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Without protest, locals pack El Monte immigration forum

EL MONTE >> Undeterred by protests at a similar event two weeks ago, locals filled the pews of Nativity Church Thursday night for an immigration forum hosted by the city.

The purpose of forum was to provide residents with information about legal protections and resources for immigrants, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the naturalization process.

Anti-illegal-immigrant protesters disrupted a similar information session in El Monte hosted by Congresswoman Grace Napolitano on April 14 at the city’s Grace T. Black Auditorium.

Protesters made loud comments during presentations made by speakers and during the question and answer period, so organizers ended the town hall early. One protester, Torrance resident Arthur Schaper, was escorted out of the building after a brief scuffle in which Schaper’s phone was knocked from his hands and a man shoved him.

With no protesters present Thursday, more than 300 people attended Thursday’s forum.

“I’m grateful that people feel safe to come get this information,” said Mayor Andre Quintero.

According to the city’s “Enforcement of Decorum” policy listed on its City Council agendas, members of the public may not disrupt proceedings or prevent other members to he public from being heard when it is their turn to speak, and they may not threaten any person with physical harm or act in a manner that may be interpreted as an imminent threat of physical harm.

In addition, all attendees must adhere to the city’s policy barring harassment based on a person’s race, religion, national origin and ancestry, among other conditions and characteristics, according to the policy.

At least four El Monte police officers oversaw the forum, which had its rules of conduct posted outside the church doors. Unlike the April 14 forum, video and audio recording and displaying signs indoors were banned at Thursday’s event.

Nativity Church pastor Father Beto Villalobos said he was never worried about protesters.

“I think we may disagree with what’s going on with immigration policy, but everyone has a right to protest,” Villalobos said.

Speakers at the event included Los Angeles Community College District Board member and immigration attorney Mike Eng and representatives for the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs, Casa De La Familia, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and several local law offices.

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Azusa resident Lesly Melendez said she specifically came to learn about DACA.

“I came to find answers to my questions,” Melendez said. “My status isn’t a constant worry, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

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