Kern County’s ‘Immigration Justice Collaborative’ aims to educate community on legal rights

January 24, 2018 | 10:06 am


The following “President’s Message” was published in the April 2017 issue of the Res Ipsa Loquitur, a monthly news magazine from the Kern County Bar Association. It was written by Kern County Bar Association president James Yoro, who is also a partner and workers’ compensation attorney at the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The article focuses on immigration policy in the United States, which continues to be a topic of debate today, and highlights a group of local lawyers — including Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys — aiming to educate our community on their rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, separation of powers, and the status of changes in immigration policy. 

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Immigration Justice Collaborative

By James A. Yoro

At my installation dinner in January, I announced that “service” would be the theme for my year as president of the Kern County Bar Association. In my speech, I asked every attorney in our organization to make a commitment to provide voluntary service to our profession and our community.

In February, I attended an event initiated by Judge Robert Tafoya (with the help of the KCBA’s Multicultural Bar Alliance) that brought together members of the Bench and Bar with representatives of multiple local educational programs that promoted responsible citizenship in order to support, develop and encourage a partnership that would benefit our local youth and our profession. I was surprised to see how well attended this event was by both Bench and Bar especially since it was the first time such an event was organized. I felt encouraged that my theme for the year was being taken seriously by so many members of our organization.

Last month in my president’s message for the Res Ipsa Loquitir, I commented about the uplifting example of lawyers around the country volunteering their services to individuals who were harshly affected by the Trump Executive Order on immigration. Little did I know at the time that there was a movement being initiated by a group of local attorneys who are also doing the same thing here in Kern County. They called themselves the Immigration Justice Collaborative. When I found out about their efforts, I contacted Beto Sala who was one of the organizers of this assemblage of lawyers. He immediately welcomed me and my associate’s participation and invited me to attend an upcoming town hall meeting that was being staged at the CSU Bakersfield campus. When I arrived at the event, I was astonished to see a standing room only crowd of more than 300 people packed into the auditorium listening intently to the presentations being given by more than 15 attorneys with diverse law practices all volunteering their time in order to educate a sometimes frightened and confused public. Numerous attorneys stayed well after the event was over in order to respond to the individual questions that many in the audience did not want to ask publicly.

Afterwards, I asked Beto to tell me more about the Immigration Justice Collaborative and here is the information he provided:

“The IJC was created in mid-November 2016 in response to widespread uncertainty regarding the status of non-citizens in the United States. After the election, there were many instances of children being mocked and bullied at school. Children were being told that they and their parents would be deported and that a great wall would be built to keep them out. Many people were told there would be mass raids and deportations. This created an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and racist treatment towards immigrants. In response, a group of lawyers convened to establish the IJC, which is comprised of local attorneys who practice in diverse fields of law, including immigration, civil rights, employment law, criminal defense and family law. All the lawyers are volunteers. The goal of the IJC is to reach out to communities affected by the President’s executive orders to inform them of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the significance of the rule of law, separation of powers, and the status of changes in immigration policy. Each presentation consists of 12 or more lawyers. Thus far, the IJC has been to east Bakersfield, Lamont, Delano and CSUB. The IJC has reached over 1,000 members of the community and is expected to reach thousands more in the near future. The response by the community has been overwhelmingly favorable. There are numerous pending requests from other communities in Kern County to conduct attorney presentations. Recently, the IJC sent a letter to each principal of every school in Kern County, which was signed by 19 lawyers. The letter places the schools on notice of the legal requirements of protecting students against bullying by other students who resort to racially derogatory remarks and attacks. The California Endowment has funded a film documentary of the efforts of the IJC. We have been informed by the producers of the film that the IJC is unprecedented, and consequently they intend to distribute the film nationwide.”

It is my understanding that the IJC will soon have a website and Facebook page that the public can access.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and commend the attorneys involved for their selfless commitment to the public and to the profession.

The following lawyers are members of the Immigration Justice Collaborative (IJC):

  • H.A. Sala
  • David Torres
  • Daniel Rodriguez
  • RL Hutchison
  • Vanessa Sanchez
  • Beatriz Trejo
  • Edgar Aguilasocho
  • Edyta Christina Grzybowska-Grant
  • Emilio Huerta
  • Emily Milnes
  • Gabriel Godinez
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Win Eaton
  • Xochitl Garcia
  • Joel Andreesen
  • Mai Shawwa
  • Sarah Rich
  • Marcos Vargas
  • Monica Bermudez
  • Richard Rivera
  • Claudia Lopez
  • David Leon
  • Jose Guerrero

Keep up the good work. You are all an exceptional example of why I am so proud to be a lawyer in this community.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles fights to protect the rights of all injured workers in California, including immigrants

April 12, 2017 | 9:18 am


Did you know that in California, Latinos are less likely to file workers’ compensation* claims, yet have the highest rates of work-related injuries? They are also less likely to seek medical attention, have less access to medical facilities, and face the highest percentage of retaliation at work.

Undocumented workforce, in particular, suffer the most for fear of losing their jobs or facing negative reaction from their employers when they are hurt on the job.

Attorneys from the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles have been speaking out about the rights of all injured workers in California — documented and undocumented. The message: It’s vital for lawmakers in California to implement laws that continue to strengthen the rights and protections of all its workers, including undocumented immigrants.

“Latinos are the lifeblood of many industries in California, particularly in the Central Valley, and contribute tremendously to our nation’s economy,” said Beatriz Trejo, workers’ compensation attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “They deserve equal protection under law.”

Trejo served as the moderator for a recent California Applicants’ Attorney Association (CAAA), Latino Caucus, symposium that aimed to educate on the issues affecting Latino workers in California. Trejo is the president for the Bakersfield Chapter of CAAA.

The symposium focused on these alarming statistics: Latinos account for 59.4 percent of all workplace injuries and 37.8 percent of all workplace deaths. They experience a higher rate of injuries in California because of their employment industries — agriculture, warehouse and packing, food processing plants, or truck driving to name a few.

Workers’ compensation claims are less reported among undocumented immigrants because their immigration status is used as a weapon of intimidation. Despite the passage of strong labor laws, they are rarely enforced, according to coverage from Vida en el Valle, a publication that covers news from the Latino community in the Central Valley.

Because of these concerns, Trejo has been speaking at various “community town hall” meetings throughout Kern County, including Lamont, Arvin, Delano, Taft and Bakersfield. They are hosted by the Immigration Justice Collaborative, a group of volunteer attorneys who aim to educate undocumented residents in Kern County on their basic legal rights.

During the town hall meetings, Trejo gives a brief description of the rights of injured workers under the California Labor Code, and meets briefly with those with additional questions. Under Labor Code §1019: “It is unlawful for an employer or any other person or entity to engage in, or to direct another person or entity to engage in, unfair immigration-related practices against any person for the purpose of, or with the intent of, retaliating against any person for exercising any right protected under this code or by any local ordinance applicable to employees.”

And under Labor Code §98.6, “No person shall discharge an employee or in any manner discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment” for filing work injury claims, for example.

Seventy-nine percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Latino with 2.4 million (22 percent) residing in California alone. In California’s workforce, it’s estimated that about one in ten workers is undocumented.

“It’s critical to continue to help Latino and undocumented workers with their work injury claims, to make sure they are fairly compensated and make sure their rights are protected,” Trejo said.

Seventy-nine percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Latino with 2.4 million (22 percent) residing in California alone, according to Vida en el Valle. In California, it’s estimated that about one in 10 workers are undocumented.

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If you or someone you know is injured on the job, please contact the workers’ compensation lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website, bakersfieldwclawyers.com.

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