Interview with Gaby Hernandez of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition
Blanca Ramirez: Please introduce us to the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC).
Gaby Hernandez: LBIRC was founded back in 2006, right after the May Day March in Los Angeles. We are [in] the second-largest city in LA County. Our mission is to abolish oppressive systems that continue to cause harm to our communities. We are working on anti-deportation defense work to stop deportations of our community members. We know that each deportation has a ripple effect on an entire community. We are also engaged in local policies —one of them being the People’s Budget campaign— which we embarked on five years ago to influence the city budget. More than 40% of the general budget goes to the local police department and our local health department [receives] less than 2% of the general budget. We have also been fighting for the Long Beach Justice Fund, which provides representation to immigrant folks. It has changed the city budget process and we were able to double the amount that was allocated to that fund. It started as a $250,000 fund and now it is a $600,000 fund. We are also engaged in building leadership within the community. We provide political education so people will understand the root causes of the issues and then ultimately get the tools they need to organize. There is so much more, but this gives you a glimpse of LBIRC and what we stand for.
Blanca: How did you all become involved with the refugee migration of children that were being brought to Long Beach?
Gaby: When the Emergency Intake Site opened in Long Beach (at the Long Beach Convention Center Emergency Intake Site), we immediately were interested in getting engaged. A coalition of organizations throughout the state (also national organizations) came together to help us fight for the closure of the facility. There was a lot of lack of transparency from our local elected officials when it came to getting information about what was going on in there. So, we were able to partner up with an organization called Disability Rights California, who we collaborated with to be able to go into the site and monitor it. We focused on pushing for this site to not to be used as a model for other facilities. Children were expected to be there for seven days, and most kids were there for way longer than that. Even the children themselves do not consider that facility a model, so no one else should be naming that as a model facility.
Blanca: And from working on these issues, what were some of the lessons on integrating new migration refugee flows, especially when it comes to children?
Gaby: The federal government’s solution to families arriving at the border was to create these emergency intake sites to process children while expelling the rest of their families under Title 42 Many people labeled these sites as better conditioned. No doubt that it is better because kids and families are not with CBP (Customs and Border Patrol). But also transferring folks to a big scale facility, especially children when they are not going to be with their families, is also alarming, dangerous, and not a good thing for children.
So, I think for us we know these policies are not benefiting our community but rather harming it. We wanted to make sure that we highlighted those things, and that we push for this not to be labeled a model. We know migration patterns exist. We know that communities are coming here because they are being forced out of their own countries. This is a deeper conversation. We need to dig into the roots to be able to get to the bottom of it. Otherwise, we are going to continue to say it is a crisis we did not expect . So, this will happen, and it will continue to happen unless we have a plan in place, and it is not going to happen overnight.
Blanca: What can individuals or organizations who have not been involved do to support current immigrants?
Gaby: It is important for all of us to be engaged in one way or another. It is just a matter of finding your home, where you feel like you can invest your time and organize with that community. I encourage everyone to get educated because we hear a lot of misconceptions. People do not understand why people are leaving and migrating . There is a lack of knowledge as to why folks are leaving their home countries, and the reality that most people do not want to leave but they must to survive.. Getting rid of the idea that if more people come, there will be fewer resources, I think is also one of the big things we must continue to work on.
Blanca: How do you see LBIRC’s immigrant justice work as linked to broader racial justice efforts?
Gaby: Yes, I think of our work as intersectional. We are all connected, and we see black liberation as our liberation. We have been intentional about our partnerships and so locally, as with the People’s Budget campaign, we are working with the local BLM chapter We are pushing for this change in the local budget and uplifting Black voices, given that we know that if we do that right, then, that leads to the liberation of all of us. Black voices are leading the way. So, for us, it has been important to talk about that and in being intentional of our initiatives with Black-led organizations.
I think a lot of what we have done along with that has been a lot of education. There is a lot of anti-Blackness that exists within the non-Black Latinx community. Sometimes we just think that it is about learning, but we also have to unlearn a lot of things that we have been taught, in our families, in our schools, and the systems that operate. It is a lot of unlearning that needs to happen and a lot of intentionality that also needs to be taking place when it comes to connecting with Black folks and Black-led organizations.
Gaby Hernandez (she/her) serves as the Executive Director for the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition. Gaby was born and lived in Mexico City until she was twelve years old and moved to Oceanside, CA where she grew up before moving to Long Beach five years ago. Her life experiences as an undocumented woman have fueled her passion and commitment for social justice and immigrant rights. She’s an abolitionist who believes in the importance of people power and grassroots organizing in order to make real systemic change. Gaby received her Master of Arts in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with a minor in International Studies from California State University, Long Beach. Gaby has a dog named Fuego who she adores.
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