New Front in the Immigration Fight: Ice Cream Carts

Immigrant rights group CHIRLA issues a warning

By Gordon Tokumatsu
|  Friday, Feb 18, 2011  |  Updated 7:35 AM PDT
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An immigrant rights group is warning ice cream vendors about the dangers of getting caught for even minor infractions.

KNBC

An immigrant rights group is warning ice cream vendors about the dangers of getting caught for even minor infractions.

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It's late morning in North Hollywood, and Felipe Olmedo joins a couple of dozen other food vendors gathering to stock their carts for another long afternoon.

Olmedo serves North Hollywood, Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar. On a given day, he may cover 20 to 30 miles on his bicycle cart, selling everything from ice cream to chips and soda.

Today he gets an unexpected visit from Antonio Bernabe, an activist with the "Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles," CHIRLA. Bernabe has brought a warning, and a flyer with specific instructions. Basically, it is a "how to" guide for dealing with an arrest for minor business license or zoning infractions.

"When you are doing the booking, you have to put your origin and your social security?" says Bernabe.

That's important, because of what happened a couple of weeks ago to a vendor named Blanca Perez. She was pushing her cart through a neighborhood in Van Nuys, when she was cited for coming within 500 feet of a school, a relatively minor infraction. But what happened next was not minor.

Perez was arrested and booked into jail. And that's where authorities learned that she was, by her own admission, an illegal immigrant. Now she faces deportation.

For now, Perez is still here in Southern California, sitting at home, wearing an electronic device on her ankle.

Bernabe says the case could have turned out differently if Perez had known her legal rights. She didn't know that she had the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

That may seem simple to millions of Americans who have heard police officers recite the Miranda rights on countless TV shows. But it's different for the vendors.

Bernabe says many vendors don't know their rights. Nor do they know about simple laws like staying 500 feet away from schools.

"That's why we're here," says Bernabe, as he hands out flyers with basic legal information.

A CHIRLA attorney will try to help Perez in court. Meanwhile, the word is out now among vendors on the street.

"Be careful, because that harmless looking candy cart could lead to a lot of trouble," warns Bernabe.

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