Witness at the Texas-Mexico Border

Submitted by Tomi Nagai-Rothe

bollard wall

In June I saw images of tent city prisons built for children separated from their families and all I could think about was the concentration camp where my mother’s family lived for several years during World War II.

The Japanese-American community has made a point of standing in solidarity with those targeted by the US government, including the Muslim community after 9/11. Because almost no one — except for the American Friends Service Committee — stood for them when they were forced out of their homes simply because of their ethnicity. I feel a part of this solidarity movement so that no one and no group targeted because of their identity will feel so alone.

I felt led to do more than organize locally in El Cerrito − to go in person to witness what is happening at the Texas-Mexico border. Going in person felt like one way to embody my commitment.

In October I spent 2 ½ weeks volunteering with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) in Alamo, Texas just outside McAllen which was ground zero for the family separation crisis over the summer. TCRP interviewed 382 families and organized 90 attorneys as part of the #FamiliesBelongTogether effort over the summer (there are only three attorneys in their Alamo office, and six others in the other TCRP offices).

Humanitarian Respite Center

By October the family crisis had abated somewhat, so I worked on a border wall project. I studied the history of the border wall, including the economic, cultural and environmental impacts and created this illustration of the executive summary of the article, Death, Damage and Failure: Past, Present and Future Impacts of Walls on the US-Mexico Border.

To support the work of the TCRP attorneys I created an interactive map of the landowners affected by the October 10 waiver of 28 federal laws that clears the way for additional border wall construction. TCRP is working with individuals who need help negotiating with the government and cannot afford to hire an attorney.

FINAL Impact of Wall on the Border

On my last day in Texas I volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen where newly arrived families and individuals gather before taking busses to reunite with family members in other parts of the state or country. I was struck by how young they were — in their 20s and 30s — and how composed they seemed, having experienced unspeakable challenges. Soon after I arrived I started crying inexplicably. I can only guess that it was the feeling of so many people’s trauma in one small room.

When I returned to the office I edited stories of people killed by the Border Patrol for a Dia de Los Muertos Offrenda (altar). It felt important to write a respectful obituary for those who died a violent death. It was an emotional end to an eye-opening visit.

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To learn more about why the Bay Area is a border region, why the Texas-Mexico border has the fewest miles of wall and more, come to Tomi’s talk about her sojourn in South Texas.

Saturday, January 5 3 to 4:30pm at Berkeley Zion Presbyterian Church, 545 Ashbury at Lincoln, El Cerrito

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STOP THE TEARS AT THE BORDER!

teargasNationally, Families Belong Together are calling for a National weekend of protest on December 1 and December 2nd.  Locally, West County residents can join the chorus to STOP THE TEARS by Showing UP at the El Cerrito Plaza at Noon on December 1st. Event Sign Up  This visibility action is for ONE HOUR and meant to be a reminder – just 10 hours from our borders, we are placing innocent people in harms way, ignoring international law, and making it virtually impossible for asylum seekers to carry through with their quest for asylum.

When tear gas traveled through the throngs of migrants on the border areas of our State, most citizens stood by horrified by the images of women and children frantically running for safety,   Trumps latest manifestation of a hostile policy toward migrants  follows on the heals of the failing family separation policy,  long term detention of immigrant families, not to mention the newly restricted rules for asylum application.  It is clear that the architects of the current administrative changes at the border are determined to halt any immigration of the refugees who are fleeing from countries that have been torn apart by violence, political corruption and economic deprivation.

Locally, other efforts are underway to support the migrants at the border.

The city of Berkeley will donate money for the migrant caravan to the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, not to exceed $250 per council member. Funds will help provide food, shelter and basic needs to caravan members detained at U.S. ports of entry or traveling to immigration hearings, according the Daily Cal (November 28, 2018)

safe_imageTo learn more about the solidarity work that can be done on the border, please join the Interfatih Movement 4 Human Integrity

Saturday, Dec. 8th, 7 pm – 9 pm
People’s Assembly for Migrant Caravan Solidarity
@ 1st Pres. Church Oakland, 2619 Broadway Ave. Oakland
Join IM4HI & the Migrant Welcome Committee of the Bay Area for an evening of sharing and action as we better understand the recent caravans and take action in solidarity with their participants.
  • Find out the root causes of the mass migration of Hondurans and other Central Americans in this historic moment.
  • Hear testimony from participants of the migrant caravans about the realities, stories and power of their journey and collective action.
  • Find out the many ways individuals and organizations right here in the Bay Area can support the material and political goals of the migrants who are seeking asylum in the US.
Financial Donations to support organizations in Tijuana supporting migrants
and migrant legal defense will be collected at this event.

 

Tenant Voices Muted in City Tenant Protection Proposals

When El Cerrito adopted the El Cerrito Affordable Housing Strategy  the staff identified four pillars to address affordable housing needs.  The Community Workshop (above) emerges from staff’s research to address the second pillar: Reduce the Risk of Displacement and  Stabilize At-Risk Populations. In other words, mitigate gentrification as the region grows in this next decade and protect those renters who are on fixed, low or middle incomes and paying over 50% of their income in rent.

In early November,  City Staff  hastily organized a Community Workshop on Tenant Protections. It was no surprise that only a hand full of tenants attended, matched by a similar number of landlords.  The majority of those in attendance were members of El Cerrito Progressives, including tenants and allies.  We learned that non-binding rent mediation anchored the proposal for tenant protections.  Also known as the Rent Review Program, once implemented, the  tenants and landlords sit down together when there is disagreement on rental terms.  Sounds good?  Let’s say the mediator decides that the tenant has a case and that the 20% rent increase is unwarranted, that would be a victory for the tenant, right? Wrong.  The mediation is non-binding and the landlord can ignore the mediator’s decision.  According to Carol Lamont, previous Housing Director for the City of Fremont, and the developer of a rent mediation program for the City of Fremont:

The best the mediation process offered was additional time for tenants to move out before a rent increase that they could not afford went into effect. Now I have been told by one of the mediators, who is a long time resident, that Fremont’s ordinance is useless, and that it reflects poorly on the City.

Many members of the audience  urged staff not to put forward the Rent Review Program. Audience members cited poor evaluation reports of similar programs from San Leandro and Concord as well as Fremont, all pointing to the weaknesses of non-binding resolution.  Even landlords spoke up against the program, but for obvious different reasons.

But most voices were muted, and continue to be muted over the call for a Rent Review Program.  The Rent Review Program will be heard by the City Council on December 18th, when our local officials make decisions on tenant protections.   Tenants and homeowners continue to be concerned that the protections being suggested will be too little too late.  But there can be an alternative or additional course of action.

When the Human Relations Commission met in September of this year, Commissioner Makalia Aga raised the issue of a moratorium on rent increases and help with eviction. As a long time resident, senior citizen and renter, she faces a 20% rent increase in the next few months, and worries about her future in El Cerrito.  Members of the Commission took up the banner and returned the following October to present a strongly worded resolution recommending that the City Council adopt an anti-gouging measure and just-cause eviction ordinance to protect tenants. They voted in the majority to bring the resolution to the City Council for the November agenda. So where is that resolution and why does it not appear on the November Agenda?

El Cerrito Progressives and other concerned residents will be at the meeting on Tuesday, November 20th to ask that question, and hopefully reset the volume so that tenants can truly get some needed protections. (BTW – we know there are good landlords and encourage you to join us !)

 

 

 

Displacement and Gentrification Report points to El Cerrito

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To see more on this interactive map please follow the link: Map

El Cerrito is not immune to the Bay Area housing crisis that finds long term residents forced to move or pay an extraordinary percent of their income toward rent in order to stay.  Although the City Council is looking into short and long term solutions for tenant protection, the City Council’s lack of support for a temporary freeze on rent hikes may result in some families packing their bags and leaving.   For example, a resident writes about their story  (September 2018) of displacement in El Cerrito Next Door.

   “We moved into El Cerrito 9 years ago and paid $2375 for a 3 bedroom, 1 bath. We had a neighbor that was downstairs. During the nearly 8 years we lived there, the rent increased to $2,575 in the last two years of our tenancy there. Last year, owner decided to sell and we had to move. When we looked around May/June timeframe, the going rent was minimally $3,500 for a shared rental. This year, and one year after our last move, we were given notice again to move as the owner is selling. The going rate now is $4,100. I think this is reflective of a rental hike. Needless to say, we couldn’t justify living in El Cerrito anymore and just moved out to Pinole this past week before our 3 kids starts school.”

Another renter of El Cerrito (who chooses to remain anonymous) found herself sleeping in her car after her landlord raised her rent from $1,100 to $1,600 a month.  As resident renters struggle to stay in their apartment, the risk of homelessness grows. Not surprising, research conducted by Zillow last year predicts that rising rents will see an increase in homelessness in urban areas.   For example, a  5 percent increase in Los Angeles rents would lead to roughly 2,000 additional people experiencing homelessness. Zillow Rising rents and Homelessness

What can residents and local politicians and policy makers do to stop the bleeding of our local low and moderate income seniors, workers and residents?

El Cerrito Human Relations Commission speaks out on El Cerrito Housing Crisis

At their September meeting, members of the Commission listened to testimony from residents about the perils of rent increases,  including a story from one of their own Commissioner’s, Makalia Aga.   Commission members agreed that housing as a basic right is under the purview of the Commission, as is a call to action to prevent our community from being an elite city, affordable only to those with high incomes.  Commission members will be voting on an action to take a resolution for a rent/eviction freeze to the El Cerrito City Council.

Time is Running Out for Renters.  As our City Council and other cities seek to develop their commercial area, housing stock and ultimately the health of their city budget, demographic changes are inevitable.  According to the Urban Displacement Project (UDP),  research on gentrification and displacement bears out the importance of not only increasing production of subsidized and market-rate housing in California’s coastal communities, but also investing in the preservation of housing affordability and stabilizing vulnerable communities.Download the Research Brief here.

Stephen Barton (El Cerrito resident) and Eli Moore recently prepared a report for the Haas Institute, making the case that relief for renters must happen now, and that rent control and just cause eviction although not the only solution, is part of the five pillars to ensure that a city like El Cerrito maintain it’s economically diverse population. Read the full report here:  The PDF _Rent Control- Opening the Door    45 minuteVideo Presentation

Do you want to be more involved in creating protection measures for tenants in our city? Please contact us at:  elcerritoprogressives@gmail.com

VOTE YES ON 10!

 

 

 

Local residents ready to SHOW UP!

El Cerrito Shows UP

Thursday, August 9th from 6-7PM

El Cerrito Plaza (San Pablo Ave)

As President Trump now introduces a new plan to target legal immigrants for deportation, the public continues to push back on his divisive rhetoric.  Locally, a diversity of neighbors will gather to make community in face of the the nationalists immigration policies.  Join your neighbors and find strength in numbers. Voice your outrage and our support. Stand up for human rights. Be a global citizen, be a local voice.

@MaryMartinDeShaw-0029-L

For more information about the attempt to target legal immigrants, see this article:

Trump Targets Legal Immigrants

El Cerrito Shows UP

@MaryMartinDeShaw-0063-X3Join your neighbors and friends on Thursday, August 9th from 6-7 p.m. at the San Pablo Entrance to the El Cerrito Plaza – Demand Justice for Families!

Last week dozens of community residents gathered at a busy intersection to amplify the voices of those who are locked away in detention facilities across the country – many separated from their children.  Although the national media stations have reduced their coverage of the atrocious “family separation” policy, there are still over 700 children separated and isolated from family. Please stand up for these children.  Watch the live feed from the DeSaulnier Town Hall. He describes his own experience in Brownsville, Texas where he met with many of those families experiencing  grief and trauma as a result of current administration policies.  https://www.facebook.com/RepMarkDeSaulnier/videos/911060299105067/

See you on Thursday, August 9th.  Bring a sign – we are a human billboard!