Ivan Gonzalez won the state championship in the 800 meters his senior year at Ridgeview High School and got a full-ride scholarship to U.C. Berkeley, where he graduated with a degree in social welfare and education.
He's also a Dreamer, given protected residence status under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. On Tuesday the Trump administration announced it is rescinding DACA and phasing out its protections over the next six months.
While some, like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, cheered the president's move, the loudest immediate local reaction was from people decrying it.
One was Gonzalez, who at age 5 was smuggled into the United States by his parents.
During a press conference at the headquarters of the United Farm Workers Foundation in downtown Bakersfield, Gonzalez urged others to care for each other in the face of new challenges and fears that a country without DACA will create.
His life, he said, proves that DACA works – giving children who had no role in breaking immigration laws a chance to make good on the opportunity they have had.
Gonzalez doesn’t have a grudge against Trump. He wishes him well.
But he remembers the fear he felt — the concern about his immigration status — that filled his young life before DACA.
“The reason I ran track is because nobody cared about my legal status. They only cared how fast I ran,” he said.
Running was a way to cope with his fear.
There are an estimated 15,000 Kern County residents eligible for DACA protections.
Other speakers at the rally called Trump’s decision “heartless” and “ungodly” and vowed to fight back politically even as they work to help Dreamers like Gonzalez handle the legal questions about their status.
They called on McCarthy and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, to commit to developing true immigration reform in the next six months before DACA is phased out on March 5, 2017.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez called the elimination of DACA “appalling” and vowed to stand up and protect the children and young people whose parents grow the food we eat.
“As Cesar Chavez said, ‘We only lose when we stop fighting,’” Rodriguez said.
Immigration Attorney Win Eaton pointed to Senate Bill 1615 by U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., as a strong bill that would codify protections for Dreamers.
He said that after Tuesday, there can be no new applications for DACA status. Renewals of existing DACA status can be renewed but would only last until March 5.
The California Dream Act, Eaton said, is still in place and it will provide some protection and access to money for higher education to Dreamers.
But, he said, a final solution stands with the federal government.
“Only Congress can fix this problem. Congress has six months to do their jobs,” Eaton said.
Speakers at the event said they will work with Dreamers to offer training and legal assistance in extending their status and in moving immigration efforts along.
Speakers noted that Congress has spent years failing to make progress fixing an immigration system that all sides acknowledge is broken.
So six months seems a short time.
McCarthy said in a statement that he is ready to work on immigration.
“President Obama was wrong to try and make immigration law by executive order like he did with DACA and DAPA. It is Congress’s role and responsibility to make immigration law and I believe this is an issue that Congress needs to address,” the statement read. “Over the next few months, I will continue to work closely with my colleagues so we can strengthen border security and fix our broken immigration system.”
But Valadao’s statement on the elimination of DACA went further, adding support for Dreamers.
"For years, Congress has failed to repair our broken immigration system. However, in light of the president’s announcement, Congress must come together within the next six months to reach a legislative solution,” it said. “I will continue to advocate on behalf of Dreamers. America is the only home these young people know and I will do everything in my power to ensure those who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own are not unjustly punished."
Across California, civic leaders spoke out against the president’s decision.
Gov. Jerry Brown, The Catholic Bishops of California and numerous other groups condemned the move and called for swift congressional action to correct it.
State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said Congress "needs to get off its posterior, protect 'Dreamers' and enact comprehensive immigration reform."
"I have said for years that immigration reform, including protecting 'Dreamers,' should be done by Congress and the President working together," he said in a statement. "Through his actions today, President Trump has put the ball squarely in Congress's court."
For Dreamer Daniela Miramontes, the past two days have been tumultuous.
She said she struggled to sleep Monday night, instead spending the hours talking with the large community of Dreamers that has developed on social media.
Miramontes felt strong after those talks, she said, but when the news hit tears fell anyway.
She said she was 16 months old when she was brought to the United States and has lived here her entire life.
“I didn’t find out I was undocumented until it was time to apply for college,” she said.
She needed a social security number to apply for college.
“I asked my mom and she said, ‘You don’t have one,’” Miramontes said.
She has been open about her immigration status and was able to go to Bakersfield College through that school’s Dreamer fund.
When DACA happened, she was able to pay for her bachelor’s degree at Cal State Bakersfield, get that social security card and a driver’s license.
She believes that people can truly change their tune on Dreamers when they get a chance to hear their stories and get a first-hand view of their value to the nation.
Miramontes hopes that leaders are willing to ask themselves a simple question.
“Do you have the heart to let us go when we’ve done nothing but contribute to our communities?”