Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

Identification: Immigrant support organization

Date: Founded in 1986

Location: Los Angeles, California Also known as: CHIRLA

Significance: Since its creation, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) has worked as an immigrant advocacy group with Southern California’s Los Angeles County. The group provides job-skills training, union organizing, voter registration, and research to challenge anti-immigrant stereotypes. A DVD it produced, Know Your Rights!, has become a popular tool among members of immigrant communities.

As the center of a vibrant culture, sprawling LosAngeles County boasts a history full of ethnic diversity drawn from immigrants all over the world. These immigrants and their families have historically faced housing, job, and wage discrimination, and inability to communicate fluently in English has inhibited the ability of many immigrants to assert their rights. CHIRLA was founded to bridge the gap between immigrants and those employing them. Its purpose is to advocate fair wages, increased employment and education opportunities, and the end of negative immigrant stereotypes.

CHIRLA was built on the collaboration of several immigrant-rights lobbying and law groups. These included the Central American Resource Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Although CHIRLA has represented members of all immigrant communities in Los Angeles, it has been especially outspoken on behalf of the large numbers of Latin American immigrants, and it maintains aWeb site in Spanish and English.

CHIRLA Programs

Through the implementation of what it calls its California Dream Network, CHIRLA worked alongside other organizations on a movement to pass legislation for undocumented students to pay resident-student tuition rates in California public colleges and universities. Under the title of Proposition AB540, this legislation became law on October 11, 2001. CHIRLA also created a group for student activists, called the Wise Up! program, that cultivates youth leadership for outreach, lobbying, and demonstrations. The membership of Wise Up! was made up primarily of students who, for various reasons, were classified as undocumented even though they had been residents of California since infancy. Trained and organized by CHIRLA, these students worked diligently to promote their eligibility to declare legal residency on college applications.

In 2001, California governor Gray Davis signed AB540 into law, allowing thousands of students access to affordable college education. CHIRLA also worked alongside the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in 2007 to create an online manual, Living in the United States: A Guide for Immigrant Youth, that serves as a guidebook for adolescent immigrants. This manual answers questions about deportation, voting rights, obtaining green cards, naturalizing, obtaining Social Security cards, and other topics.

CHIRLA has also represented female domestic workers across Los Angeles. Its Household Workers program was created out of the need to protect domestic workers fromwage theft and exploitation by employers and employment agencies. To promote this effort, CHIRLA hired a bus and distributed five thousand copies of a specially created Spanish-language comic book, Super Doméstica en: El Caso de las Trabajadoras Explotadas (Super Doméstica in the house of the exploited workers) to women making their way to domestic jobs. The “Super Doméstica” of the book’s title is a caped superhero who shows immigrant domestic workers how to obtain their rights.

CHIRLA maintains that domestic workers are an intimate and valued part of American family life and, as such, should be protected with full rights under the law. The Household Workers program often holds rallies to promote public awareness of domestic workers’ rights.

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act called for the cooperation of state and local law enforcement with federal authorities in the capture of illegal immigrants. CHIRLA has worked with other groups to help protect immigrants from unlawful arrest. To that end, it created a video and fact sheet to help prevent fraudulent seizures in the Los Angeles area. The video, Know Your Rights!, depicts a dramatized raid on a factory in which Latinos are working, as well as a scene where a police officer pulls an Asian driver over and impounds her vehicle. In another scene, officers of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) surprise a Latino couple in their home. The video serves to underline how people should behave when they are taken into custody and how they should avoid providing information that might be used against them. CHIRLA’s fact sheet on 287(g) further details the mistakes made by police and ICE officials who have deported people with mental disabilities and those who have been citizens.

Criticisms of CHIRLA

CHIRLA has been criticized by anti-immigration groups for its creation and maintenance of a support program for day laborers in Los Angeles. Through this program, CHIRLA has encouraged members of the community to come together by inviting citizens, police, business leaders, and day laborers to discuss their issues openly. CHIRLA’s program has worked to fight stereotypes of day laborers, who have developed a poor image from congregating on street corners and parking lots while soliciting day jobs.

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that encourage citizens to report illegal hiring of immigrants maintain that any support for undocumented day laborers is illegal and should be prosecuted. Although CHIRLA defends the right of day laborers to seek work, antiimmigration groups maintain that these people are loiterers and public nuisances. Despite these stereotypes, CHIRLA continues to advocate for day laborers, working with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to promote the protection of civil and labor rights.

Shannon Oxley

Further Reading

  • Buiza, Cynthia, ed. Beyond Myths and Stereotypes: Facts About Immigration and Crime. Los Angeles: CHIRLA, 2008. Pamphlet that debunks stereotypes of immigrants as criminals. 
  • _______. Local Law Enforcement and Immigration: The 287(g) Program in Southern California. Los Angeles: CHIRLA, 2008. Pamphlet underscoring the failures of law enforcement in regard to section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in Southern California. 
  • Garr, Robin. Reinvesting in America: The Grassroots Movements That Are Feeding the Hungry, Housing the Homeless, and Putting Americans Back to Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Longman, 1995. Analysis of community service organizations in the United States that provides background information on CHIRLA. 

See also: Born in East L.A.; Captive Thai workers; El Rescate; Farm and migrant workers; Immigrant aid organizations; Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; Labor unions; Los Angeles; Proposition 187.

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