Randy Villegas

Randy Villegas

California State Assemblyman Rudy Salas faces a crucial upcoming vote in the California State Assembly, SB 54 the California Values Act.

As a constituent of Assembly District 32, a Kern County resident and someone who has witnessed the results of a broken immigration system firsthand, I’m here to tell you why Salas needs to stand up for his community and vote yes on SB 54.

Senate Bill 54 would “prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.” This means that local law enforcement agencies would not be allowed to act as ICE agents, leaving enforcement up to federal officials.

The bill does contains exceptions, allowing local agencies to transfer individuals to federal immigration authorities if there is a judicial warrant or if the person has been previously convicted of a violent felony.

Undocumented immigrants play a crucial role in our community, from our schools, to our workforce, and our growing culture and diversity. It is crucial that residents of Kern do not fear living in the place they call home. With rhetoric from a president who campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform of fear and divisiveness, immigrants are living in very dark times. When local law enforcement agencies cooperate with ICE, our undocumented community is less likely to come forward when they do witness a crime, or worse, are victims of crimes themselves.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck (who has endorsed SB 54) reported that increased deportation fears have contributed to the dramatic drop in Latinos reporting sexual assault and domestic violence in 2017 (25 percent and 10 percent, respectively), as compared to last year. Similar results occurred in Houston, where there has been a 43 percent drop in the number of Latinos reporting rape and sexual assault, as well as a 12 percent decline in reports of aggravated assault and robbery.

Time after time, year after year, Congress has failed us by not passing immigration reform that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants to come out of the shadows. Many of whom live and work right here in our central valley. SB 54 would provide a much needed relief for families who are living in fear, while at the same time keeping our communities safe against violent offenders.

Here in Kern, rather than trying to build a relationship with the immigrant community and encouraging cooperation to find real criminals, Sheriff Donny Youngblood has resorted to scapegoating immigrants and even tried to designate Kern as a “non-sanctuary” county. For someone who likes to preach law and order, Youngblood has constantly violated the TRUST Act and state law. Youngblood also refused to sign paperwork for U visas, which give certain victims of crime permission to stay in the U.S.

All of this anti-immigrant rhetoric and action leads to a community where undocumented immigrants do not feel safe calling the police, for fear of disclosing their own status. While other cities and counties in California have already implemented some kind of sanctuary status, limiting cooperation and information sharing with federal immigration authorities, Kern remains an unsafe place for many immigrants simply trying to live their lives on a daily basis. Our state and local resources should not be used to fuel mass deportations, separate families, or terrorize our communities.

The reason I bring this up is because Salas has yet to commit on how he will vote on SB 54. Whenever approached on the issue, he steers the conversation to a different subject, or begins to talk about the TRUST Act. According to Faith in Kern Director Joey Williams, Salas has dodged the group since last February, and failed to attend a town hall on the issue. When a young woman approached him outside of Maya Cinemas last week to tell him how important SB 54 was for her and her family, he again began talking about the TRUST Act. It is no longer enough to try and hide behind the TRUST Act, when our local sheriff has violated it and opposed it since its inception. We need to lead through SB 54 to protect those who are most vulnerable in our community.

History shows us the brutal cycle of oppression that immigrants have faced in California. A cycle of immigrants being abused for their labor and then scapegoated by men with no political spine.

Immigrants built our railroads. Immigrants perform back breaking work in our fields every single day, while the rest of the country literally enjoys the fruits of their labor. Immigrants have fought for this country and continue to fight for our country to this day. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese internment and the infamous “Operation Wetback,” immigrants have been abused, jailed, and deported from a land that they saw as an opportunity for a better life.

Now is the time to learn from our history and not repeat it. Now is the time to protect our immigrant communities and embrace them.

Randy Villegas of Bakersfield is an incoming Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz.