Dreamers and their supporters have a message for Congressman David Valadao: It’s time to act on a new DREAM Act.
The Inside Out/Dreamers project came to Bakersfield on Wednesday to hold a press conference as part of the DREAM Act National Day of Action. Dreamers and members of organizations such as the UFW Foundation, Dolores Huerta Foundation and Youth2Leaders spoke at the event.
Speakers urged Valadao to sign a discharge petition that, if enough members of the House of Representatives sign, would force a vote on the House floor on the DREAM Act, which would give people who are covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program a way to obtain permanent legal status in America.
President Donald Trump announced in September that the federal government is ending DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to America the chance to legally live and work here for a time. DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, could be deported as soon as next March.
“Our families can’t afford to wait,” said Marichel Mejia, civic participation and policy coordinator with the United Farm Workers Foundation. “We need Congressman Valadao to be a leader and work with his colleagues in Congress to pass a bill by end of year. This is the best gift to give the hard-working Central Valley immigrant families this Christmas.”
Event attendees got the chance to have their portraits taken, and they will be put together and pasted to a wall at 1020 18th St. Participants also walked to Valadao’s Bakersfield office to show off their portraits.
One of the Dreamers who spoke at the conference was Ivan Gonzalez, a program assistant with the Youth2Leaders Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization aiming to help people get into college. Gonzalez said he was first brought to America when he was 5 years old.
“Ever since then, I’ve been told that I wasn’t going to make it, that I didn’t belong here, but I defied all the odds,” he said. “Throughout my high school career, the way I coped with my fear was through running, because running gave me a purpose. When I was running on that track, it made me feel free, like nothing mattered and people didn’t care about my race.”
With his running skills, Gonzalez got a full ride to University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree.
“Lot of people think that the diploma is for me, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s for my community. It’s to show those DACA individuals and the Latino community that it is possible, that you can make it. You can defy all the odds. I did it and I know you can do it.”
Gonzalez said the key is to not let fear of failure or other obstacles get in the way of achieving your dreams.
“Keep your head up high, wherever you are,” he said. “Don’t be ashamed of where you came from. It’s what made you who you are today. You are my family. Together, we’re going to be able to move forward.”
Bakersfield resident and DACA recipient Tania Bernal came to see the conference. Bernal is the president of the Latinos Unidos Por Educacion club at Bakersfield College, a support group for first-generation students there, including DACA recipients.
“I wanted to come and support all the Dreamers,” she said. “I think this is a really creative way to take action and make an impact on the community. We want people to know how we feel about this issue. I hope that people can empathize with us. After DACA expires, I’m not sure what the future will look like.”
While Brian Russom is not a Dreamer, he said, he has come to know several and wants to make sure the government does something to support them.
“I think that our government needs to find a way to keep these people in the country,” he said. “They’re law-abiding, good workers, students who want to become citizens of our nation. We should support that in any way that we can. I’m not sure our government is moving in that direction.”
While Congressman Valadao’s office declined to comment on Wednesday’s conference, Communications Director Anna Vetter emphasized that Valadao is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act bill. Valadao’s office released a statement on the issue in September.
"These young people, known as Dreamers, make significant contributions to our communities each and every day," Valadao said at the time. "These individuals were brought to the United States through no fault of their own, and have lived with the uncertainty about their future for far too long. By passing legislation such as the DREAM Act, Congress can provide a legislative solution so these individuals may continue to live in America – the only home they know.”
Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola said that while the steps Valadao has taken so far are good, it doesn’t go far enough.
“I have some kind of perspective in terms of being an elected official,” he said. “From what I’ve been able to see, there are two types: there’s ones who walk the walk and those that just talk. Now it’s time for you to walk the walk.”
Gurrola said that he hopes Valadao will be encouraged to take further action and become a champion for DACA recipients. In the meantime, he said, the community needs to keep up the pressure.
“We will not stop. We will not let up until he signs that discharge petition and until the DREAM act – clean, with no funding for a border wall, with no funding for bigotry, hate and division – is passed by the end of this year,” he said.
“And if he fails to do that, we are going to take our collective voices and power and let every voter in his district know that the reason that DACA recipients may be left in limbo is because he failed to stand up for the constituents he represents.”