Twenty years ago today, I felt a lump in my throat as I began the hour drive from San Francisco to Sacramento to join the first-ever Immigrant Day.
The anti-immigrant fervor at the time had manifested itself in frightening ways. The spirit of California’s anti-immigrant initiative from 1994, Proposition 187, had catapulted its way to Washington, D.C., fueling the backlash against newcomer communities. Immigration and welfare reforms dominated the local and national policy agendas.
We couldn’t stay silent in the face of discriminatory laws and hateful rhetoric that targeted the most vulnerable in our communities.
I knew that together, if we raised our voices and stood up for inclusion, for dignity, and for human rights, we could make a difference.
Fast forward two decades, and the difference is like night and day. California leads the nation with transformative policies like health care for undocumented children and so much more. But as we gear up for the 20th annual immigrant day, we need to keep pushing forward.
The stakes have never been higher. Vicious rhetoric recycled from past decades continues to put border communities in its crosshairs. Meanwhile, a recently announced series of deportation raids targeting Central American refugees has sparked a new wave of fear.
As a counterweight to this troubling national climate, the priorities for this year’s Immigrant Day are far-reaching and progressive, and could set a strong example for the rest of the country. This year’s platform includes a strong line-up of bills that would hold the federal government accountable for hurtful deportation programs, help heal the unjust exclusion of undocumented immigrants from health care, and uphold worker and civil rights.
For example, here in San Diego, in the shadow of a militarized border, we’ve seen first-hand the how the lack of accountability from federal Department of Homeland Security agents breeds abuses. And we know that when local law enforcement gets tangled with the business of deportation, families get separated and communities are broken apart.
Enter the TRUTH Act, AB 2792, by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland). This bill, one of the priorities for Immigrant Day, creates a transparent process, including community engagement, before local law enforcement gets involved in controversial ICE deportation programs. The bill also sets basic standards of protection that give communities a voice in what law enforcement is doing to limit painful and preventable abuses.
Another platform item soon up for debate is the One California budget proposal, which calls for an investment of $40 million to bolster community-based efforts to empower immigrants to apply for citizenship and deportation relief. Across California, over 2 million immigrants are eligible to become citizens, but the complex application process often poses a roadblock.
Meanwhile, deportation relief programs like the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) offer a vital lifeline to those who are eligible. Funding community-based, culturally competent support can help open these key opportunities to many more Californians.
This comes as the Supreme Court is poised to rule on additional deportation relief programs which could help over a million California families. At the same time, we know at least half the undocumented community would still be left out, which is why we need to keep fighting for the human rights of all people.
In fact, the Immigrant Day platform includes several other urgent solutions: SB 10 and SB 1418 by Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would expand access to health care. SB 1015 by Senator Connie Leyva, D-Chino, would continue the successful Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. And AB 2298, by San Diego’s Asm. Shirley Weber, would bring more accountability and transparency to gang databases that often lead to discrimination against immigrants and people of color.
Each of these bills is the product of many years of hard-fought organizing, and really underscores the creativity and resilience of immigrant communities.
That’s why today, I’m joining hundreds as I make my way to Sacramento again. If I have a lump in my throat, this time it will be because of the optimism that California can continue to be a beacon for immigrants, an example for the rest of the country to follow.