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New Office Will Aid Immigrants

Unit at L.A. City Hall will not directly offer services but will be a clearinghouse for information for residents born abroad.

March 03, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Houston, San Francisco and New York did it first. But on Tuesday, finally, the 42% of Los Angeles residents born in other countries got an office in City Hall to call their own.

Following the lead of cities around the U.S., Mayor James K. Hahn and the Los Angeles City Council created an Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Housed within the mayor's office, the immigrant affairs unit -- with a budget of $125,000 and a translation service equipped to interpret bureaucratese in more than 130 languages -- will serve as a clearinghouse to help immigrants gain access to all that the city provides.

The office will not directly provide services to refugees and other immigrants. Instead, its two staff members will offer information on everything from small-business loans to how to file a police report.

"Recent immigrants frequently need extra help to become integrated into civic life," Hahn said. "What we want to do is connect people to the services."

Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the city Human Relations Commission and a major force behind creating the office, added that many immigrants in Los Angeles are refugees from countries where governments do not always function smoothly or fairly.

This office, he said, will "assure them that democracy does work."

"Look at this city. Look at its strength," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who pushed the proposal through the council. "Los Angeles is a city fueled by immigrants, dreams and visions. Now is the time to dedicate a branch of our city government to welcoming immigrants to our city," the councilman added.

Immigrant-rights advocates joined Hahn and Garcetti at a chilly morning news conference on the steps of City Hall.

"Los Angeles is the Ellis Island of the West Coast," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. "Immigrants are part of every aspect of Los Angeles life. This office seeks to ensure that immigrants ... have a political, economic and social voice in this city."

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