Advancing Justice, Building Community: Inside the Fight for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles

According to California Endowment researchers, “unauthorized immigrants represent a larger part (17 percent) of Boyle Heights’ estimated 88,000 residents than they do among all residents of Los Angeles County.”

With large communities such as this one, it could be difficult to stay hopeful with rise of raids and threats from the Trump administration—but the Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles Immigrant Rights Network (BHIRN), a coalition of organizations committed to the education, mobilization and protection of immigrants in Boyle Heights; and Promesa Boyle Heights, a collective of residents, young people, schools and community organizations in the neighborhood, are standing firm in their fight for immigrant justice.

BHIRN launched in February 2017 to protect and inform the rights of thousands of undocumented immigrants residing in the city of Boyle Heights. “We have to learn how to protect ourselves, our doors and our own backs,” says community leader Paola. “We tell each other: if you’re going to go to someone’s house, make sure you tell them you are coming.” 

BHIRN is encouraging community members to have preparedness plans. Among their recommendations are securing emergency contacts, talking to lawyers, storing documents in a consistent location and leaving care statements with family or friends to ensure that children are left in safe hands.

Have a plan to care for your children. Be sure to talk to your family about who is best placed to care for your children if detained or deported, and confirm that this person is available to take care of your children if necessary. 

Make sure your children’s school has information about an alternate person who can pick them up. 

Find out about different care statements based on your child’s needs. If your children do not have high medical or educational needs it is recommended that you have a Letter for Designating a Temporary Caregiver. It is important that the person in charge knows how to make decisions about schools, hospitals, medical appointments, medicines and other activities that the children will be involved in. Make a list of emergency contacts, this list should contain your child’s name, social security number, school address and the name of your child.

Make a file with important documents. Place all important documents including passports, identification cards, birth certificates, bank information and the Letter for Designating a Temporary Caregiver for the school principals.

Consult with a lawyer. Make an appointment to talk to an attorney and ask about different immigration options and other ways to stay in the United States. To verify if the person assisting you with your immigration paperwork is a licensed attorney, please visit the Attorney Search page in the State Bar of California website.

Review the emergency plan with your family. Update the plan each month, assign roles among all and review what to do in case of detention in different places. 

Paola also knows that activism is key in this political landscape. “We have to generate more strategies and mobilizations,” she urged, “connect more, talk with our families, with our community.” Community leader Guadalupe explained that immigrants in the community are already taking action by “making community announcements, going door to door, passing pamphlets [and] going to parent centers at schools.”

The community leaders believe outreach is crucial when it comes to spreading awareness.

With accurate and timely “know your rights” information and legal resources, the community is able to educate and empower community members even in the midst of turbulent times. “We must be prepared, and we must not fear—because we do have rights,” Guadalupe declared. “We must learn those rights and make use of the resources our communities provide. We have to remember to inform our own families and tell them that they are not alone.” 

To help ensure their safety, the names of all undocumented immigrants interviewed for this article have been changed.


Meliss Arteaga studied at California State University Northridge and has a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minor in gender and women studies.