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Suspicious Package Investigation at Crystal City Office Building

Police are investigating a suspicious package at a Crystal City office building.

Initial reports suggest that the package was inside an office on S. Bell Street belonging to the Dept. of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompting an evacuation of that office. A federal immigration court is on a lower floor of the building.

The scene has since been cleared and Arlington County police officers that were standing by outside have left, according to scanner traffic.

A photo posted on social media (below) Tuesday afternoon shows Dept. of Homeland Security police on scene and a number of office workers standing outside.

ICE has attracted considerable controversy recently for its enforcement of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies, with even those tangentially connected to the agency facing political scrutiny.

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Kids, Parents Plan Lemonade Stands Around Arlington to Help Separated Immigrant Families

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be big news that some kids and their parents plan to sell some lemonade around Arlington on a late-July day — but the lemonade stands popping up around the county this weekend come with a bit more of a message than most.

Activists with the group “Lawyer Moms of America” are setting up several stands in Arlington and other locations around Northern Virginia tomorrow (Saturday), as part of a national demonstration dubbed “Kids Take a Stand.” Parents and kids alike plan to use the event to raise money to hasten the reunification of families separated at the Mexican border.

While the Trump administration has managed to reunite roughly 1,400 children, from ages 5 to 17, with their families ahead of a court-imposed deadline, hundreds of other kids remain in government custody without any connection to their parents.

Though public outrage over the Trump administration’s since-reversed family separation policy has died down, Lawyer Moms of America is hoping to use Saturday’s demonstration to re-focus attention on the issue by putting their own kids in the spotlight.

“The women who founded Lawyer Moms of America heard first-hand accounts from lawyers who knew what was happening with these families at the border,” Natalie Roisman, an Arlington resident and member of the group’s national organizing team, wrote in a statement. “The immediate response was, ‘We have to do something.’ The next step was to think about how we – as lawyer moms – could uniquely contribute and do something effective. We have focused on education, advocacy and fundraising, and now we wanted to do something that would allow our kids to be directly involved.”

Roisman says the group will set up one stand at the intersection of N. Harrison Street and 8th Road N. in the Bluemont neighborhood, with another planned for Arlington Forest. She adds that stands will also be set up in the Waynewood area of Alexandria, at the Falls Church Farmers Market and in Reston, and more could pop up by the time Saturday arrives.

All proceeds of the lemonade sales will go to Project Corazon, an effort organized by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation to provide immigrants at the border with legal services.

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UPDATED: County Intervenes in Census Bureau Case, Explores Opioid Lawsuit

Update, July 25 at 4:25 p.m. 

County attorney Steve MacIsaac clarified that the county is intervening on behalf of the Census Bureau in a different case than the one originally described in this article. We regret the error.

Arlington County is weighing filing a lawsuit targeting pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis, and intervening in a separate case as well to protect the Census Bureau’s practice of counting undocumented immigrants in population surveys.

The County Board voted unanimously last Wednesday (July 18) to move ahead with the legal action, after consulting with county lawyers behind closed doors.

The county is retaining the services of some outside lawyers to explore the possibility of joining dozens of other localities in suing drug manufacturers over fallout from the opioid crisis. Arlington recorded a 245 percent spike in patients seeking treatment for addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl from 2015 to 2017, and any lawsuit would seek to secure damages against pharmaceutical companies involved in flooding the market with prescription drugs that can often lead to addiction.

However, the Board would need to approve the specifics of any opioid lawsuit before the county moves forward with legal action.

The county also plans to lend its support to the Commerce Department in an ongoing federal case, after the state of Alabama mounted a legal challenge to the “resident rule.” The state is looking to ban the Census Bureau from counting undocumented residents in any count of an area’s population, as census data is used to determine boundaries of congressional districts and hand out federal money.

Arlington is joining with a variety of other localities to oppose that move, considering that the county has a large undocumented population. Census data show that Arlington had roughly 29,400 non-citizens living in the county through 2016. That was equivalent to roughly 13 percent of the county’s total population, one of the highest margins in the country.

 

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Beyer, Democratic Members of Congress Visit Arlington’s Immigration Court

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and some of his Democratic colleagues believe most children up for a hearing at Arlington’s immigration court are being treated fairly — but they worry that could soon change.

Beyer, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and several other members of Congress sat in for some hearings at the federal immigration court in Crystal City today (Thursday), and broadly came away pleased with what they saw, despite the chaos surrounding the Trump administration’s recent practice of separating children from families at the Mexican border.

Yet Beyer and his fellow Democrats fear what might happen should leadership at the court change. They’ve heard rumors that Jack Weil, a longtime immigration judge at the Department of Justice, could soon start hearing cases in Arlington, and they’re disturbed by his history.

Weil attracted nationwide attention after testifying that he believes children as young as 3 years old can represent themselves in immigration proceedings. Though all of the kids the members of Congress saw Thursday had legal representation, the Democrats expressed disbelief that any judge would decide whether a toddler should be deported without a lawyer present.

“It’s really disturbing, especially because we understand [Weil] is training other judges,” Beyer told reporters. “Look at all the conversations we have about the poor decisions of our 20-year-olds… The thought that even a 12-year-old, 13-year-old can make good decisions in court is silly.”

Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.) noted that many of the cases the congressional delegation observed involved complex asylum applications, underscoring just how complicated an immigration hearing could be even for adults who speak English. She believes it would be “insane” to ask a child to attempt to navigate the process.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) felt Arlington’s courthouse generally represented “the best process possible” for kids seeking asylum. But she added that even this court only had Spanish translation services available, when people coming from somewhere like Guatemala could speak one of the country’s other 22 languages instead.

Beyer said Congress should act to provide funding for lawyers for immigrant children, given that that nonprofits stepping up to help can only provide representation for a small fraction of kids making their way through the system. With President Trump tweeting that immigrants should be deported “with no judges or court cases,” the Democrats said they realized the odds were long, but said it would be worth the effort.

“We can do this if we have the will and compassion to do this,” Hoyer said. “This is America. We believe in due process.”

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Trump May Stop Separating Immigrant Families, But Kaine and Warner Fear What Comes Next

President Trump may have agreed to stop separating families at the Mexican border, but Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-Va.) fear the administration could soon concoct a plan to jail immigrant families indefinitely instead.

At a gathering of local faith leaders and immigrant advocates today (Thursday) at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd), both senators expressed relief that Trump backed down from his policy of breaking up migrant families that attempt to cross the border illegally.

Yet Warner lamented that Trump’s executive order “raises as many questions as it answers,” and the senators are deeply concerned that the White House will now try to convince Congress to pass some sort of compromise legislation on the issue.

Trump’s order yesterday (Wednesday) required families to be detained together until their criminal and immigration proceedings are completed — but a federal court order requires children to be released after 20 days, and Kaine and Warner both worry that Trump could try to push through legislation to supersede that order and remove any limit on detaining families.

“We could see version two, or version three, of this, that will get presented as something that’s not as bad as what came before,” Kaine said. “But I’m not going to agree to something bad just because he’s being cruel.”

Priscilla Martinez, a fourth-generation Mexican American with Loudoun’s All Dulles Area Muslim Society, worried that such an approach by Trump might prove effective.

While she noted that the public may be outraged about the family separation policy now, she’s concerned that people could become “anesthetized” to less extreme versions of it. She drew a parallel to the public reaction to Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries — while the initial executive order prompted mass protests, the administration subsequently proposed less draconian versions of the same policy that gradually drew less attention.

“They could easily put something forward that’s still bad, but people accept it because it’s less awful that what came before,” Martinez said. “I’m concerned it’s so bad right now, people might run out of steam.”

That’s why Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s immigrant advocacy program, urged the senators to not accept that this debate is over simply because Trump has changed the family separation policy. He suggested that they press the administration to allow children to be released to other family members instead of being held in a jail cell, a process he says Trump has worked to make increasingly difficult.

“Kids don’t belong in cages, and that’s the bottom line,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “Whether it’s the same cage as their mother and father or two separate cages… Any solution that results in kids being kept in cages is no solution at all.”

Kaine and Warner agreed to that request, and they’re pledging to visit Virginia’s detention facilities for immigrant children in Bristow and Staunton to inspect their conditions. They do take some hope from reports today that the Border Patrol plans to stop referring migrant parents who cross the border illegally with children for criminal charges, but they say they can’t be sure what the White House will do next.

“This administration has no plan,” Warner said. “As we’ve seen continuously, he zigs and zags on an hourly basis.”

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Family Separations Prompt Action from Local Lawmakers

The issue of children being separated from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border has prompted both words and actions from Arlington’s members of Congress.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) yesterday signed on as a cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act — Democratic-backed legislation that would end the family separation policy that has sparked nationwide and even international outrage.

“Donald Trump’s family separation policy is immoral and Congress must put a stop to it,” said Beyer, in a statement. “Treating legal asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence which endangers their lives, in such a cruel manner is a violation of our country’s values and internationally-accepted agreements on human rights.”

Beyer yesterday also visited two fathers who were separated from their children at the border and being held at a detention center in Maryland. TV cameras were there as Beyer and his wife Megan described a “very emotional, very difficult” discussion with the men.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, requesting an “immediate response” to a number of questions about the family separations, including:

  • Whether any facilities in Virginia are being used to house children separated from their families
  • The rationale for the “zero tolerance” policy that prompts separations
  • The plan for detention infrastructure to hold asylum seekers
  • Resources for separated children, including medical and mental health services
  • Specific information on the conditions for girls and toddlers
  • Plans for facilitating family reunification

Also yesterday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recalled four members of the Virginia National Guard from their service on the U.S. border.

There’s more local fallout from the family separation issue. The Methodist church is considering expelling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a member over his enforcement of the policy and justification of it by citing a Bible verse.

News outlets reported that Sessions is a member of the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, in addition to a Methodist church in his home state of Alabama.

Photo via @RepDonBeyer

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Morning Notes

FBI Renews Search for Hotel Rapist — A cold case is getting hotter as the FBI steps up the search for a man who raped hotel employees in the D.C. area, including in Arlington, between 1998 and 2006. Authorities still don’t know who the suspect is, but in a first for the region, the man’s DNA profile has been indicted for the crime. [FBI, NBC Washington, WTOP]

‘Unaccompanied Minors’ Housed at Local Facility? — “The feds may use a local juvenile detention center to house some of the nearly 2,000 children they’ve separated from their parents at the Mexican border. Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg said she’s expressed ‘strong concerns’ with the board that runs the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, which has a contract to hold as many as 30 unaccompanied minors. The detention center is jointly run by Alexandria and Arlington.” [WUSA 9]

ACPD Helps Kid’s Dream Come True — “After over 900 days in foster care, Cameron’s wish came true when he found his forever family. During last week’s @Capitals visit, we were able to help him with his 2nd wish-touching the #StanleyCup! Today he stopped by to thank Officer Rihl for helping make his dream a reality!” [Twitter]

Local Tech Firm Signs Rosslyn Lease — As expected after being selected for a $60,000 Gazelle grant from Arlington County earlier this year, local tech firm Higher logic has signed a lease and is moving employees into a new 31,000 square foot headquarters space at Waterview Tower (1919 N. Lynn Street) in Rosslyn. The company, which makes community engagement software, acquired four companies last year. The new office offers “floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Potomac River, an open, collaborative environment, and much needed room to expand.” [Washington Business Journal]

Firefighters Help Cool Kids Down — Earlier this week, with sweltering temperatures putting a damper on outdoor activities, an Arlington County fire engine helped Patrick Henry Elementary students cool down during their field day. [Twitter]

ACFD Trains for Water Rescues — The Arlington County Fire Department has a water rescue team, and before yesterday’s rains the team was training in the rapids at Great Falls. [Twitter]

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Alfonso Lopez Says Anonymous Threats Convinced Him to Request Police Presence at Indivisible Meeting

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) says anonymous threats prompted him to request that police monitor a Indivisible Arlington town hall last weekend, and now he’s offering to meet with the pro-immigrant activists who confronted him at that gathering.

The question of who requested the involvement of Arlington County Police at the event, after some LaColectiVA activists asked some tough questions of Lopez on his ties to a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been on the minds of several meeting attendees and even other Democratic lawmakers in the days following the meeting.

The police who manage protection for state lawmakers — the Virginia Division of Capitol Police — told ARLnow last week that Lopez had indeed requested a police presence at the event, and Arlington County Police confirmed that they’d agreed to check in on the meeting, though they’re adamant that they were not actively monitoring it.

Now, in his first public comments since the May 12 meeting at Arlington Central Library, Lopez told ARLnow in a prepared statement that he’s been notifying the Capitol Police about any public event he’s attended since last December. He chalks that up to “unwanted anonymous threats,” echoing claims he made at the meeting that some members of LaColectiVA had crossed a line when protesting his consulting work for the ICE contractor.

“Since the Indivisible Legislators’ Forum was widely publicized on social media my office followed protocol and alerted Colonel Pike’s [the chief of the Capitol Police] office,” Lopez wrote. “I have subsequently learned that an Arlington police officer came to the event before it began. The officer was alerted that his presence was not necessary and he left. In the middle of the Indivisible meeting a second officer arrived. He stated that he was there because he had been contacted by library security because of the noise. He spoke to the crowd briefly. The officer was told this presence was not needed and he also left.”

The arrival of that second officer prompted consternation among the crowd of activists, and a new round of shouting after the meeting had initially quieted down after a tense beginning. Indivisible Arlington has even since apologized for the presence of law enforcement at the event, and LaColectiVA’s leaders wrote in a statement this weekend that the police presence at the event amounts to “the criminalization of people of color.”

Nelson Lopez, a LaColectiVA organizer who attended the meeting, has been adamant that his group has never threatened Lopez in any way, and the group reiterated in its Saturday (May 19) statement that the delegate’s claims are “outright lies.”

LaColectiVA’s activists have been particularly frustrated that they feel like Lopez has ignored their requests to engage with them on the issue — Lopez reported on disclosure forms that the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia,  paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016. He’s repeatedly stressed that he is barred from discussing that consulting work by a nondisclosure agreement.

However, in a letter to LaColectiVA’s leadership that Lopez provided to ARLnow, he points out that he’s met repeatedly with the group to discuss their concerns. He also offered to do so once again, “to discuss your concerns and ways that we can move forward on our areas of mutual interest.”

Yet Nelson Lopez noted that the delegate wants the meeting to be private and only with members of LaColectiVA’s leadership, which he feels would not satisfy the group’s efforts to encourage more public engagement on the issue.

“We have told him that the meeting needs to be public so that he can speak to the whole community, not just us,” he said.

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Alfonso Lopez Requested Police Presence at Indivisible Event, Days Before Protesters Arrived

(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Activists and lawmakers have been demanding to know who called police on protesters at a legislative town hall that descended into chaos last weekend, and now there is at least a partial answer.

ARLnow.com has learned that Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), the target of the pro-immigrant organizers’ ire, requested a police presence prior to the event.

Lopez and several other state lawmakers were attending a forum hosted by Indivisible Arlington at Central Library last Saturday (May 12), when activists with the group LaColectiVA used the gathering as a chance to press Lopez on his past consulting work for a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Though the activists asked some heated questions of Lopez, the event remained on track until Arlington County police officers made their presence known, setting off a shouting match. Attendees accused Lopez of asking for officers to intervene in the event, given LaColectiVA’s previous protests of Lopez’s connections with the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia.

Now, the police who manage protection for state lawmakers — the Virginia Division of Capitol Police — tell ARLnow that Lopez’s office contacted them days in advance of the May 12 meeting to make sure police were on site.

“When a member of the General Assembly raises an issue of possible security concerns in their district, we can and do reach out to the local authorities on their behalf,” Joe Macenka, spokesman for the Capitol Police, wrote in an email. “In this case, Del. Lopez’s office did that. It is up to local law enforcement to respond accordingly.”

Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed that her department heard from the Capitol Police on May 10, two days before the forum was planned, and she said “extra checks were requested for the event.” Savage says library security then called police, though they’d previously been made aware of the forum at Lopez’s request.

Lopez has yet to address the weekend’s events publicly, and an aide to the delegate has not responded to requests for comment.

This news comes as Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy, and even organizers with Indivisible Arlington itself, have pressed for answers on how law enforcement officers became involved in the event. Indivisible leaders offered a public apology on Wednesday (May 16) that police were present, lamenting “the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” as many of the LaColectiVA activists are Latino.

“These kids were just trying to ask some tough questions, and there is nothing wrong with that,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “It is not an acceptable reason to call the police on your constituents.”

Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, says he suspected that police were alerted about the event ahead of time, given how “instantaneously” police arrived.

His group had spent the last few weeks leading up to the event trying to convince Lopez to attend a public meeting about his past work with the ICE contractor scheduled immediately ahead of the Indivisible forum. Nelson Lopez says his fellow activists only decided to head to the Indivisible event the day of, but he also believes the delegate was well aware that LaColectiVA would be organizing around the issue that day.

“We contacted him so many different ways about meeting on this,” Nelson Lopez said. “But he will not address it.”

The delegate reported on state disclosure forms that the ICE contractor paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, but he’s said repeatedly that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing what exactly his work for the group entailed.

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Indivisible Apologizes Over Forum That Devolved into Chaos As Activists Demand Answers

Organizers with the group Indivisible Arlington are apologizing for how they handled a town hall meeting that devolved into a shouting match after pro-immigrant activists asked some tough questions of Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49).

The grassroots group convened a public forum at Arlington’s Central Library last Saturday (May 13) featuring several state lawmakers, but Indivisible organizers felt compelled to call it off earlier than expected, as activists with the group LaColectiVa aggressively pressed Lopez on his past consulting work for a private company that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a new statement today (Wednesday), Indivisible leaders defended the decision to end the meeting, as they felt participants were “unable to maintain a constructive dialogue.” However, they expressed regret about the presence of both library security and county police at the meeting, particularly after an Arlington police officer arrived at the meeting and set off a new round of protests from the LaColectiVA activists.

“We recognize the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” Indivisible organizers wrote. “We did not request the presence of Arlington law enforcement.”

The group is now urging meeting attendees to reach out to Indivisible to discuss “how we can best move forward together.”

Some people who attended the meeting believe Lopez is the one who needs to take the lead on smoothing things over, given the way he handled the situation.

“It’s very disheartening, because he’s not apologizing or discussing what happened there,” Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, told ARLnow. “We just want to have a dialogue about this issue, and he’s consistently refused to do so.”

An aide to the delegate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nelson Lopez and other meeting attendees say they want to know whether or not Del. Lopez had anything to do with police officers heading to the meeting.

People at the gathering say LaColectiVA’s activists weren’t being overly disruptive when they first arrived, with one member of the group asking Lopez about his past work for the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia. Lopez reported on state disclosure forms that the group paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, and LaColectiVA has spent the last few months organizing protests around the issue.

A video of the forum posted on Facebook shows that Lopez and some activists briefly argued — Lopez insisted that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing his past consulting work, and he insisted that work is not part of his “public life” in the General Assembly — but the meeting soon returned to normalcy.

Roughly 15 minutes later, a county police officer entered the room, setting off loud protests from members of LaColectiVA.

“The police were preemptively called, and that was what caused the disturbance in the first place,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “The kids were petrified when the cops got there.”

Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says it was library staff who called the department about the arrival of the LaColectiVA protesters. But Tribbett and Nelson Lopez say they are interested in finding out if anyone asked the library staff to contact authorities, a call echoed by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy on Twitter Wednesday.

Attendees are also urging Del. Alfonso Lopez to address an allegation made by another LaColectiVA organizer, Irma Corrado, who says Lopez threatened her as the meeting broke up.

She says Lopez told her “I know where you work, and my friend is a board member,” which she took as a threat that he’d get her fired. She declined to publicly reveal where she works.

Most of all, Nelson Lopez hopes the delegate takes this whole episode as an example of just how frustrated people are over his refusals to answer questions about his past ties to the ICE contractor.

“We just want to have a town hall, a public forum about this, so he can understand it’s not just some fringe group that has these feelings,” Lopez said. “We’re not trying to get rid of him, we’re trying to have a dialogue.”

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

Golf Course Tax Bill Passes — A bill that would provide a massive tax break to two Arlington country clubs has passed the Virginia General Assembly. The bill, if signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), would cost Arlington $1.5 million or more in tax revenue. [Washington Post]

Military Couple Fights Wife’s Deportation — The wife of a retired Army special forces veteran was to face deportation in an Arlington-based immigration court next week, but the Dept. of Homeland Security is now offering to drop the proceedings. Prior to the reversal, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called said via social media: “Military families should not be targeted like this. It’s unconscionable.” [Military Times, Twitter]

Cherry Blossom Bloom Prediction — The National Park Service expects peak bloom for the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms to take place March 17-20. [PoPville]

Beyer’s GOP Challenger — “The Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D) used a Feb. 28 meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee to introduce himself to the county’s GOP rank-and-file. ‘I look forward to the campaign,’ said Thomas Oh… an Army veteran and currently a contractor in Falls Church.” [InsideNova]

Marymount Joins New Conference — Marymount University in Arlington and five other schools have formed the new Atlantic East Conference within NCAA Division III. [Marymount University, Twitter]

County Seeking Budget Feedback — Arlington County is seeking feedback on its proposed budget. The online survey asks residents to weigh in on various priorities, including county employee raises, economic development, Metro funding, school funding, infrastructure investment and affordable housing. [SurveyMonkey]

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Beyer: ‘We Need To Be Relentless’ on Issues Facing Latino Community

Progressives have to be “relentless and indefatigable” in championing Latino issues, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said today (Monday) during a roundtable discussion with local Latino leaders.

One panelist, whose DACA status is expiring in 300 days, said that the Democratic party had “absolutely failed” to protect undocumented immigrants. Many panelists, however, seemed hopeful that Beyer would continue supporting the community.

Andreas Tobar, the executive director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center and an Arlington resident for the past 38 years, asked for a “glimpse of hope” and a sense of the battles that the community will have to fight before there is some relief, particularly for those facing a loss of temporary protected status.

“It seems like the immigrant community is totally under fire here from the [Trump] administration,” Tobar said.

Another panelist, Jorge Figueredo, the executive director of Edu-Futuro and a native of Colombia, discussed his desire to see the Latino community unite behind issues not just related to immigration, like workforce development.

The congressman told the group that he didn’t “want to create false hopes” that the Trump administration wouldn’t continue with unraveling current immigration protections and that it is “hard to create the center by yourself,” agreeing that a stronger, more united front would help their causes.

Tannia Talento, an Arlington School Board member, told the story of how her family was scared that her uncle had been arrested during immigration raids in the 1980s, and how she had always believed that working hard would open doors for her family and others.

“Even though we can’t push it open now, maybe in a year or two from now, maybe we will,” she said. “I just beg you to not stop trying.”

The overall message from the group was clear, as the panelist whose DACA status would expire in 300 days put it: the Arlington Latino community didn’t want to be seen merely as a voting bloc, but as a collection of voices.

Beyer told ARLnow.com after the discussion that the specific recommendations from local leaders, such as a weekly newsletter from Beyer’s office focused on immigrant stories, could have an impact. However, he found the overall message to be the most pressing point.

“The biggest takeaway for me is that I can’t give up, that too many people’s lives are at stake,” he said. “We need to be relentless and patient and just keeping working.”

“You heard too many people saying, ‘gosh is it ever going to change?'” he continued. “We just have to be relentless and indefatigable.”

The congressman cited several examples of his support for the Latino community, including his co-sponsorship of legislation to protect sensitive locations, such as churches and hospitals, from immigration enforcement efforts, before the diving into the panel discussion.

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Bilingual Culinary School Helps Immigrants Land Restaurant Jobs

At a ceremony in Arlington Thursday evening, ten students graduated from La Cocina, a bilingual culinary school for the unemployed or underemployed.

The culinary job training program holds classes for 12 weeks. The students then complete a four week paid internship at different hotels and restaurants.

The majority of students, 85 percent, graduate with a job at a local restaurant or hotel. Employers of program graduates include Washington’s Sfoglina restaurant, National Harbor’s MGM Casino and supermarket chain Wegmans. La Cocina has a partnership with 30 businesses, which take on program graduates.

Current La Cocina students are all Latino immigrants from across Central and South America. The program is hoping to soon expand its student body to include refugees, military veterans, and non-Latino immigrants.

This graduation marks almost 100 program graduates over 11 graduating classes since its inception in 2014. Patricia Funegra, La Cocina’s founder and CEO, was inspired after volunteering in 2012 at DC Central Kitchen, which trains low-income people for cooking careers.

“I just fell in love with the model and how the program was transforming lives, but at the same time I thought, ‘Oh my god Latinos are already in kitchens and they are not receiving this training,” said Funegra.

The graduates receive three certificates degrees after completing the program —  in culinary arts workforce development from Northern Virginia Community College, in food safety from the National Restaurant Association, and in food allergy prevention.

Students walked into their graduation ceremony at Ballston’s Mount Olivet Methodist Church to Pharrell’s “Happy” before listening to speeches that touched on the importance of hard work and perseverance.

“It wasn’t easy for you to get here,” said Daniela Hurtado, La Cocina’s program manager. “Each of you had a goal, each of you had a vision, and you gave it your best.”

One graduate, Jose Cordova, originally from Peru, shared his experience at La Cocina during the ceremony.

“Standing up every morning and coming here was hard,” he said. “But we [did not] give excuses and we are not to give it now nor ever.”

For Cordova, who will be working at Crystal City’s Hyatt Regency hotel, the classroom became his home and the professors were like family.

Another graduate, Luisa Gil, who was born in Honduras but immigrated to the United States nine months ago, feels very connected to the other students in the program. She told ARLnow.com that she’s excited to start a new challenge as a Sfoglina chef.

“Everyday I have to learn many, many things. I have to be at the same level as my coworkers, improving my skills and learning or discovering new ingredients and techniques,” Gil said.

The ceremony concluded with a reception of American, Mexican and Peruvian food made by the 12th class in the program. Throughout the program, as food is prepared and graded, it is boxed up and donated to shelters and affordable housing units.

“It’s kind of a circle of sustainability using those resources to feed our neighbors in need,” said Funegra.

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Morning Notes

ARLnow’s Eighth Birthday — Today is the eighth anniversary of the founding of ARLnow.com. Here is our first post ever.

Sexual Harassment FOIA Folo — In a follow-up to our FOIA request seeking any records of sexual harassment or assault allegations against senior Arlington officials since 2000 — no such records were found — we asked about any such cases, against any county employee, that were handled by the County Attorney’s office over the past decade. The response from the county’s FOIA officer: “There are no records responsive to your request because no such cases exist.” The last publicly reported case was that against an Arlington police officer in 2007.

Vihstadt Launches Re-election Bid — Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt made it official last night: he is running for re-election. Vihstadt, who is running as an independent, has picked up at least one Democratic challenger so far. However, he again has the backing of a number of prominent Democrats, including fellow Board member Libby Garvey, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and Treasurer Carla de la Pava. [InsideNova]

County Accepts Millions in Grant Funds — “The Arlington County Board today accepted $17.85 million in grant funding from three transportation entities that will be used for transit, bridge renovation and transportation capital projects in the County.” Among the projects is a new west entrance for the Ballston Metro station. [Arlington County]

County Board Accepts Immigration Donation — “The Arlington County Board today accepted a resident’s anonymous donation for a Citizenship Scholarship to help Arlingtonians pay the $725 federal application fee charged to those seeking to become U.S. citizens.” [Arlington County]

Man Convicted of 7-Eleven Robberies — A man arrested last year for a string of robberies has been convicted by a federal jury of three armed robberies and an armed carjacking. Among the crimes were two armed robberies of 7-Eleven stores in Arlington. [Alexandria News]

Arlington Lauded for Solar Program — The U.S. Department of Energy has named Arlington County a “SolSmart” community “for making it faster, easier and more affordable for Arlington homes and businesses to go solar.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

Flickr photo by John Sonderman

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Private Donation Would Help Fund Citizenship Applications

The Arlington County Board will debate accepting an anonymous donation from a resident to help immigrants pay filing fees on citizenship applications.

A private citizen made the $7,000 donation to the county’s Department of Human Services for a scholarship fund that will pay a portion of the costs to file an N-400 form, the Application for Naturalization.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s website, the filing fee is $640, with an extra $85 fee for biometric testing added in some cases for a total of $725.

USCIS waives the fee for applicants whose income is below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and reduces the fee for applicants whose income is between 151 percent and 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

But despite the waivers, county staff said that sometimes people can struggle to pay the reduced fees.

“However, some applicants who qualify for the reduced fee and other applicants who are required to pay the full fee still have difficulty paying for their application,” staff wrote in a report. “As a result, they often delay applying for naturalization even when they are eligible and prepared for their interview.”

Under the proposal, applicants at 151-200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines could receive a $200 scholarship, while those at 201-250 percent could get $360. Applicants’ income will be determined based on adjusted gross income, while they must prove county residency and show they reach USCIS’ English language proficiency guidelines.

Anyone who applies must make an appointment and meet in person for an interview at the Community Outreach Program at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street, Suite 523).

They would be notified within two weeks if they are successful, and would receive a check from DHS made out to USCIS. The applicant would then be responsible for mailing that check and the rest of the filing fee with their application.

Staff recommended the County Board approve the scholarship at its meeting Saturday (January 27).

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