As youth organizers rooted in working class and low-income communities of color, we are well acquainted with the pain that is felt when loved ones are lost to violence. Our hearts and solidarity are with the community members of Parkland, FL. We are also excited and inspired by the young people from Marjory Stoneman High School who have chosen to channel their grief and anger into a fight for change. Many of us became activists in direct response to injustices perpetrated against us, our families, and our communities. We too are dissatisfied with the status quo we inherited. We too feel the call to change this society we live in.
Unfortunately violence in America comes in many shapes and forms. Everyday in our communities we see both individual acts of interpersonal harm as well as state violence enacted by police, courts, immigration agents, and even our schools. Regardless of how it is expressed, one thing we know from personal experience is that violence causes pain. It takes people away from us, whether through death, incarceration, or deportation. It destroys families and it traumatizes young people. As we try to make sense of yet another mass shooting, we invite the rest of the country to join us in analyzing root causes and demanding transformative solutions.
We unite with the Parkland youth who have called on the entire country to move beyond thoughts and prayers and move into meaningful action. And we urge those concerned with making progress to think beyond the narrow debate of gun control vs. gun rights. Yes, we do have a gun problem in this country. There are too many of them and they are way too easy to access. We also have a systemic racism problem in this country. Historically, in the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the one in Parkland, the result has been laws that subject us – youth of color- to even more violence. Bringing more police into our schools, putting guns into the hands of our teachers, creating more reasons to lock up black and brown people, these are false solutions that increase the level of harm experienced in our day to day lives. If we truly want to make our society safe for everyone, we need solutions that address systemic injustice, invest in our communities, and rebuild social institutions that center human connection and supportive relationships.
This is why we are calling on policy makers at all levels of government to do the following:
- INCREASE INVESTMENTS in social, emotional, and mental health supports for all young people.
- DIVEST from the systems of incarceration and deportation and INVEST in quality public education for all, robust community programs, and universal healthcare.
- DIVEST from school police and absolutely DO NOT put guns into the hands of our teachers or other school staff.
- DO NOT feed the jail system by increasing the penalties for illegal gun possession.
To the activists around the country standing up for tighter gun laws, we wish for our movements to be in solidarity with each other. Therefore we ask the following of you:
- SUPPORT our vision of a safer society that is grounded in expanded democracy, racial justice, and a just economy.
- DO NOT fight for gun control laws that will bring further harm to communities of color.
- STAND WITH US to fight back against right wing control of our politics.
Finally, to the world of philanthropy and motivated individual donors, help us resource the movements we need by doing the following:
- PRIORITIZE GRASSROOTS organizing groups who have a track record of activating youth of color around these issues. We encourage you to support organizations directly and through collective funds such as the Youth For Safety and Justice Fund.
- Make LONG-TERM INVESTMENTS in our organizations so that we can sustainably do the time intensive work of growing and deepening our bases while also forging the broadest progressive alliances possible.
This crisis has opened up an important opportunity for us to unite across race and class to demand safe schools and communities for all people. The forces aligned to prevent meaningful changes to our gun laws are the same ones committed to keeping our communities under resourced and overpoliced. Fortunately for us, we who desire a society based on safety and inclusion outnumber those who would keep us separated and afraid. It is now up to us to build our collective power and win the change we desire, the change we deserve.
Late in the evening on March 13th after hours of community testimony, the Long Beach City Council voted 6-2 (Councilmembers Supernaw and Mungo voting no) to pass the Long Beach Values Act with several accessory motions, including a presentation from city staff on the proposed “carve-outs” or exclusions of certain immigrants from protections against deportations. The city council also voted 5-3 (Councilmembers Price, Supernaw, and Mungo voting no) to approve a city-run Deportation Defense Fund with a funding commitment of $250,000.
Tuesday night’s vote is an important step in the history of Long Beach. Nearly a year after the sanctuary conversation began locally, and on the day Trump visited California for the first time, Long Beach furthered its commitment to including immigrants as part of our collective values. This night was also historic because of the unprecedented community support for prohibiting the entanglement of ICE with the Police Department and other city departments.
These important steps were only possible because Long Beach residents stood united. Public comment on the item was near unanimous and included youth, students, community leaders, legal experts, and many others in solidarity with the Cambodian refugee community to ask for no “carve-outs” of immigrants with past convictions. The community came through once again, as it has at previous city council votes on immigration issues. We expressed our support and commitment to a shared future with everyone at the table, and decision makers heard us loud and clear.
With this important step towards sanctuary for all, we remain undaunted by the challenges that lie ahead. On Tuesday night, the police department demonstrated the influence they have over some city councilmembers and displayed their passionate desire to criminalize and deport some immigrants. Tuesday night also reminded us of the need to continue to dispute the “good immigrant versus bad immigrant” narrative and instead embrace second chances and redemption for everyone. At a time when ICE is escalating the targeting of immigrants through deception and force, we need to stand with all communities rather than perpetuate divisive language.
As a campaign and a community, we are committed to sitting down with the people, city staff (including the Long Beach Police Department), and councilmembers to finish what we started and make sanctuary for all a reality. The question before the city council is: will we have a Values Act that is inclusive of all immigrants or will we continue assisting ICE in terrorizing some of our communities?
Since January 2017, the community involved in the Sanctuary Long Beach campaign has been consistent in advocating for a “sanctuary for all” policy to help prevent the deportation of immigrants. Immigrants are deeply rooted in the history and diversity of the Long Beach community. If our city is to reflect our values and respect what the city council directed on September 19th, 2017, local law enforcement should not be helping to deport any immigrant residents. Despite members of our campaign working with a broad group of city staff including the Long Beach Police Department, the current proposal of the Long Beach Values Act falls short of this shared value.
Under the current staff proposal of the Long Beach Values Act, immigrants are granted protections in that Long Beach agencies are prohibited from sharing immigrants’ personal information with ICE, notifying ICE of release dates, and transfers to ICE. As proposed, these protections would not be given to people with certain past convictions. These exceptions include people whose offenses were decades-old, and people who have long ago served their time and changed their lives. Assisting in their deportation based on the same offense is double-punishment, and undermines the Constitutional guarantee of Due Process.
The impact of this carve-out is inconsistent with our Long Beach values of diversity, progress, and inclusion as it disproportionately excludes the majority of the Cambodian refugee community, who is highly vulnerable to deportation. We strongly oppose these “carve-outs” due to the devastating impact they will have on the 20,000 members of the Cambodian community in Long Beach, the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia.
Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, Cambodian refugees, including those with green cards, are vulnerable to deportations for past convictions, even misdemeanors. As ICE and the Trump Administration continue to fast-track the deportation of “criminal immigrants,” the Cambodian community nationally has become a major target. According to ICE, 1,900 Cambodians in the United States have deportation orders, with over 1,400 of these related to criminal convictions. This is the direct result of immigration policies that have created a higher standard for immigrants by reclassifying everyday common misdemeanors as aggravated felonies, making it easier to detain and deport Cambodians and other immigrant communities. The U.S. immigration system has created an uneven playing field that Long Beach should not perpetuate.
We also know that deportations do not only affect those deported. Someone may have a conviction from long ago, and now be a contributing member of society and provider for their family. We saw this exact situation two years ago when CSULB Police helped deport Jose Alvarez due to a drug charge from 1995, leaving his six U.S.-born children without their father. Immigrants are parents and children, neighbors and workers, and every deportation sends waves of fear and suffering through our community as families are split apart.
We denounce this demonizing mischaracterization of immigrants who have a past conviction in the name of public safety. We believe in transformation and that no one should be separated from their family, and deported to a place they hardly know. It’s time for Long Beach to be on the right side of history by passing a strong policy that fills the gaps in SB 54 and gets our local government fully out out of the deportation business.
We call on the Long Beach City Council to pass a “clean” Long Beach Values Act with no “carve-outs” for past convictions and a fully-funded Deportation Defense Fund. No amount of political intimidation will deter us or silence our unwavering commitment to defend our values that make us proud to call Long Beach home.
KGA is excited to bring on 2 new staff members: Sheila Sy, Economic Justice Director, and former volunteer and intern- now Young Men’s Empowerment Program coordinator, Johnny Rodriguez!
Sheila (pronounced Shilla) is a daughter of Long Beach’s Cambodian community. Her commitment to building power in low-income communities of color led Sheila to direct the Khmer Outreach Retention and Education (KORE) program at UCLA, attain a master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA, engage in research on regional equity, support capacity building of homeless service agencies, and serve South Central LA through facilitating community control of land and housing before returning to Long Beach to serve at KGA. Her philosophy on economic justice can be summarized by this quote from (old) Kanye West: “Having money’s not everything, not having it is”. As Economic Justice Director, Sheila supports fundraising, as well as campaigns and programs that achieve economic empowerment. She envisions a future where all young people have access to opportunity and a cooperative economy that meets the needs of people of color and that facilitates investment in one’s self, community, and future.
Johnny is a third-generation Chicano/Mexican-American. His family’s ancestry traces back to Texas long before it became part of the United States. During a large wave of migration, his family moved to California to work in the agricultural industry as farm workers. Johnny has long history of community organizing, from organizing the LGBTQ community in the San Francisco/Daly City area to indigenous people’s struggles in California and the Philippines. He first came to Khmer Girls in Action as a volunteer in 2012 where he helped develop the Young Men’s Empowerment Program (YMEP), which created a much-needed space for young Southeast Asian men to participate in movement building and in 2017 he returned as the program coordinator. During his time with KGA he has participated in statewide efforts to increase opportunities for boys and men of color. Johnny is currently working towards a Master’s in Social Work at CSULB with an emphasis on children, adolescence and gender issues and is looking forward to continuing to build the leadership of young people, so they can create positive change in their communities.
2017 was a big year for KGA! From celebrating our 20th anniversary and collecting surveys to inform our newest campaign on budget equity to continuing the fight to Keep Families Together! Read our annual newsletter: Leading with Love: 20 Years and Beyond!
From our Members, Staff and Board we wish you love, light and courage to fight for justice in this new year!
A sustainable and equitable future for all means investing in youth today! We are surveying Long Beach residents and youth on what programs ad services are most needed for our communities to thrive!
The data that we collect will help shape our Invest in Youth Campaign on equitable budgeting. Together we can ensure that Long Beach city leaders prioritize investing in young people and stand by a budget that empowers, supports and heals- not harms- our community!
KGA is excited to announce that we are looking to hire two full-time staff onto our team:
Please share this announcement with your network of qualified candidates who are ready to lead and are committed to work towards a safe, healthy, and just world for all!
KGA is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women, people who identify as lesbian/gay/bisexual/queer/transgender and people with disabilities are highly encouraged to apply.
Khmer Girls in Action is gearing up for another exciting year of organizing and community building! We are now accepting applications for our Young Women’s Empowerment Program (YWEP) for the 2017- 2018 school year!
If you are a Khmer/ Southeast Asian sophomore or freshman who wants to make this school year fun, productive and memorable while building meaningful relationships then apply today! Complete your application online or turn it in to a KGA youth organizer or staff by Friday, September 15th!
Khmer Girls in Action is gearing up for another exciting year of organizing and community building! We are now accepting applications for our Young Women’s Empowerment Program (YWEP) and Young Men’s Empowerment Program (YMEP)!
If you are a Khmer/ Southeast Asian sophomore or freshman who wants to make this school year fun, productive and memorable while building meaningful relationships then apply today! Complete your application online or turn it in to a KGA youth organizer or staff by Friday, September 18th!
Applications for the 2015-2016 year are now closed. If you wish to apply for the 2016-2017, please visit this page: http://kgalb.org/2016/08/applications-for-ywep-ymep-2016-2017-open-apply-today/
KGA is now accepting applications to this Summer’s Summer Organizing Institute (SOI), Youth Organizing Long Beach (YOLB) and Khmer Justice Program (KJP)! You must be a KGA member to apply. All applications are due on or before our End of the Year BBQ on Saturday, June 13, 2015.