Ac­tivists file com­plaints in meet­ing flap

Illegal-immigration foes say law­maker barred them from his round­table meet­ing open to the public.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Pa­trick McGreevy Pa­trick.mcgreevy@ latimes.com Twit­ter: @mc­greevy99

SACRA­MENTO — Mem­bers of a group that op­poses public ben­e­fits for im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally have filed com­plaints with the state al­leg­ing that a law­maker vi­o­lated their civil rights by ex­clud­ing them from a public meet­ing on the is­sue.

The state Depart­ment of Fair Em­ploy­ment and Hous­ing is look­ing into com­plaints by four ac­tivists al­leg­ing that they were im­prop­erly ex­cluded from a re­cent meet­ing in South Gate to which the public had been in­vited by state Sen. Ri­cardo Lara (D-Bell Gar­dens).

The event at South Gate Park Au­di­to­rium was de­scribed by Lara’s of­fice as a “com­mu­nity round­table” on immigration, co-spon­sored by UCLA.

The com­plaints come as state law­mak­ers have worked to in­crease public ben­e­fits to im­mi­grants who live in Cal­i­for­nia il­le­gally, in­clud­ing the right to driver’s li­censes, col­lege fi­nan­cial aid and healthcare cov­er­age for those 18 and younger.

“We have four com­plaints against Sen. Ri­cardo Lara,” said Fahizah Alim, a deputy di­rec­tor of the agency. “They are open and un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The ac­tivists ac­cuse Lara of vi­o­lat­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, ac­cord­ing to Alim. The Act pro­hibits cer­tain kinds of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The ac­cu­sa­tions were made by Raul Ro­driguez Jr., Robin Hvid­ston and other mem­bers of a Clare­mont-based group called We The Peo­ple Ris­ing. Ro­driguez said com­plaints had also been filed against the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol, which pro­vides se­cu­rity for law­mak­ers and whose of­fi­cers kept ac­tivists out of the South Gate meet­ing.

Ro­driguez’s com­plaint, like the oth­ers’, al­leges that Lara took “ad­verse ac­tions” against him and de­nied him “full or equal ac­com­mo­da­tions” on the ba­sis of his po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion.

“He vi­o­lated our rights, and I want to hold him ac­count­able,” Ro­driguez, an Ap­ple Val­ley res­i­dent, said in an in­ter­view. Mem­bers of the group said they re­sponded to an RSVP re­quest for the March 27 event in ad­vance.

When 12 mem­bers showed up for the 6 p.m. gath­er­ing, Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers told them they could not at­tend be­cause Lara and his staff feared they would be dis­rup­tive, ac­cord­ing to a video of the en­counter.

Of­fi­cers or­dered the ac­tivists to move away from the build­ing or face be­ing hand­cuffed, the video, made by a group mem­ber, shows.

Ro­driguez said the group had at­tended other events and had not been dis­rup­tive.

A hun­dred other peo­ple were al­lowed into the event, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Lara’s of­fice.

When a High­way Pa­trol com­mand­ing of­fi­cer showed up an hour and 45 min­utes af­ter the event started, mem­bers of the group were al­lowed in­side for the fi­nal 15 min­utes, Hvid­ston said.

“We were dis­crim­i­nated against,” she said. “We were only let into the event at the end un­der po­lice es­cort and un­der the threat of be­ing re­moved.”

Ro­driguez said some peo­ple in the au­di­ence who were sym­pa­thetic to im­mi­grant ben­e­fits were al­lowed to make com­ments, but his group was not. “We could not ex­er­cise our 1st Amend­ment rights,” he said.

Lara said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day that he was fa­mil­iar with We The Peo­ple Ris­ing, whose mem­bers have “met on sev­eral oc­ca­sions with my staff ... and have had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­press their views.

“They have also at­tended Se­nate events and at times dis­rupted of­fi­cial Se­nate busi­ness,” the sen­a­tor said. “With­out hav­ing re­viewed this al­leged com­plaint, I can­not com­ment on this mat­ter fur­ther.”

A state Jus­tice Depart­ment fact sheet on the Unruh Civil Rights Act says it cov­ers dis­crim­i­na­tion by busi­nesses and other en­ti­ties on grounds in­clud­ing race, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and dis­abil­i­ties but adds: “The Unruh Act also pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics, ge­o­graph­i­cal ori­gin, phys­i­cal at­tributes and in­di­vid­ual be­liefs.”

Mem­bers of We The Peo­ple Ris­ing have been in the news be­fore. Some at­tended heated protests in Mur­ri­eta last year against the trans­fer of Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grant de­tainees from Texas to the city’s Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion.

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