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California Journal: A California town hall agenda: How to resist Trump, help refugees and defend Muslims

The line to get into a forum led by U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff at Glendale Community stretched down Verdugo Avenue.
(Tim Berger / Glendale News Press)

It was a meeting of the California resistance, and turnout was good.

In Glendale on Friday evening, Democratic U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff hosted a town hall about the U.S. refugee program and President Trump’s constitutionally suspect Muslim ban.

The line outside Glendale Community College’s auditorium snaked around the block and down Verdugo Road. Shortly after the doors opened, all 400 seats were filled. The 800 people who could not get in, listened from the gym.

“I don’t care what Sean Spicer says,” Schiff said. “Somehow I don’t think this is a George Soros-led conspiracy. Your presence demonstrates how much energy and commitment there is to pushing back against some of the deeply ill-considered policies of this administration.”

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Schiff, as the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, has emerged as a de facto leader of the resistance, appearing constantly on TV news shows, gleefully trolling Trump on Twitter. He has steadfastly insisted that Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election be investigated, and has called out the bigotry and fear-mongering that ooze from this administration like sludge from a sewage plant. Here in California, where voters went for Hillary Clinton over Trump by a 2-1 margin, Schiff’s a star.

While some Republicans have left their town halls under police escort, Schiff got a standing ovation. Just for walking onstage. “Wow,” he said. “I feel like walking out and coming back in again.”

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It wasn’t just Schiff’s constituents who turned out Friday. People came from all over Los Angeles County to support him.

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Tony and Marilyn Mora, who live in Culver City, had arrived early and were among the first in line.

Tony, who was born in Colombia, is an oncology nurse at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. His father owned a heavy equipment company. His work with American oil companies made him a target for the leftist guerilla group FARC. He was kidnapped for ransom when Tony was 14. After Tony’s father was freed, the family fled to the U.S.

“I was welcomed to this country, and we should extend the courtesy to other immigrants,” said Tony, who is an American citizen. “It’s pretty sad that the rule of law seems to be pushed to the side, and it’s scary and just upsetting. We are picking on those who don’t have a voice.”

Marilyn is a resource teacher at Braddock Drive Elementary School in Culver City. The Moras were moved to travel across town during rush hour, Marilyn said, because “it’s important to let the people who are doing the right thing know they have support.”

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Many of her students are Americans born to parents who are in the country illegally. Trump’s obsession with deportation is taking a toll.

“Kids are scared to death that their parents will get deported,” Marilyn said. “The kids are scared to go outside.” One 10-year-old student, she said, has not just regressed academically, but has begun wetting the bed.

Last week, she said, a woman was killed at Mar Vista Gardens, the housing project where many of her students live. “People heard screams, and no one was willing to talk to the police,” she said. “The things you hear might happen are happening.”

Indeed. My colleague Nicole Santa Cruz, who writes the Times’ Homicide Report, reported that Juana Maritza Sandoval, 56, was found dead of blunt force trauma to the head on Friday, Feb. 17. Police were alerted after her body was discovered by “someone in the area.”

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Schiff was joined by Martin Zogg of the International Rescue Committee, one of eight refugee resettlement agencies in Southern California, and Etleva Bejko, who directs refugee and immigration services for Jewish Family Services of San Diego (where nearly 800 Syrian refugees were settled in the last year).

U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff speaks at a forum at Glendale Community College.
(Tim Berger / Glendale News Press)

Also on the panel: Hector Villagra of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; and Seema Ahmad, a Los Angeles federal public defender who chairs the board of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who brought some in the audience first to tears, then to their feet.

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“This is an incredibly challenging and difficult time,” said Ahmad, whose voice broke as she talked about the emotional toll of Trump’s anti-Muslim excesses. “There is this tone in our country that Muslims, by their color, genetics, or DNA, are violent, threatening, secretive. Your presence here, at LAX, at the women’s march, is healing for all members of the American Muslim community, and it means a lot.”

When it came time for questions, there were no hostile outbursts about the Affordable Care Act or slashing Social Security and Medicare. The resistance is on the same page about these things.

Instead, one constituent asked what Congress can do to contain presidential advisor Steve Bannon, who as head of Breitbart News, turned the website into a platform for white nationalists and made a celebrity out of the odious provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

“The only recourse is pressure and the spotlight,” Schiff said. “We have to shed light on what he is doing and what he is about and condemn it, even if we can’t force him out. Otherwise, we are acquiescing to the presence of bigotry in the White House.”

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A man named Eric, who identified himself as “a member of the Silver Lake resistance posse,” asked about Russia’s election meddling.

“You could not design a better candidate for Russia purposes than Donald Trump,” Schiff said, but he framed the issue as a larger struggle.

“This is not just about one election,” he said. “Autocracy is on the march. The vanguard is being led by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but you see it in Turkey, Egypt, Poland and in France with Marine Le Pen. This is a threat to global democracy, and that’s why we should care about this.”

“What can I personally do?” asked a woman.

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“The worst thing you can do is stew at home and feel like you can do nothing,” Schiff said. “There is a phenomenal rising up of Americans to reject what this administration represents.”

The meeting of the California resistance soon drew to a close. But not before Schiff made one more vow.

“At our next meeting,” he said, “I promise we will find a bigger space.”

More columns »

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For more on politics »

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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