LA County’s Immigrant Services ‘From the Womb to the Tomb’

by | Dec 23, 2020 | COVID-19, Immigrant Rights

Clockwise from top left: Rigo Reyes, Executive Director, LA County Office of Immigrant Affairs; Manuel Ruiz, Senior Policy Analyst, LA County Department of Consumer & Business Affairs; Daniel Sharp, Chief, LA County Office of Immigrant Affairs; Anna Gorman. Director of Community Partnerships & Programs, LA County Department of Health Services

By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

Los Angeles County officials from the Office of Immigrant Affairs, Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and Department of Health Services met ethnic media on Monday, Dec. 21, to discuss ways the county is looking out for its immigrant population — the largest in the U.S., with 35% of its 10 million people.

The immigrant community “is vital to the county’s economy, culture and way of life,” said Rigoberto Reyes, OIA’s executive director. “Think of OIA as a door into the county,” he said. “We have 39 departments that provide services from the womb to the tomb!”

Reyes also stressed that immigrants have become targets for fraudsters trying to take advantage of people who are “wary
of interacting with officials, especially given recent changes in “public charge” and TPS (temporary protected status) rules and DACA.75

Reyes warned of “the harm that people who pretend to be attorneys, pretend that they know” can do to this community, not only by charging exorbitant fees, but by providing incorrect or ineffective advice that can help pave the way to deportations.

There are fewer than a thousand people licensed to work as “legal consultants” in California, he explained, but these are not attorneys, and can only provide forms and translation services. Only state-licensed attorneys, not legal consultants, can provide reliable legal help, he emphasized.

If you have just one bar left” in your cell phone, Rigo said, “use it to call us and get the right help.” That number is (800) 593-8222. OIA can also be reached at The Office of Immigrant Affairs can also be contacted through its website: oia.lacounty.gov.

Manuel Ruiz, senior policy analyst at the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, described how its
StayHousedLA program (stayhousedla.org, (888) 694-0040), offers free legal help for immigrants facing eviction.

People who live in Los Angeles County and fall within StayHousedLA’s income guidelines — $90,100 or less per year for a family of four, $63,100 or less for an individual – qualify for limited legal representation, document preparation and out-of-court negotiation and dispute resolution help. For those whose income is at or below 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI) — $56,300 for a family of four, $39,450 for individuals — the county can offer “full-scope” legal representation.

The department will also step in to defend tenants against harassment or retaliation and has 20 partner organizations providing legal services for people facing rent increases, lockouts, issues with Section 8 or other subsidized housing and more, Ruiz said. The program also provides short-term rent payment help — up to three months or $7,500 — that can also be spent on utilities, moving costs or security deposits.

“Please don’t feel afraid, we’re here to help,” Ruiz said, adding that “immigration status is not an issue.”

Ruiz added that Los Angeles County’s eviction moratorium adopted to protect tenants in the pandemic applies to commercial properties too, beyond what state and federal measures do.

Besides StayHomeLA, he said, the department offers a series of know-your-rights workshops, and information for property owners. Call (833) 223-7368, write to rent@lacounty.gov or visit the multilingual website rent.lacounty.gov for more, Ruiz said.

Staying housed is a key element of staying healthy, a non-medical condition that directly impacts people’s health, Anna Gorman, director of community partnerships and programs at the Department of Health Services, said.

DHS has developed a partnership program between health care and legal professionals to prevent health problems by addressing legal issues — for instance, mold in rental units, utility cutoffs, or the denial of social security, cash aid or food stamp benefits.
The MyHealthLA program (dhs.lacounty.gov/mhla) can help obtain medications and other health care needs no matter the applicant’s immigration status.

Maintaining the social safety net, she said, “is more important now than ever.”

Gorman cited the example of a formerly incarcerated person who needed a medical procedure but had struggled to reinstate MediCal, which is denied people behind bars.
“It was a mess,” she said, but the county was able to get the situation resolved.

Daniel Sharp, chief of the county’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, summarized recent positive developments related to DACA, TPS and “public charge” rules.

DACA applications are now being accepted under the terms of the original rules established in 2012, and previous authorizations have been extended another year. Sharp “absolutely” recommended that people file new applications promptly. For more information on DACA, he referred to the county website https://oia.lacounty.gov/DACA/.

As for the public charge rule change adopted by the Trump Administration, Sharp noted that “it is blocked and may never take effect. The Biden campaign committed in writing to dispense with it within the first 100 days of the administration, and has the authority to do so.” Noting the confusion surrounding the rule changes, he urged people seeking information to go to the DHS website https://oia.lacounty.gov/publiccharge/.

As for the 30,000 Angelenos who benefit from Temporary Protected Status due to turmoil in their countries of origin, he said, TPS has been extended into October 2021 for El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan and, here again, the Biden administration has both the authority and stated intent to extend TPS further.

Mark Hedin

Mark Hedin

Reporter

Mark Hedin is a reporter for Ethnic Media Services. He has previously written for the Oakland Tribune, the Central City Extra, the San Francisco Chronicle, El Mensajero, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers.

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