Forum highlights immigrants' rights

COSTA MESA — Carlota Lortez didn't know if police came knocking, she has the right to not allow them in unless they have a search warrant.

After living in the United States for 10 years, she first learned this Thursday during a community forum in Costa Mesa on immigrants' rights.

"I'm happy to know that," she said in Spanish translated by Benito Acosta, a resident who unsuccessfully sued Costa Mesa and Mayor Allan Mansoor after he was stopped from speaking during a council meeting a few years ago. "I have kids who were born here and if police came to my house, my kids will know through me that unless they have a search warrant, they can't come in."

The community forum organized at Shalimar Park by the Tonantzin Collective, a workers' rights group, came in response to Arizona's immigration law, SB 1070, which went into effect the same day as the forum, but with a lot less force after a federal judge put a hold on its most controversial elements.

The forum also came in response to Costa Mesa's recent resolution declaring itself a "Rule of Law" city, one that does not welcome illegal immigrants within its city limits, Acosta said.

"A lot of people are scared," Acosta said. "They think it's like SB 1070, but it's not. (It) doesn't mean that police won't randomly be picking up people and verifying their status."

During the forum, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles' (CHIRLA) video "Know Your Rights," which showcases the rules for dealing with police, was shown to the 100 or so people who attended.

"Day Laborers in Struggle," a documentary about day laborers in Costa Mesa and Orange, was also shown.

When Costa Mesa closed its job center, a centralized area where day laborers once gathered, it created the problem it is dealing with right now, Acosta said.

Tonantzin Collective asked for six issues to be resolved. Among them is for Costa Mesa to revoke its solicitation ordinance, which bans anyone from actively soliciting employment on the street.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and two other civil rights organizations sued Costa Mesa in March over the resolution. As part of a court agreement, the city placed a moratorium on the resolution while a similar case involving the city of Redondo Beach gets finally resolved. The courts upheld the Redondo case, but it is being appealed.

While Jorge Olivera knows his rights, he tries his best to avoid contact with police. The 34-year-old undocumented resident owns his own business. Olivera does plumbing and electricity work, but he never drives, always getting rides.

He attended the forum to learn as much as he can, he said, also through Acosta, who translated for him.

Most of those who attended were from the Shalimar Drive area.

Acosta said he and members of his collective went door to door to let people know about the event.

Also at the meeting was a couple, Chris and Kathleen Eric, who live a half-block away from Shalimar.

"We're here to see it; this is our neighborhood," said Kathleen Eric.

The Erics both said they recognize the difficulties of solving such a massive issue like illegal immigration into America.

Acosta said more forums are to come.

"We believe it's important to know the community's issues and concerns, because from there you can build some understanding," he said. "Our goal is to have these types of events to see how we can reach a cohesive network with the community."

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