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Fuel for immigration debate

Times Staff Writer

Father Richard Estrada, an associate pastor at the 189-year-old Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles, is obviously not in a gang.

But the dark-skinned Estrada, who speaks softly and wears his hair tied back in a ponytail, jokes that under the proposed changes to Special Order 40 he could “look like a gang member” and be stopped by police and forced to prove he is a legal resident.

“I have a real, real, real problem” with the proposed changes “because it’s going to increase racial profiling,” Estrada said.

For the last few decades, Estrada has intermittently helped illegal immigrants facing deportation orders and Latin American refugees seeking sanctuary in Southern California churches.

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His primary goal in helping defy certain deportation orders is to keep families together, Estrada said. Most of the people offered sanctuary are undocumented parents whose children are U.S. citizens, he said.

Last year the church, popularly known as La Placita, constructed a $1,000 living space for illegal immigrants in sanctuary or hiding.

He worries that the proposed changes to Special Order 40 are a knee-jerk reaction after the shooting of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr. and will only exacerbate Los Angeles’ gang and immigration problems.

A gang member who was in the country illegally has been charged with the slaying of Shaw, a Los Angeles High School football star.

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“This is like doing business as usual. A tragedy happens and then the politicians jump in and have a solution,” Estrada said. But “it could break down the safety net of protecting immigrants.”

Estrada recalled that when then-Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, “who was not a friend of immigrants,” issued Special Order 40 in 1979, Estrada and other immigrant rights activists saw opportunities for progress.

Those who are undocumented would not be afraid of talking to police and would be more likely to come forward after being victimized, he said.

Special Order 40 “never was intended to protect criminals, even if they were immigrants. It’s to protect the victims,” Estrada said. Instead of curtailing the order, he advocated that the policy be expanded across all city and county services.

Estrada, like LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, said there are policies and procedures in place to deal with deportation issues of known gang members. Pursuing changes to the order would punish the overwhelming majority of immigrants who are not involved in gang crime, he said.

Police are “supposed to protect and serve,” Estrada said, “not deport.”

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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