CRLA was federally funded, so I couldn’t represent undocumented individuals or take on class actions,” she says. “I decided the time had come to grow. I had the choice to either leave CRLA for another nonprofit out of the valley or start my own practice here. It was scary at first, but (starting my own practice) would give me independence and room to grow. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Going out on my own, I overcame fear, and I was able to grow and value myself in addition to providing service to people who need help.”

Beaman Jacinto was elected to the Coachella City Council two years ago.

“From the time I came to Coachella, I’ve always tried to build relationships,” she says. “I value the importance of community, and I value the opportunity to serve. I see myself as a community advocate, but I had never seen politics as a goal for myself. There were many factors that came to play in my decision to run for Coachella City Council, including that women are underrepresented. I am driven to ensure that all voices are at the table when decisions are being made, about things like access to water and housing.” Beaman Jacinto is also adamant about helping develop other leaders within the community.

With a husband and two small children, how has Beaman Jacinto managed to get through the pandemic?

“It’s an ongoing process of adjustment,” she says. “I’m able to continue working and providing income, and working from home has given me so much more family bonding time. We all just have to keep the anxiety at bay.”

Does Beaman Jacinto have any talents that might surprise those who know her? “I have to admit I’m pretty good at cooking, although my clients are always surprised that a lawyer can cook,” she says. “And I’m fully bilingual, which is a real help in what I do. I’m also in the Iowa softball pitchers’ hall of fame!”

After coming from such a humble beginning, Megan Beaman Jacinto has established herself as someone who cares about her community and the people she represents.

“If I had to give advice to my younger self,” she says, “I would paraphrase something Michelle Obama once said—that I see all these men making decisions and having a seat at the table, and then I realize they aren’t all that smart. I would say, ‘Don’t be afraid. You’re just as capable as anyone else.’”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—seemingly giving a lifeline to the program that allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status.

Celebrations, sparked by the relief felt in undocumented-immigrant communities, spread across America. But they would be short-lived.

“Today’s court opinion has no basis in law and merely delays the president’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program,” said a statement by Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary.

A few days later, the Independent spoke to Megan Beaman Jacinto, a Coachella Valley immigration and civil rights attorney, about the impact of the ruling.

“What the decision did was essentially say that the Trump administration didn’t (try to) end DACA in the right way, and for that reason, DACA should be reopened for first-time applicants,” Beaman Jacinto said. “So it not only preserves DACA for those who are already in it, and (allows them) to keep renewing, which was already available, but it reopens it for people who qualified and weren’t able to apply after the program stopped. Hopefully, now there will be new people coming into the program. … But the ruling was very narrow and sort of temporary.”

On July 28, it became clear just how temporary hopes were for a reinstatement of the DACA program, when Wolf issued a statement saying he was directing “DHS personnel to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA, to reject all pending and future applications for advance parole absent exceptional circumstances, and to shorten DACA renewals (to one-year periods) consistent with the parameters established in this memorandum.”

The lives of roughly 640,000 current DACA recipients—and countless aspiring participants—were thrown into turmoil once again.

Vanessa Moreno, a resident of Coachella, is the program coordinator at COFEM Coachella Valley. The mission of COFEM—the Council of Mexican Federations in North America—is “to empower immigrant communities to be full participants in the social, political, economic and cultural life of the United States and their home country,” according to COFEM’s website. As someone who came to the United States as an undocumented child, Moreno said Wolf’s July 28 announcement was extremely upsetting.

“I felt so super-angry and frustrated. My ears started getting hot, and my hands started getting sweaty, and my stomach turned,” Moreno said. “I just didn’t know what else to say. I just couldn’t believe this was happening. We celebrated just a month ago that people were going to be able to apply for the first time, and we were preparing infographics to explain to people what the requirements are, and what documents they need. It’s like when you get to a point that you’ve had enough—you’re just so fed up, and I think everyone was feeling the same. I talked to my friends, and all of them were on the same page. They pretty much said that they can’t (fight) anymore. They said, ‘I have to review my future, and where am I going to be at? Will DACA be gone soon? Will I have to go back to my country? Should I go back?’”

Moreno said she’s fortunate, because she has two years of DACA protection left.

“I know I’m privileged to have DACA right now,” Moreno said. “Still, working with COFEM and knowing about all the other applicants, I didn’t know how to tell them that they can’t apply. That same day, I had to communicate with one parent who was interested in applying for DACA for his son. He had everything ready—the application and the money order. He just wanted the greenlight to send it. It broke my heart to tell him that under this memo, you can’t (apply), but we’re going to continue fighting. He was upset. But I started thinking about what else I could do to support (the parent). I asked, ‘Hey! Is your kid thinking about going to school, or is he in college right now?’ He told me that his son had just graduated from high school, but because he doesn’t have DACA, he can’t get a work permit. So, I told him right then that his son doesn’t need DACA to go to a two-year college. I know that DACA helps because you are able to have a job—to have that income to support your studies or get a car. But, at the end of the day, you can still go to college even without DACA.

“I told him about the Dreamer (Resource) Center at the College of the Desert, and the student club that I could help connect his son with. So he lit up and told me all this was great news. He said he would talk to his son about going to college, or at least taking a class or two, so he could connect to the resources. It made me think that there are probably a lot of cases like that, and that this is what the potential DACA applicants are dealing with right now. They want to seek a higher education, but they feel that they can’t. If they don’t know the resources (available to them), then I can only imagine what the state of their mental health is right now.”

In the early 2000s, when she was 8 years old, Moreno and her family left Michoacán, Mexico, before settling in the Coachella Valley. They managed to maintain a foothold in this country despite numerous challenges.

In June 2012, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum establishing the policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“When I graduated from high school in 2012,” Moreno said, “it was just a couple of months before (President Barack) Obama’s executive order establishing the DACA program. I had already decided to go to community college, and because DACA was new at that time, and it had never been done before, there was still a lot of fear in our communities, and I was hesitant to apply right then. When my sister and I—she’s now in DACA, too—saw that it was safe to apply, and that people were getting their work permits delivered to them, we figured it would be best to apply. So we did, and I think that helped me gain more confidence.

“In high school, I was very involved, but then I became really discouraged since I couldn’t attend a four-year college because of my status. Not that it was impossible for me, but the economic hardships were there, and I couldn’t afford it. Thankfully, though, with the support of my mom, we (managed) to pay for my first semester at the College of the Desert. Also, the California Dream Act had been passed, so we were able to apply for state financial aid.”

According to the California state website, “the California Dream Act allows students interested in attending eligible California colleges, universities and career education programs to apply for state financial aid. It is unrelated to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” It became law in 2011.

Moreno said she at first struggled with her status during her college years. “I went to a conference at UCLA for undocumented students, and I think that’s what brought me back to my old self and got me really involved in the community,” she said. “That’s when I officially came out of the shadows. Before that, I was afraid to share my status with friends and other folks. But going to this conference made me realize that I wasn’t alone, and it helped to bring my motivation back.”

Moreno completed her college education after transferring to Cal State Fullerton. Her a future as an immigrant-rights advocate solidified as she participated in school clubs such as Alas Con Futuro (Wings for the Future) at COD, and the Titan Dreamers Resource Center at Fullerton, where she co-founded the Dream Co-op, also known as the Diversity-Resilience-Education-Access-Movement-Cooperation student lab. She was also accepted for an internship with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). According to the organization’s website, CHIRLA’s mission “is to achieve a just society fully inclusive of immigrants.”

“When I graduated, I thought about staying in Fullerton, but it was difficult to find a job,” Moreno said. “Then I saw a position here in Palm Desert with an attorney who was looking for someone who had an immigration background. I came and took the job, but I was only there for a month. I realized that being involved over in Fullerton, and again in L.A. with CHIRLA, if I came back to the valley, I needed to get involved with other organizations.

“That’s how I came across COFEM. I got an email from the club adviser at the College of the Desert that they were looking for volunteers for a citizenship clinic. So, I thought, ‘Hey! This organization’s mission is to empower immigrant communities, and that’s perfect.’ So, I went to volunteer. I think they were expecting a big event, so pretty much the whole (COFEM) team came down (from L.A.), and I got to meet them. They told me they were hiring, so they interviewed me on the spot.”

Moreno said she wasn’t prepared yet to work for COFEM—"but it was definitely meant to be.”

“On Sep. 5, 2017, Trump first terminated DACA. I called COFEM (again) to ask if they were doing any advocacy on DACA, because Trump had terminated the program. They asked to come to L.A. to talk again. So I did, and they hired me. In the beginning, my main focus was to support undocumented students, but then I started taking on more responsibilities with the organization. I’ve been working there almost two years now. Still, it’s crazy (this job) happened due to the termination of DACA.”

Both Moreno and Beaman Jacinto pointed out that DACA is just a small part of the work that needs to be done on behalf of the nation’s immigrants.

“We want people to understand the importance of a permanent solution (to the U.S. immigration quandary) and not having something temporary,” Moreno said. “Also, they should know that we’re going to continue fighting.”

Said Beaman Jacinto: “There’s been a lot of focus on DACA for the last eight years, since it became law under President Obama. It’s been an important step in the right direction, but it’s a very limited program that only serves a very limited number of people, and not even all youths are covered by it. So it was a small step in the right direction—but there is so much work still to be done.”

Published in Local Issues

Since March, the United States has endured its most turbulent period in decades. The fact that the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the economic downturn are happening in an election year leads to an obvious question: How will the turmoil effect what happens at the polls on Nov. 3?

If local voter-registration numbers are any indication, the news is good for Democrats.

The Independent recently reviewed voter-registration data from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters and the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert, comparing political-party voter-registration totals as of April 13 and July 13, in each of the valley’s nine cities. In that time frame, the number of Democrats registered to vote increased by 459, while the number of registered Republicans decreased by 226. Interestingly, voters who chose to register as having no party preference decreased by 700.

We reached out to local party leaders to ask them about their efforts to get voters engaged between now and Nov. 3.

“We closed the Democratic headquarters (in Cathedral City) on March 16,” said Elle Kurpiewski, political director of the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert, during a recent phone interview. “However, all of the phone calls we’ve been receiving are forwarded to me at my home. In one week alone, I had over a dozen people call to register to vote. So what I did was mail the voter-registration form to them if they were not able to (register) online. But here’s where it got interesting: There must have been 10 who were Republicans wanting to switch to be Democrats.

“Another thing that I found interesting was that a very large rally was put on by young people,” the Enough Is Enough rally in Palm Springs on June 6. “We were able to do voter registration safely at that event, (which drew) over a thousand people, the majority of them being young people. We signed up 40 new registrations at that event.

“What’s even more interesting are the young people—I’m talking 16-year-olds—who have been contacting our headquarters, pre-registering to vote and urging their friends to get out and vote this November. They are fully aware of what’s going on. Their focus is not just on Black Lives Matter. In talking with these young people, they’re just fed up, and they’re getting involved. They’re saying, ‘We’re here, and you’ve got to start paying attention (to us).’ I’m very impressed with them. Also, what’s really interesting about (their efforts) is how organic it’s been. This isn’t organized, per se. These are just young people who communicate with each other on Facebook and on Twitter, and they’re saying, ‘We have to do something. We have to have our voices heard.’ It’s been remarkable. The really sweet thing is that they’re not going away.”

Joy Miedecke, of the East Valley Republican Women Federated, said she has talked to a lot of people who are interested in signing up for the GOP.

“If you’re going to go by us, our voter registration has been unbelievable as far as people changing parties from Democrat to Republican,” Miedecke said. “When people try to change from Democrat to, maybe, no party preference or independent or something like that, we try to encourage them to become a Republican, because numbers tell the truth. If you’re moving over to Republican because you believe like Republicans, or you like our president, but you register as ‘no party preference,’ you don’t make a statement. You don’t get Trump on the ballot in the primary, and you can’t join our club. You have to be a registered Republican to be involved. We have over 850 members, so we are no slouchy deal here in the desert.”

What demographics has she seen coming into the valley’s Republican Party in these chaotic recent months?

“I don’t have any hard numbers,” Miedecke said. “But I will tell you that many, many Hispanics are registering as Republicans, and lots of young families. We’re always behind (in the Riverside County Registrar of Voters statistical reporting), but that’s only because ‘no party preference’ is usually (voting) Republican.”

According to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters database, the numbers of registered Republicans declined in seven of the nine Coachella Valley cities between April and July; only Coachella and Indian Wells saw increases in registered Republicans (up 22 and 3, respectively) over the three months. In eight of the nine valley cities, the Democrats increased their registered voters, with the one exception being Desert Hot Springs, which saw decreases in both Democratic and Republican registered voters.

Megan Beaman Jacinto is an immigration and civil rights attorney who serves on the Coachella City Council. She said the Trump administration’s efforts have led many people to get more involved.

“I think that so many things have happened over the last four years that motivated the Latino community, other communities of color, and even white people—who are concerned about the way our communities have been damaged—to stand up and get more active politically,” Beaman Jacinto said. “Some of that has come in the form of protests, or creating new types of groups and associations, or just being more vocal on certain issues. All of that activation, I hope, will be seen in increased voter turnout. But inextricable from all of that is the challenge of COVID-19 and the potential vote-by-mail process. Of course, I support that (vote-by-mail) process, and I’m thankful that our community will be enjoying access to it.

“On the immigration side of things, we’ve done a lot of naturalization over the last four years, which is moving people from their permanent-legal-resident status to citizenship status—and that comes with the right to vote. A lot of the people seeking citizenship in the past few years are specifically motivated by a desire to vote against Trump, and a lot of them are older. They’re people who have been permanent legal residents for decades and now felt compelled to take the final step and become citizens so they could vote. So I’m hopeful that they’ll be reflected in the turnout as well.”

Victor Gonzalez is the project manager at Alianza Coachella Valley. According to the organization’s website, Alianza CV brings together community members, nonprofits and governments to make people active in the processes shaping policies and public funding. One of Gonzalez’s main responsibilities is supervising eastern Coachella Valley students in Alianza’s Youth Organizing Council (YO-C!).

“Our current engagement (group) right now consists of high school students and college-bound or college-attending students,” Gonzalez said. “Most of those attending college are able to vote themselves now. Currently, they’re participating in a focus group to help inform the messaging for the state in relation to the changes that are being made to the voting (process). I believe that there will be a higher emphasis on vote-by-mail. … Our youth are offering a Latino perspective (to the focus group), because most of the students that YO-C! engages are from that background.”

Gonzalez offered some observations about the importance of November’s elections to his student/youth leaders.

“Given the conversations that I’ve had with youth and others, for people who are unable to vote, there’s a sense of disappointment, and they don’t feel that the systemic response to (the societal challenges) has been good,” Gonzalez said. “For the people who can vote, they feel that now’s their time to make a difference. Also, people are messaging to us that the elections and voting (concerns) go beyond the national level, and that what happens locally does inform the national level. So, (the focus) is more on: How do we have people who represent us here locally that will make decisions that are going to benefit all of us, whether it’s Riverside County, the cities or even the school boards? That’s (an approach) that I feel is being emphasized more strongly than I’ve seen since I first starting doing this work. Before, it was like, ‘Local elections don’t matter. It’s all about the president or whoever.’ But now I feel that there’s a broader perspective.”

Published in Politics

Alan has now lived in the Coachella Valley for 17 years, ever since he was 17 years old.

Even though he has always worked hard and played by the rules—at least the rules that aren’t stacked against him—he doesn’t want his last name used in this story. The reason: Both he and his wife are undocumented immigrants. They have a son, 10, who is a U.S. citizen by birth.

“Since President Trump has been in office, we have seen all the anti-immigrant statements and all the news coverage on TV of what’s happening,” he said. “We’ve been afraid to go out and go about our normal life routines, because if a cop stops us, they will call the immigration (agents), and we will be taken away.

“We’re very uncomfortable, and it is not easy for us to live every day. We always have to be looking behind our backs.”

The government under Donald Trump seems to be quite proud of such discomfort. On Feb. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a news release stating that the agency’s personnel had arrested 212 individuals for violating federal immigration laws, and had served 122 notices of inspection to businesses in the Los Angeles area. On March 16, another ICE news release trumpeted the arrests of 115 individuals in San Diego and Imperial counties, again for violating federal immigration laws. On June 14, yet another ICE news release announced the arrests of 162 individuals in Los Angeles and surrounding counties, including 15 people in San Bernardino County, and 12 here in Riverside County.

Yet another ICE news release, from May 14, proclaimed that between Oct. 1, 2017, and May 4, 2018, Homeland Security had opened some 3,510 worksite investigations, and had made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests. Compared to the entire previous fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, the number of investigations had more than doubled—and the number of arrests had quadrupled.

Anyone believed to be in this country illegally is fair game. “ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a statement. “All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

It’s clear: Not only is the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration violations intended to identify and remove convicted criminals from American society; it’s also designed to create a climate of fear in the daily lives of all undocumented immigrants—including many of our neighbors here in the Coachella Valley.

“The U.S. Border Patrol has jurisdiction over our streets and our community; that’s why immigration has always been a problem, and our community continues to be at risk,” said Luz Gallegos, the community programs director for TODEC Legal Center, an organization with offices in Perris and Coachella which seeks to empower disenfranchised immigrant communities, according to its website. “But what has changed lately is that a lot of the rhetoric is creating more fear, and all of the political division at the federal level is really impacting people at the grassroots level.”

This rhetoric has brought out a lot of hate—and it’s plaguing both undocumented and documented immigrants in our community, Gallegos said.

“We hear from students what they are going through in their schools,” she said. “Even kids are emboldened to talk on their hate, saying things like, ‘Go back to Mexico!’ and calling them wetbacks. We see that people now feel empowered to speak out about feelings they’ve carried their entire lives.

“Having grown up here for my whole life, as a child, we heard that the KKK would gather in Rainbow (in northern San Diego county), and we always feared the KKK growing up. Back then, we didn’t know who they were, because they wore robes and covered their faces, but now, you really know who these people are, right? People are coming out, and now we can really see where people stand.”


Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia represents the state’s 56th District, which includes much of the eastern Coachella Valley. He said the hatred being openly expressed toward immigrants ignores the valuable contributions they make to our community.

“It’s important to highlight just who we are talking about,” Garcia said. “We are talking about people who work in very significant and important industries to the Coachella Valley economy—folks working out in the farming fields of the eastern Coachella Valley who are putting food on people’s tables, along with the men and women who make up a large part of the hospitality and service industry that is essential to our economy in California. So we’re talking about just putting a face to the subject. These are the working people who help drive the economic engine of our region.”

Megan Beaman-Jacinto is an immigration-rights attorney, activist and candidate for the Coachella City Council.

“A lot of things that this president has tried to do against immigrants have not been able to proceed, like trying to end DACA,” Beaman-Jacinto said. (DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows some younger people who came to the United States without documents to stay and work legally in the U.S.) “But other things have happened—things like people being denied immigration benefits at higher rates now (than under previous administrations). And (President Trump) is trying to pass new regulations that will make it harder for even permanent residents to become citizens if they used certain public benefits, even legally, in the past.

“Every day, almost, there’s a new attack on immigrants—and the media’s exposure of that is definitely having mixed results. On the one hand, it’s great that people are finally seeing this and paying attention when they didn’t before. But on the other hand, for people who are personally impacted by it, it is really stressful to see all the time, everywhere you look. I went with some clients to a citizenship interview a few weeks ago in the immigration offices in San Bernardino. In that lobby, there are two TVs, and they’re always on CNN. So the whole time we were waiting there, it was like, ‘Trump says this about immigrants, and Trump says that about immigrants and this about the immigration department.’ … I’m thinking, ‘Well, at least my client is about to become a citizen,’ but who knows what other status everyone else in that room has? That’s really terrifying if you’re one of the people directly impacted, and it goes on nonstop.”

The nation’s immigration system has been broken for a long time, since long before Donald Trump became president. In fact, some immigration activists referred to President Barack Obama as the “deporter-in-chief” due to his administration’s high number of deportations.

However, the intensity of the rhetoric is indeed new.

“Now you get an administration that begins to utilize the state of fear—(saying) that illegal immigration is taking over, that illegal immigration is the reason for increases in violent crimes. … ‘They are rapists, murderers, etc., etc., etc.,’ Garcia said. “The fact that we still remain with no comprehensive immigration reform policy creates a huge level of uncertainty for a lot of people in this country, in California and in the Coachella Valley.

“I’ve got to imagine that this type of fear-mongering has disrupted our economy to some extent. Perhaps people are not presenting themselves for work. Perhaps the kids are not showing up at school. (There’s a) decrease in the number of people who want to access health-care services due to the concern that they may be ‘outed’ for being here undocumented. I would even argue that our public-safety services suffer, because the cooperation between our residents and law enforcement is impacted negatively. For instance, a victim of crime or a witness to crime, who might be here undocumented, might not be willing to cooperate with law enforcement. So it’s a very huge issue, and it goes back to the inability of a U.S. Congress and an administration to put together what would be a comprehensive immigration policy that would bring about certainty for the people in our valley, our state and in our country.”

Gallegos said she and her colleagues at TODEC have seen the damage this rhetoric is causing.

“There is a lot of fear out there, and (at TODEC), we believe that our role is to educate the community,” Gallegos said. “But that fear still exists, and it even impacts our local economy. We talk to the farmers in the east end of Coachella Valley, and they tell us they’re concerned that they are losing their workforce. The stores, like Cardenas, tell us that they’ve lost a lot of business because of this whole fear factor. It’s affecting our community and the local economy.”

The hyper-politicization of the immigration issue has also led to another type of fear—a fear of speaking out. The Independent reached out to numerous agricultural and retail businesses, and they all declined to go on the record for this story.

The same thing happened when we tried to talk to valley health-care providers about the effects ICE enforcements have had on immigrants seeking treatment and services: Only one person agreed to go on the record, and that was Doug Morin, the executive director Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, an organization in Indio that offers no-cost health care to adults who are uninsured or underinsured. He said his clinic has noted a substantial and ongoing decline in patient visits since the Trump administration took office in January 2017.

“I would say we’re still 20 percent below the number of patient visits we had during the pre-Trump days,” he said.

The decline has continued despite a concerted effort on the clinic’s part that included hiring an outreach specialist to make door-to-door contact with underserved populations to assure them that both they and their personal information would be safe if they came to get medical attention.

“We even changed our fliers that we had out for patient recruitment,” Morin said. “They used to just say, ‘Your health is our number one concern,’ and now it says, ‘Your safety and your health is our number one concern.”


So … where do we go from here? After all, Trump’s four-year term is less than half over, and there’s no hint that his administration will ease up on either the enforcement actions or the rhetoric anytime soon.

“We tell community that ‘our faith will keep us strong,’” Gallegos said. “There are a lot of young people coming up who want to make change. They see how this uncertainty and fear is impacting their family, friends and (everyone’s) mental health, and they’re taking it very personally. We tell them, ‘We have to continue resisting—and the way you’re going to resist is go to school. Finish your high school; go to college; and be a professional. You will prove everybody wrong,’ and that’s what our kids are doing. They are people of character, with morals and compassion. It’s become personal to them.

“Most importantly, we tell them to make sure to vote because that’s the way you create change.”

Garcia said some actions can be taken on the local and state levels.

“It is a federal question, but you know, states have rights,” he said. “When we have an emergency in California—as we’ve seen in recent months with the fires, the droughts and other natural disasters—we have the ability to declare a state of emergency and have the federal government support that position via policy and/or resources needed to address that emergency. In California, I believe that the issue of labor shortages in very specific industries that are highly occupied by immigrants could be considered such an emergency. I think that in itself is reason to work as a state in addressing our labor needs. These labor shortages are having a significant impact on our local economy right now—and not addressing the immigration issue ties into this threat very closely.

“I made an effort this past year to exercise that states’ right and develop a working group (in the state Legislature), that would ultimately need the blessing of Homeland Security and the federal government, to put together a program that would bring certainty of legal status, allowing those California residents working in these critical industries to continue contributing to our economy. Also, it would address ways to ensure that people are being paid salaries, receiving benefits and having housing that are respectable by California’s high standards. Stabilizing the existing unpermitted workforce by removing their tremendous fear and giving them and their families some certainty would be the first objective, and the second would be to develop a framework that would allow for us to address the real labor shortages that exist for these industries. I just think there’s a better way to go about this than disrupting the economies of the country, state and the Coachella Valley.”

Garcia’s effort did not get very far; his Assembly Bill 1885 didn’t even make it up for a vote in a committee.

“It continues to engage a number of individuals in a dialogue,” Garcia said. “… Unfortunately, we had a lot of people who got stuck on the notion that this issue is a federal issue only. They would not look at it as an economic and labor-shortage issue in California, as well as a national food-security issue. You know, we feed a large part of the world, and if our agricultural industries see a significant decline, because we can’t get enough people to do the necessary work, then we’re looking at being dependent on other nations for our food and commodities, which should be a major concern for people from a security standpoint, a health standpoint, and because we would be supporting other countries’ practices of underpaying and undervaluing their workforces.

“So the bill did not move. Next, we introduced a resolution, (Assembly Joint Resolution) 34. The resolution took a strong position supporting the same principles we supported in the legislation, and it had bipartisan support built around a coalition of assemblymembers and senators from farming communities throughout the state. This resolution would send the message to Washington, D.C., about what California is thinking, and wanting to do, and we encouraged our federal counterparts to engage with us in this conversation. It was passed and sent to the governor’s desk. Resolutions are position papers. As a result, they are not as controversial as trying to set something in stone as a law.”

Meanwhile, Coachella Valley residents like Alan and his wife continue to live in fear.

“Thank God I haven’t had to go to the hospital or seek medical services of late, but if we had to, we would go to get medical help here. My son is attending school,” he said. “What upsets all of us the most is that we feel like we’re being held back, and we’re not able to move forward with our lives. (The federal government) now is putting all these obstacles in our way.”

Upper right—Immigration-rights attorney and Coachella City Council candidate Megan Beaman-Jacinto: “Every day, almost, there’s a new attack on immigrants—and the media’s exposure of that is definitely having mixed results. On the one hand, it’s great that people are finally seeing this and paying attention when they didn’t before. But on the other hand, for people who are personally impacted by it, it is really stressful to see all the time, everywhere you look. Below—“We talk to the farmers in the east end of Coachella Valley, and they tell us they’re concerned that they are losing their workforce,” said Luz Gallegos, the community programs director for TODEC Legal Center. “The stores, like Cardenas, tell us that they’ve lost a lot of business because of this whole fear factor. It’s affecting our community and the local economy.” Photos by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Local Issues

On Oct. 8, the Trump White House released a long list of demands that the president had given to Congress—demands that Trump said would need to be met in order for the fate of young undocumented immigrants, often called DREAMers, to be determined.

“These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” Trump said. “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”

The list of demands disappointed advocates of DREAMers—young men and women who could face deportation if Congress does not act.

Hadley Bajramovic is a Riverside County immigration attorney for both the Consulate of Mexico and the Consulate of Guatemala. She said the proclamation by Trump did not surprise her.

“I don’t know that it was shocking,” Bajramovic said, “but the recommendations (the Trump White House) made are very harsh from our point of view. A lot of the principles and policies that are talked about in that memo are already in place. So, for me, there are parts of it that are just a big eye-roll.

“I noticed a theme of using criminality as a scare tactic—like we aren’t protected from (immigrants). ‘We need to protect the U.S.A. from these people,’ but the protections are already there.”

Bajramovic highlighted some of the positions outlined in the White House directive that she found to be misleading and/or inflammatory.

“The administration is suggesting that the border is still porous, and it is not,” she said. “I work with people who come to the border and declare asylum or ask for protection, and also people who crossed the border illegally. In the past two to three years, I have not had anybody come to my office who recently crossed without inspection. It was very common up until about 2007-2008 that people would either cross through the desert or come in (with the help of) a coyote. Now the people I am seeing were admitted or paroled in by the Border Patrol because they established that they could be eligible for relief. So the notion that the border is still porous is wrong. Building a wall is unnecessary. It’s an unnecessary expense.”

“But what was interesting and eye-opening is that whoever drafted these policies was aware of the protections coming into place under our local laws to help undocumented people or people with immigration issues who have criminal convictions. Most recently, California passed a law that allows attorneys to submit motions to vacate criminal convictions if it can be proven that the defendant was not fully aware of the immigration consequences of accepting a plea deal. This law, California 1473.7, went into effect this past January and says that before a person can do a plea deal, they must understand what they are doing. It’s a due-process protection, and it’s fair. This memo attacks that type of due-process protection and is calling it a part of the ‘sanctuary status.’ It calls for prohibiting states or cities from giving that kind of a remedy. That’s really disturbing.

“Another point that is really important: California provides services and benefits to aliens,” Bajramovic said. “In fact, the California Department of Social Services just opened up federal funding (to access by the public) of $45 million to fund immigration relief for undocumented people. Now this memo says they want to restrict grants to states that do that.”

Megan Beaman Jacinto is a La Quinta-based immigration-rights attorney.

“I’ve seen some phases of reaction and response (among current DACA beneficiaries), beginning with the time leading up to Sept. 5, when Trump declared that DACA would be ended by executive order. There was dread mixed with terror leading up to that date—but after, it was just terror,” she said. “There was a lot of uncertainty immediately about whether that announcement meant that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would just be coming for everyone who then possessed DACA. That was the initial reaction, I think, both in the advocate community as well as the DACA-recipient undocumented community.”

Beaman Jacinto pointed out a less-obvious consequence of the Trump administration’s ongoing anti-immigration stance.

“There’s been an interesting political framing of the DREAMer community as the one, limited group of people who are deserving of immigration protection,” Beaman Jacinto said. “It’s like they were the victims of their parents (actions and decisions). I appreciate, and agree, that the group we call DREAMers should be protected, but it sort of requires that we vilify everyone else. The parents of those kids are not DREAMers, even though they came here to provide a better life for their families. And the kids arriving now are not DREAMers, because they didn’t arrive before the deadline and the passage of the DREAMer legislation. It’s an interesting and arbitrary set of guidelines that have established this one deserving group that’s received protection both from Obama’s DACA executive order and now, most likely, from the (new Trump iteration) of the DREAM Act which we think will become law, hopefully next year. If that passes, it will be really great, and a step in the right direction—but it has required throwing a lot of other people under the bus.”

“If the DREAM Act does pass, or even if it doesn’t, we need to do the right thing for other people who didn’t fall into that so-called DREAMer category—because we’re all dreamers.”

Published in Local Issues

My dad couldn’t wait to retire.

He started working at 14 and had done whatever he could, without an education, to support his family. I remember when he worked three jobs a week: running a catering truck, collecting coins from vending machines, and working in a gas station on weekends.

He budgeted and saved to make sure he and my mother could have a comfortable lifestyle once he stopped working. He was proud to be able to retire—to do, in his view, “nothing.”

I can’t help but compare my dad’s notion of retirement with what I see playing out every day here in the Coachella Valley—particularly the women in second and third careers who make a difference for their neighbors.

The Democratic Women of the Desert recently presented their 2014 Women Honoring Women Awards. I was one of the recipients, given the Voice of Women’s Rights Award, partly for my Lovable Liberal radio persona, and for my many years of vocal advocacy on behalf of women’s equality. However, when I realized the accomplishments of the other women being honored, I became convinced a mistake had been made: I didn’t feel competent to be in their company.

Megan Beaman received the Civil Rights Award. An attorney advocating on behalf of those in our own East Valley who are least represented in the legal system, Beaman practiced law for years at a nonprofit legal-assistance corporation that served rural Californians, particularly farmworkers. She also challenged administrative, state and federal policies on behalf of her diverse clients.

Coming from a rural working-class family, Beaman recognized early the challenges facing workers, families and communities that are regularly excluded from the legal system. In her family, she was taught not only to recognize unfairness, but was instilled with the drive to act to rectify it.

Beaman founded Beaman Law in 2012 to expand her ability to service more clients. She also has a long history of volunteerism, working in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community leaders.

 “It is not lost on me that I am receiving this award in response to the violation of the rights of others,” she says. “Civil rights stand for the basic principle that, regardless of our differences, all of us have the same inherent rights as human beings, and all of us are responsible to ensure that nobody tries to impinge on those rights.”

Sister Carol Nolan, named Volunteer of the Year, is a member of the Sisters of Providence. She is dedicated to helping students and adults in the East Valley learn English. With a master’s degree in music, Nolan taught music and English, and spent a sabbatical year studying Spanish in Mexico. She has been director of Providence in the Desert since 2002, and was responsible for bringing “Nuns on the Bus” to the Coachella facility in 2013.

Nolan is part of Guerin Outreach Ministries as “a reflection of the interest and zeal of the Sisters of Providence in manifesting God’s loving presence in the lives of the struggles of the poor.” Her favorite quote: “Love the children first, and then teach them.”

“English is a very difficult language to learn, especially for adults whose brains are already wired for another language,” says Nolan, “but I believe love and education can change the world. Only love has the power to transform.”

Honored with the Democratic Ideals Award, Sonja Martin is a life-long educator whose “retirement” is anything but. She was a classroom teacher, principal, district administrator and superintendent of schools, and worked as a consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Martin has authored books for parents and teachers, and worked with teachers around the world to improve student achievement. She has represented our area on the Riverside County Commission for Women, advocating for inclusion of women and women’s issues at all levels of policymaking; and the Riverside County Office on Aging, emphasizing programs like Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and spreading the word about free support services available through the county. She has been active in other community-service organizations, including California’s Senior Legislature.

“After I retired from my education career,” says Martin, “I had to ask myself: ‘What do I do now?’ People need someone to be out there for them. There’s work to be done.”

Philanthropist Eileen Stern came from a working-class family, was raised in public housing, attended public schools and went to a state university. She received the Humanitarian Award from DWD.

The first woman to hold a national marketing manager position with Sears, Stern moved on to entrepreneurial marketing and public relations work. She was motivated to get involved in the fight against breast cancer after the untimely death of her mother. “I felt compelled to try to do something to help find a cure.”

Stern’s efforts resulted in the HIKE4HOPE event that has raised more than $4 million to support cancer research at City of Hope. She also helped launch the first fundraiser for the FIND Food Bank, served as president of the Desert Women’s Council, worked with the Children’s Discovery Museum, and chaired the first fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Cathedral City.

“I learned to pay it forward,” said Stern upon receiving her award. “I share this award with all of you who work to make other’s lives better.”

The final DWD award was for Lifetime Achievement, presented to Rancho Mirage resident, Elle “Elle K” Kurpiewski. A flight attendant, Elle K came from an Air Force family that focused on patriotism and service. She has spent her life “walking the talk,” including union organizing and advocating for flight attendants; running as the Democratic candidate in the local 2002 congressional race; and serving as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic convention, president of Democrats of the Desert, and executive director of the Democratic Foundation of the Desert. She was largely responsible for establishing a local Democratic Party headquarters office in Cathedral City.

“I believe in the Democratic ideals of liberty and equality for all,” said Elle K upon receiving her award. “I’m consistently reminded that one person can make a difference. I share this with all of you. … Now let’s get back to work!”

What are you doing to work on behalf of your community?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

With its lavish resorts and golf courses, the Coachella Valley is a getaway to some, and a retirement home for others. But beyond the shadow of the country clubs and music festivals lies a Coachella Valley that is largely unknown.

“Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley: Putting Cumulative Environmental Vulnerabilities on the Map,” a report released this month by the University of California at Davis Center for Regional Change, shows the cumulative environmental health hazards of living in the Eastern Coachella Valley.

“You can see the east versus west story,” said Jonathan London, the principal investigator and primary study author, “where in the west valley, there are much lower levels of environmental hazards, and much higher levels for quality of life, compared to the east.”

While this data seems to state the obvious to those living and working in the eastern Coachella Valley, it wasn’t until recently that people outside the area began to take notice of these environmental issues. Many people certainly took notice when a storm in September 2012 flooded mobile home parks, including Duroville, and spread the odor of decomposing organic matter from the Salton Sea to Los Angeles.

As a result, the Center for Regional Change partnered with local environmental-justice, health and farmworker advocates to document the environmental vulnerability in the area. Some of the issues that were studied included the failing water infrastructure, concentrated hazardous waste, and unauthorized dumping.

To better understand the environmental hazards, the report shows a demographic comparison between the eastern and western portions of the Coachella Valley. This analysis is necessary to understand how the areas with severe environmental hazards impact those with fewer social, economic and political resources.

A map (shown above) illustrates an assessment of the varying environmental vulnerabilities across the region.

There is a higher concentration of impaired water bodies when compared to the rest of the county, meaning there are drinking water wells in the eastern valley that contain much higher contaminant levels for arsenic, chromium 6, perchlorate, and nitrates than are allowed by law.

A different map (shown below) illustrates the levels of contaminants in the drinking water.

“Policy-makers, state and local government agencies finally have the data that they need to start making changes in our troubled system,” said Celia Garcia, a Mecca schoolteacher community advocate. “For the very first time, an accurate picture of our reality and our needs has been painted for them.”

Garcia continued, “We have an enormous problem with hazardous waste and illegal dumping in our community. And while I’d like to say the waste and dumping is the biggest problem, equally disturbing is the fact that thousands of children and families are allowed to live in, around, and near such dangerous waste.”

According to the report, the unemployment and poverty rates in the eastern Coachella Valley are much higher than the west side and the county as a whole.

The report also shows that 45 percent of the residents in the eastern Coachella Valley are limited English speakers, compared to the 16 percent in the west valley. Well more than half of the population in the ECV lives below the poverty level—65 percent as opposed to 37 percent on the west side.

Although the recent data shows overwhelming environmental hazards in valley communities, community members are hopeful that actions will now be taken toward improving conditions. The areas highlighted in the report—including the Salton Sea, Mecca, North Shore, Coachella and even La Quinta—could serve as a target for organized action by community advocates, elected officials and public agencies.

“The lack of consolidated and unbiased data documenting the inequities of our region has been one of the greatest challenges we face in our work for better infrastructure, water quality, housing, and environmental health. It has been incredibly frustrating to us at times to have decision-makers and policy-makers say or imply that we are exaggerating about our community experiences, or that they need to see science before they can help. This data will assist us greatly in demonstrating that our experiences are based in hard facts and statistics,” said Megan Beaman of Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation.

The report was designed and conducted by the CRC; it was commissioned by the California Institute for Rural Studies with support from The California Endowment/ Building Healthy Communities. Local non-profit organizations contributing to the production and release of this report are the Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation; California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.; Inland Congregations United for Change; and Comité Cívico del Valle.

The report is available for download in English or Spanish.

Ivan Delgado is a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth media startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorporated.org.

Published in Local Issues