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Giving in LA Giving in L.A. is a go-to source, an aggregator for strategies and points of view about trends and issues in giving, challenges for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations, tools and techniques for individuals or families, insights and opinions from experts, and more – all centered on Los Angeles County.

June 30, 2015 ~ 1 Comment

Time to End Unlawful and Discriminatory Citizenship Practices

Neda Behmanesh receives her citizenship after four years of delay.

Neda Behmanesh received her citizenship in December 2014, after four years of delays.

By Katie Traverso

Neda Behmanesh lived peacefully in Los Angeles for 21 years before applying for U.S. citizenship in 2010. She married a U.S. citizen, had a U.S. citizen child and for all intents and purposes was an American. Even though she satisfied all the criteria for naturalization, immigration officials denied her application under a covert program that has barred thousands of Arab, Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian (AMEMSA) U.S. residents from upgrading their immigration status or becoming U.S. citizens, ostensibly for “national security” reasons.

Each year, immigration officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) secretly subject applicants like Neda to a policy known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP). The program violates immigration law, and is unconstitutional because it was adopted without any congressional approval and violates the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.

While the program is designed to ensure that immigration benefits are denied to individuals who pose a threat to national security, it relies on deeply flawed criteria to identify national security concerns.

Individuals from AMEMSA countries are disproportionally affected because the flawed program directs immigration agents to rely on inherently discriminatory criteria to identify someone as a national security risk. Travel or prior residence in an area of “known terrorist activity” can flag someone as a security risk. This means that trips to the Middle East to visit relatives or merely being born in certain countries can prevent someone from becoming a citizen. Questioning by USCIS about lawful Islamic religious activities is not uncommon. And USCIS routinely denies citizenship to individuals for failure to disclose “associations” with mosques or donations to Muslim charities.

CARRP also applies to everyone on the notoriously error-ridden Terrorist Watch List. And it flags anyone whose name appears in an FBI file relating to certain types of national security investigations.

As a result, individuals like Neda who have called the United States home for years, lack any criminal history and pose no security threat whatsoever are subjected to CARRP. Worse, USCIS has worked to keep the program a secret, preventing applicants and their lawyers from learning the reason for the delay or denial of the application and addressing any alleged national security concerns.

To Neda, becoming a citizen symbolized the belonging and loyalty she feels towards the United States. It also meant peace of mind in knowing that she belonged to the same country as her U.S.-born son, who recently graduated from UCLA. And it gave her the opportunity to participate in American democracy and give back to a country that she feels has given her and her son so much.

Neda was able to overcome the discriminatory barrier imposed by CARRP only after the ACLU of Southern California intervened and filed suit on her behalf. Shortly after filing suit, USCIS changed course and granted her application. Four years after first applying for citizenship, Neda became a citizen in December 2014.

Thousands more like Neda deserve to be recognized as the American citizens they already feel they are. It is time to change USCIS’ discriminatory practices and end its unlawful CARRP program.


Katie Traverso is a law fellow at the ACLU of Southern California.

June 25, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Upholding Accessible and Affordable Health Care

Orhtopaedic-Institute-for-CHildren-Dr2By Rose Veniegas

This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that will ensure that millions of Americans continue to have access to affordable healthcare. The ruling in King v. Burwell upholds the federal Affordable Care Act subsidies that allow low-income residents in states that have not set up health insurance exchanges to obtain insurance for themselves and their families.

California led the nation in implementing the Affordable Care Act and providing insurance as many of its residents as possible. Our state’s exchange, called Covered California, has enrolled close to three million people in public and private insurance since its launch in 2012. Although the ruling does not have a direct impact on Covered California, it secures the promise of coverage for many uninsured and low-income Americans who might not otherwise be able to afford health insurance in 37 states.

In 2013 the California Community Foundation supported early efforts to increase outreach and education to communities that might be hesitant to seek coverage and also made $400,000 in grants in LA County to increase awareness about the Affordable Care Act among those who were uninsured. Since then the foundation has made grants to community clinics, hospitals and community-based organizations working in coordination to enhance the quality of health services used by those who gained access to health coverage.

CCF will continue to invest in communities where health access, quality and affordability remain challenging. Today, we celebrate with the millions of people who benefit from subsidized health care throughout the United States.

Rose Veniegas is the program officer for health care at the California Community Foundation.

May 25, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Ending the Education Drought in California

2015-05-27-1432740952-9045817-graduation-thumbBy John E. Kobara

‘Tis the season when tassels are turned, mortarboards fly and newly minted graduates receive their hard-earned diplomas. About 3.7 million students will graduate with college degrees in this country. More people are engaged in higher education than ever before. The educational pipeline is brimming with students who seek to learn more and pursue their dreams.

It’s a good story, but not the whole story.

A majority of students will end up with debt instead of degrees. In many cases, they will be worse off than when they started, financially and educationally.

In California, we’re talking a lot about the water drought. But we have another kind of drought that’s been plaguing our state. Our “educational aqueduct” is also running on empty and is an inadequate resource.

We are enduring the consequences of a graduation drought. An enormous river of incredible, diverse talent enters one end of the pipeline and barely a trickle emerges from the other end. And if you factor in income, race and ethnicity, we are talking virtually undetectable drips.

This is not a blamethrower piece on teachers, unions, state funding, parenting or even higher education. Everyone is a culprit because we allowed our system to get to this point. All of us have a real stake in this pipeline and yet we are asleep at the valve.

We simply don’t graduate enough talent. And even for those who do get a degree, many of them are burdened by debt that will crush their ability to fully participate in the economy, buy a house, have a family and ultimately become greater tax-paying contributors to society. When student debt surpassed credit debt in this country, we hardly noticed.

You may be one of those people who says college is not for everyone and we don’t need so many college graduates. You are denying the facts. A college degree generates more income in a lifetime. But it also generates more than that: a healthier life style, better parents, greater civic engagement, the list goes on. College grads earn a better livelihood and they earn a better life! Not only that, but we need an educated workforce to grow our economy, our competitiveness on the global stage and, dare I say, our democracy.

Most public and many private universities are failing to graduate low-income students. And don’t get me started on our “super elite” colleges that limit federal Pell Grant-eligible students to less than 25 percent of their student bodies.

So what do we do about the graduation crisis?

In Los Angeles, we teamed up with the College Futures Foundation to form the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund (LASIF), a consortium of 32 nonprofit organizations focused on graduation rates. We have abandoned the one-time scholarships, helping people get into college and wishing them well. This was like christening a boat without giving it navigation or a map. Low-income students in particular are faced with so many daunting challenges: financial, cultural and of course academic. Giving them just an access-based scholarship without support is more dangerous than doing nothing at all.

LASIF focuses on the things that work to help students — particularly low-income students — graduate. Here is what we’ve learned:

  • First and foremost, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is free and yet applicants are consistently low across the nation, leaving billions of dollars on the table. In California, only 43.5 percent of students completed their FAFSA in the 2014-15 school year. One hundred percent of LASIF scholars are required to apply for aid and take advantage of all financial resources available to them.
  • Find a school that best suits the student. This seems like a no-brainer, but many students are matched with schools that have abysmal graduation rates. They are matched with schools that don’t provide support for students, especially diverse students.
  • Go beyond academics to develop emotional capital. LASIF partner Project GRAD Los Angeles is one organization that advises students one-on-one from the first day of high school all the way through college. Their model combines academic enrichment with counseling to develop social and emotional competencies that help students handle stress, focus their attention, set goals, and make sound decisions.
  • Deploy mentorship from application to graduation. The Fulfillment Fund, another partner, develops deep mentoring relationships and experiential learning opportunities to help students access and complete college.
  • Engage with parents early and often. College success does not start in college, and can often be enhanced with family support. Our partner Bright Prospect engages parents, in addition to students, in college readiness to ensure this mentality is cultivated both at school and at home.

We are measuring and sharing everything we learn. One thing we are finding is the cost of most of these interventions is very low, making them highly efficient. Today, LASIF scholars have an average graduation rate of approximately 82 percent. While we have a lot to learn and ways to go, we’re more emboldened in our efforts to address the graduation crisis here in Los Angeles. We know we are doing something right when national funders like the Kresge Foundation are investing in LASIF.

If we can support the tremendous flow of talent that is coursing through the pipelines of the educational system — and expand those pipelines so that the graduation rates are more equitable and fruitful for our state — then we may be able to end this education drought.

John E. Kobara is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the California Community Foundation