IEB members who made the trek to Senator Kamala Harris’ Sacramento town hall on April 5 were rewarded with a lively session covering a broad range of issues. Members of the packed audience challenged Harris with questions that were sometimes supportive but more often critical, and overall she deftly replied to the queries.
On holding law enforcement to account
Senator Harris entered to a standing ovation. In her opening remarks, she spoke first about Stephon Clark, the local man killed in his grandmother’s backyard by police who allegedly mistook his cell phone for a weapon. Of note, Clark’s grandmother was in the audience.
The Senator used the Clark incident as a segue to a more general discussion of the history of police violence, dating back to the civil rights protests of the 1950’s and 60’s. She then spoke about how, as California’s attorney general, she had worked to address issues of police bias and accountability. In contrast, she noted that the current U.S. Department of Justice is “led by someone who wants to take us back” to a darker time.
Although Harris helped institute police bias training in California, it clearly hasn’t solved the problem. Acknowledging this lack of success, she spoke strongly about the “profound responsibility” of law enforcement “to give all members of the community dignity.”
The police shooting context lent a somber tone to Harris’ remarks around the adage: “as goes California, so goes the nation.” But she found hope in our response to that shooting and to the other injustices we face, many of them coming directly from Washington, D.C. The main theme throughout the discussion was “fighting for the best of who we are as a country.”
Immigration, the courts, and the power of resistance
When asked what she would say to the DREAMers who watched Congress fail to act to protect them, she told them to “keep on leading.” The DREAMers, she said, “believe that if they are seen and if their stories are heard, it will matter. They believe in our democracy.”
In response to the question of an organizer who has been leading protests outside Representative Tom McClintock’s district office regarding what to do about “counter-protesters trying to stir up trouble,” Harris said:
Speaking truth often invites people who don’t like to hear that truth to try and suppress you, and we can never be suppressed… And take a look around this room right now and hold on to the belief that you have a lot people supporting you even if you don’t see them at that moment… There are more of us.
Appropriately for a recent addition to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris spoke several times about the vital role the courts play in our government. Asked about the outsized influence of money in politics, specifically Citizens United v. FEC, she discussed the issue and then also pointed out the importance of several other Supreme Court decisions — including ones on collective bargaining, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
Asked about DACA, Harris spoke of the importance of lower federal courts as a defense against the extreme positions of this administration. So far, these courts have successfully prevented the administration from rescinding DACA protections.
Toward the end of the town hall a heckler interrupted to criticize Harris for her leadership in the Democratic effort to attach the DREAM Act to a must-pass government spending bill. The heckler asserted that doing so prioritized one group of people over another. The Senator rejected this characterization, saying that the attachment was needed because “the approach this administration has taken is not just, it is not fair, it is not about giving people due process or equal opportunities.”
Areas for improvement
Overall, IEB members found several of the Senator’s answers incomplete, unclear or unsatisfactory. We plan to follow-up with her on these and other matters:
Harris talked about “reevaluating” Social Security and other expensive government programs. While she acknowledged we had to keep “our promises,” IEB would like to get more specifics as to her intentions here and to provide our suggestions for how to raise revenue.
We’d also like to discuss Harris’ remarks about “smart” allocation of national security resources. For example, she co-sponsored S.1414 – the SHIPS Act, which mandated that the Navy build up its fleet to an arbitrary 355 ships, a number that forward-thinking military experts have questioned. More generally, she has voted for bills that, in our view, astronomically increase military spending. We’d like to get more clarity on her national security priorities.
Near the end of the Town Hall the president of the California Urban Partnership (C.U.P.) asked Sen. Harris what will be done to ensure that the marijuana industry successfully transitions to a legal business — and not become “another cotton or sugar or tobacco where [Black people] work for free, where we do all of the jail time, but reap none of the benefits.” Sen. Harris agreed work was needed here and promised to follow up — but did not offer any specifics. We at IEB plan also want to follow up here — both with Sen. Harris and the C.U.P.
The Senator asked the audience to continue to find common ground and to build coalitions to fight for our values. She urged us to march and shout and speak up and organize. Finally, she said “thank you” for all the work we’ve done so far — and the town hall was adjourned.
In recent months, with a helping hand from Indivisible East Bay, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff has reached out to local communities, providing an opportunity for citizens to participate in freewheeling Q&A discussions. The most recent meeting was March 9, when IEB, in partnership with the Unity Council, met Feinstein’s Field Representative Abby Ellis at the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center in Oakland. Taking a break between lunch and bingo, many of the Center’s seniors stopped by for the meeting. The remainder of the 50 or so participants included a combination of neighbors, loyal Indivisible members and Unity Council staff.
As many of the attendees asked their questions in Spanish, we were most appreciative that the staff was willing and able to act as informal interpreters, translating between English and Spanish as needed.
A major focus of the discussion were immigration issues, with DACA at the top of the list. Many spoke of their fear and uncertainty surrounding the future of DACA and what it what may mean for their friends and relatives. For example, one woman was concerned that her daughter might not be permitted to stay to graduate from college this May, nor pursue her long-term dream of becoming an FBI agent. One man summed up the overall feeling in the room by stating, in Spanish, “The children are our future” — at which point everyone cheered.
In reply, Abby assured everyone that the Senator remains strongly committed to a clean DREAM Act. She promised to pass along their personal stories and indicated that some of them might be used in floor speeches that Feinstein gives on this matter.
Many of the remaining questions concerned federal funding for health care and other programs critical to the Senior Center and surrounding community. Abby assured the audience that the Senator is doing everything she can to protect existing support programs as the Congress continues to fight over the budget. She added that, if the Democrats had the majority, Feinstein would be pushing to expand funding.
Several in the audience expressed skepticism about current Democratic efforts. They spoke of frustration that immigration issues were not effectively resolved when Obama was President and Democrats controlled Congress. They noted ironically that the Trump administration’s current attacks might be serving to spur Democratic action and give these issues a higher priority than they had previously. Others in the room were more supportive of past Democratic efforts, countering that they had at least attempted to pass legislation under Obama.
Abby replied that Sen. Feinstein had been in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bills at the time. Further, the Senator has continued to push for pieces of that bill as independent legislation, such as the DREAM Act and the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 (which would provide legal status to more farmworkers).
At this point, as the meeting was nearing its conclusion, the same gentleman who had been cheered previously spoke up again — to more cheers — stating that the most important lesson from all this was that every citizen in the room must vote.
Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you have to improvise. Such was the case when Steve Haro, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Chief of Staff, met with Indivisible representatives on February 21, 2018.
As Chief of Staff, Mr Haro occupies the most prestigious position on Feinstein’s staff. Previously, he has had been Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department Commerce under President Obama.
Because Mr. Haro remained in Washington, the Indivisible group arranged for a video conference at WeWork in the Oakland Civic Center. Unfortunately, there was an Internet outage at the Center that day. So, we instead opted for an audio-only call. Not an optimal solution, but it sufficed to get the job done.
Once we were connected, and introductions were given, we proceeded to work our way through a list of agreed-upon topics.
We thanked Senator Feinstein for holding out for a clean DREAM ACT for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA).
Haro said that Senator Feinstein was disappointed not to get a “Clean Dream” rider on the Continuing Resolution for funding. Mr. Haro related at considerable length the inside drama and difficulties of getting the twelve Republican votes needed to pass a compromise bipartisan Immigration (DACA) Bill. The Democrats conceded much just to get the bill to the floor. Unfortunately, after the GOP leadership lobbied against it, even the most bipartisan immigration deal the Senate considered only got eight Republican votes and the bill failed.
Regarding the brief shutdown of the government that resulted from the immigration policies dispute, Mr. Haro gave us some new insight into how the senator thought it went down. In spite of strong reservations about the negative effects of a government shutdown, the senator voted against both the continuing resolution (CR) that would have kept it open and the CR that opened it back up. And she thought that Democrats didn’t allow enough time for it to work.
We thanked the Senator for her outspoken support of stricter gun control, including her bills banning bump stocks and all assault weapons.
Haro noted that Feinstein introduced a bill, together with Senator Flake, to increase the legal age to buy weapons to 21. But Democrats cannot get a single Senate Republican to co-sponsor a bill banning bumpstocks.
The key question for all such bills remains: How do we get to 60 votes in the Senate to support the bill? The answer, for now, is “We can’t.”
Haro said that Senator Feinstein is working with colleagues to preserve current CAFE standards and prohibit waivers. The Senator also believes we must protect the jobs of scientists in government positions from politically-motivated firings—although it was not clear how she intends to accomplish this.
As to the Senator’s support for the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act and a timeline for a federal climate bill similar to California’s carbon auction model, Haro said he would have to “get back to us.”
We also asked Feinstein to support HJ 48, a constitutional amendment introduced in the House, to state that corporations are not people with the argument that corporate money drives harmful environmental policy.
FUNDING FOR THE 2020 CENSUS:
IEB remains concerned that continued underfunding of the 2020 census will prevent an orderly and fair redistricting of the House. Similarly, use of untried methodologies threaten to endanger an accurate count and leave out harder-to-reach people.
We asked: “What is Senator Feinstein’s plan to get more money for the census?” The answer was not encouraging. Haro said House Republicans hate census appropriations bills and fund them at the last minute. The Senate isn’t directly impacted by the census, so it is hard to get the Senators excited about this. Feinstein is pushing to prevent the census from asking about citizenship which, in her opinion, is as important as funding.
We asked: “What can Congress/Senate do in the absence of executive support to ensure fair elections?” and “What has the Senator done to advance the Secure Elections Act or similar legislation?”
Haro observed that when voter turnout is high, Democrats generally win. That’s why Democrats want people to vote and Republicans do not. He is concerned that a low voter turnout, encouraged by Republican voting restrictions, will negatively impact Democrats. Obviously, the GOP has no interest in taking on this issue.
Other than noting Feinstein’s support for paper ballots, his answers did not directly address our questions. He did say that he was unfamiliar with some of the specifics we raised and would look into them further.
NATIONAL SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WAR:
We thanked Senator Feinstein for her deep concerns about U.S. relations with North Korea. She is already a co-sponsor of S. 200 which restricts the first use of nuclear weapons. However, we asked that her concerns about U.S. involvement in the Middle East be stronger than they appear.
Feinstein supports repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). However, Haro expects no action on this matter any time soon. The issue has gone quiet, apparently because the GOP views any change as an attack against Trump. He told us that he personally feels some regret that Democrats didn’t work with President Obama on some of these issues regarding curtainling executive power; he might have been open to it, and it wouldn’t have had the appearance of a partisan attack.
The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee continues to nominate untried, inexperienced, and young conservative Republicans for lifetime judgeships. The “blue slip” process, whereby the senators of a state are consulted and partisan input is preserved, continues to be bypassed or ignored. In other words, the GOP is rapidly stacking the courts. We asked: “What can we and the Senator do to stop this travesty?”
Haro replied that, other than delaying tactics, there is little the Democrats can do. The key is to “Take back the Senate.” He specifically suggested we (Indivisible nationally) focus on helping vulnerable blue senators in states where Trump won in 2016 and trying to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona.
WE WANT A TOWN HALL
For the past several meetings with Feinstein’s staff, we have asked about the Senator’s reluctance to hold town hall meetings where the public can ask questions. We did so again at this meeting.
Haro responded that town halls take a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to produce.
Catherine de Neergaard is a gardener, artist, and environmental Activist working within a variety of organizations including Quaker Earthcare Witness, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Kensington Green, and, of course, Indivisible.
This is our world now: the current occupant sells $50 hats with “American Dreamer” emblazoned on the front; ICE threatens repercussions against Oakland’s mayor for warning city residents of incoming raids; Congress has stalled for so long on passing a clean DREAM Act that somehow, unimaginably, the Republicans are starting to take ownership of it. How soon they forget that said current occupant caused this entire … mess … by rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through which President Obama had protected more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
And while they continue their games, hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. DREAMers attend doctors’ appointments, pick their kids up from school, go to job interviews, wait in line at the Post Office – and there behind them, like a thread weaving through every moment, is the American government’s failure to find a way to give back to these people the freedom to live their lives.
It is existential terror. It must stop.
March 5, 2018, was the original date when protection for DREAMers was supposed to end. On February 26, days before the deadline, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have undone the two federal court injunctions that ruled it unconstitutional for the government to deny DACA renewals past that date. This leaves DREAMers in a situation where they can still potentially apply for a renewal of their status past March 5, but like everything related to this issue, that provision is subject to change at virtually any time.
You can help by calling your Members of Congress to demand that they pass a clean DREAM Act! What to say:
Thank you for your strong support of DREAMers. Please continue to work to include a clean DREAM Act in the next spending bill. These young Americans deserve to live without fear of having their families torn apart.
Both Senators Feinstein and Harris are supportive and have staff working on immigration cases, so you can reach out. And if you have any questions about current immigration policy, ICE actions, what is being negotiated in DC, or other issues, please come to our meeting with Senator Feinstein’s state director in Oakland on March 9, 2018.
Last week we published the first part of an Indivisible East Bay member’s interview with Lara, a DACA recipient. Our last question was whether her parents felt they made the right decision in moving to the United States. Lara ended her response with: “When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.” We continue with Part 2:
How are your siblings handling it?
I think they’re used to me being the strong one. They don’t really ask how I’m doing. Out of my 4 siblings, only one asked me how I was doing after the news. They’re used to me not depending on them. I’ve been so independent for so many years, they assume that I’m okay. They know I don’t allow myself to sit in the pity pool too long. But I know deep down inside, this time around they really are concerned because this administration is not playing; they are really on a mission to make peoples’ lives extremely complicated. Even though they haven’t expressed it, I know that they really are concerned for me this time. I know them and this is their way of not discouraging me.
I think they’re more worried about how I might respond one day, with the wrong person. Not so much if I’m going to get deported, but, for example, if I’m at an event representing Dreamers and someone says something that pushes me over the edge.
Are your siblings politically active?
No, they leave it to me. And it’s so unfair. I tell them, how is it the undocumented one is at the forefront of things? Their answer is “Because we don’t have to. We were born into this privilege.” They haven’t had to fight for anything, so they’re not really concerned.
So…they don’t have to fight for you?
Exactly! And so I said, what about me? “Eh, you’re good at fighting for yourself.” So I envy the families that are there for each other because my siblings live in their own world, chasing their own dreams. I’ve always been so independent, vocal, and active, I guess they’ve never cared to involve themselves because of that. Maybe they see how worked up and exhausted I get, and there’s no off button sometimes, maybe that turns them off. They see how consuming it can be.
But, it’s also because they’re just selfish and immature. I haven’t been home in over 10 years, so they haven’t been there to see me break down. I did it so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. I didn’t want them to see me cry, so I purposefully moved out so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do.
You found out about your status when you were in high school. After that, did you see you and your siblings differently?
We were so poor growing up and my dad worked two to three jobs for years. We don’t get Medicaid, food stamps, financial help of any kind, so you depend on your community, neighbors, church. We lived in a two bedroom apartment. Four of us in one room, my parents in the other, until we finally moved to our first house. It was a bad ugly house and my dad and his uncles fixed it up. My siblings all grew up in a house, but I remember living like sardines and dealing with cockroaches.
I’m happy they were able to have their own bed. I’m glad they didn’t have to deal with the cheap Payless shoes and getting bullied for having the same cheap clothes or backpack, and all the things growing up poor entails. But from the very beginning, I always knew we were going to have a very different life.
When I got older after high school, when I saw how hard it was going to be to even find a job, I said I have to get out of here because I don’t want them to see me like this. I was bitter and angry and I resented the situation. I didn’t want to infect them with my bitterness. I had always been the strong, positive, happy, bossy big sister and wanted them to keep that image of me and not the angry, resentful, bitter one. So I moved out. But when I have tried to share what it was like living on my own without them, I feel they don’t want to accept it and instead, play it down.
When you see that people aren’t willing to hear your story for what it is or want to hear what you have to say, then you stop sharing. But, my parents know everything. I shared everything with them, especially the bad experiences with managers and customers who called me every terrible discriminatory name. That’s a bond that my siblings may resent a little bit because my parents understand my pain. I’m grateful that at least I have always had my parents patience, compassion and understanding.
What are your parents going to do?
For now, I think they are going to move to a smaller property. They came for the American dream and they want to leave us an inheritance. They worked very hard and want to leave us houses and properties just like White Americans. They came to break that stereotype and leave a legacy for their children. They won’t let this discourage them. They taught me to be strong. Like most people, they wanted to be more successful and prosperous than their parents. You always want to be more successful than the previous generation. They’re leaving the bar really high for us.
What do they think their lives would have been like if they stayed in Mexico?
I don’t know. My dad probably would have finished being an engineer. But there’s no way they would have been able to give us an education or the safety to do the things we’ve wanted, be involved in the things we’ve been involved in–music, dance, sports, etc. Most of our family is still there. I probably would have grown up knowing my grandparents — I’ve seen them a handful of times, but I don’t know either side. I have no relationship with them or my uncles, aunts, cousins.
How do you think your lives are different than your relatives in Mexico?
It’s black and white. I see pictures of the homes they live in — dirt floors or cement floors. The quality of the houses, the sizes of the room, the clothes they wear, the diet they have — it’s what’s affordable. My parents are seen as more prosperous in comparison.
If we know anyone who is traveling there for the holidays, we always send stuff. Mostly clothes, shoes, school materials — binder paper, pencils, crayons, everything. Money every month to my grandparents to help. My grandparents were blue collar workers and farmers, so there’s little to no pension or retirement. Now that they’re older, we help take care of them and pay their bills. We send what we can. Had we stayed there … I don’t know. I don’t think my siblings would have been able to explore and experiment in the arts, music, and sports the way they have here. I wouldn’t have found a purpose or reason to become socially active at the capacity I have done. It’s safer here — over there, it can mean death a lot of the time if you get too loud or political. Here, at least I know I can be socially active and it won’t cost me my life. I don’t think I would be the person I am. I’d probably be like my cousins — at least we’re here together, at we have food, clothes, a bed. But being part of this country and raised with the idea that you can do better if you sacrifice more and work harder, I can never imagine myself being satisfied with just making it. You always hear about the American dream and reaching for new heights — I wouldn’t have this personality, I think. I wouldn’t be such a fighter, such a life hustler.
You don’t hear about the equivalent in Mexico, “The Mexican Dream.”
There isn’t. I guess the Mexican dream is, you have a little house you can leave for your kid, that you probably built yourself with your parents, siblings and cousins. But here, it’s so different. I’m so proud of my parents for the American dream they’ve accomplished. They have left such an amazing legacy and high standards for us. They came with a baby and a bag of clothes and they’ve accomplished so much, even with their limited legal status. They instilled a work ethic, and stressed that discipline and sacrifice is essential for anything you want. To be willing to always pay that price — so essential for any goal. That’s the Mexican Dream.
When they left, did they know people here?
Yes. They stayed with my mom’s sister for a few months until they had enough money to rent a room. When my mom got pregnant with my brother, we moved to a one bedroom apartment.
Was it common for other aunts and uncles to come to the US?
Yes, but only In the 80s. Just a few of us lived here. My parents are the only homeowners in our entire family. It required extra hard work, extra discipline that many families weren’t willing to do. My parents had a dream, so they agreed on what we were going to have to live without and were willing to do whatever it took. It’s interesting to see that now they’re the only ones among those who came over in the 80’s who are considered “successful”. But so much of what Trump is doing against my community, it’s bringing back a lot of the same anxiety. We’re going to make it. We’ll figure it out as a family the way we always do.
How has your husband been handling it?
He is awesome. Fortunately my husband is a citizen. If both of us were undocumented, it would be double the stress and double the what-ifs. He’s very much like me — very optimistic, positive and he’s also a life hustler. Always finds a way to survive. We’ll find a way and we have faith that God will provide for us as a unit, to help my case and my situation. My husband lets me go through the motions and isn’t judgmental. He doesn’t pretend to understand what I’m feeling, because he’s never experienced my life. HIs patience with me is ridiculous and he’s the most empathetic person I know. He never claims to understand the struggle of being undocumented, though he’s learning what it’s like to be married to a strong undocumented woman!
When you socialize or when he talks to people, I guess he doesn’t talk about your status.
When he thinks of me, he thinks of me the person, so it doesn’t really come up. But folks invited us, for example, on a cruise and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t. We are very honest people and honesty gives opportunities for growth and knowledge. I see it as a way to share my story and help people be grateful for their privilege. There are privileges I have as an undocumented person that I take for granted all the time, like being able-bodied. I don’t mind sharing my story when appropriate. It doesn’t come up as much now, as a couple. In my 20s, I could never order a beer or a glass of wine when I was out with my friends or on a date, but now I have an ID. I never told anyone why until my late 20’s.
Being married has changed a lot about how (politically) active I am. It’s also made it easier to see the priorities. Maybe I should leave all of the rallying and protesting to the younger generation. I feel confident that I served my time. I did that already, in the early years. It’s their turn to take the torch and keep fighting the good fight.
A huge thank you to Lara for sharing her story–this is not the last we’ll hear from her, to be sure. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to email@example.com.
Many of us likely know people who are DACA recipients, but they may not feel safe enough to tell anyone other than close friends and family about their status.
Meet Lara. Lara’s parents, hoping for a better life, brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was one year old. Lara is a DACA recipient. An Indivisible East Bay member interviewed her a couple of days after Trump announced his decision to terminate DACA. This is Part One of Lara’s story.
How are you feeling?
I’m okay. Trump’s made it very clear that his interest is not about the people—it’s about whatever makes political sense to him. I wasn’t surprised. He said, “Don’t worry Dreamers, you don’t have anything to worry about”–I had hopes that when he said we didn’t have a lot to worry about, that we actually didn’t have a lot to worry about, but I should have known.
I’m okay now. I’ve cried it out, screamed it out, spoken with a lot of other DACAmented folks and Dreamer students and, it’s disappointing and discouraging, but we’ve been here before. We’re just going to have to find a way to survive and keep going. I’m in a good place. It helps when people who are outside of your DACAmented community offer hope and are supportive.
Did you go to any of the protests?
I didn’t, and one of the reasons why I don’t do those anymore is because if anything happens, not of my doing but if something were to go bad, if alt-right people show up, if there’s a confrontation and the police show up, I know what’s going to happen to me. I can’t afford to risk deportation. If I was still working in a restaurant, still renting a room in a poor neighborhood, or wasn’t married, then maybe. But now I have a great apartment, an awesome job, and am married, so I have much more to lose. I think of those things and can’t risk losing them over a protest. Not to talk down to those who chose to participate and are in my same situation, but that is a risk I no longer choose to take.
Do things feel worse now?
Yes. Because before when we would protest and rally, there weren’t people waiting to physically fight us and there weren’t SWAT police with guns pointed at us. There weren’t agents from ICE waiting to round us up, the way they are now. We always knew it could happen but now there’s a militarized cop presence. We didn’t have to worry about crazy white guys showing up with swastikas. The concerns were always there in the back of our minds, but they weren’t in our face the way they are now. It’s not worth me risking my job, my actual life, putting my husband in that position, stressing my parents out, over a movement that is always going to be there. I just can’t afford to be the one getting arrested any more.
Are you careful about how you reveal your status?
Most people who are close to me know because I’ve been so vocal these last few years. So, I’m not afraid of people seeing my Facebook posts or my views being seen or heard by the public. All the information I share is never my personal, private info. It’s more about information and resources to assist others. I’m very careful about what I do post and am selective about who I accept on my FB page.
When you graduated from High School, what did you think your future was going to be?
My dream was to go straight to a university and not waste time with community college, and become a lawyer. But discovering my status brought all that to a complete stop. It’s the story of most of us. Every single dreamer I know, we all have the same story. We didn’t know until the end of high school when we tried to apply for drivers’ permits. Otherwise, when do you ever ask your parents for your social security number? Until you need your driver’s license. When I was told that there is no social security number, that I can’t have a way of acquiring a license and I can’t go to university because I don’t qualify for financial aid and I don’t qualify for scholarships, that was just like wait, what do you mean? But I’ve been here in the US my entire life. I asked them: “Can’t I just apply to become a citizen?” My parents explained that no, because you’re Mexican–the laws are different.
I had known people who had come here from other countries who had become legalized quickly, but saw over the years how much harder it was for people from Mexico. It was devastating. So I decided, I’m just going to graduate now. I’d always been ahead in my classes, so as a junior I was already taking the 4th year of English. I took economics and government over the summer and graduated a year early so I could get a head start on community college. Since I knew it might take me longer than most people to go through community college, I started earlier and finished in two years at Delta College in Stockton. But even with that, I learned that nobody wanted to hire me with just an AA and especially without a social security number. I decided I had to go to a university and get a degree, but I also needed to work, so I started working a full time job and a part time job. I enrolled at De Anza College and got a paralegal degree. I thought to myself, if I can’t be a lawyer, at least let me be a paralegal and get my foot in the door. And no one would hire me because I didn’t have a social security number. The attorneys would all say: “You know you seem like a great girl with lots of enthusiasm, but I can’t hire you.”
Just attorney after attorney–it was devastating.
“Just give me a chance, pay me cash, you can pay me a lot less than the other paralegals,”I would say.
But they all said “No, it’s too risky, how can I as an attorney hire you under the table?”
One attorney finally gave me a chance–she gave me an internship and was also the attorney who did my initial DACA application. so it wasn’t until 2012 that I got a real chance. I was her intern and we did a lot of DACA cases and family law. I thought I wanted to do family law, but working with her, I realized I could never be an attorney. It was a good experience because it made me realize law wasn’t what I should be doing in life. It also made me see that many people needed help finding resources. A lot of these small cases were due to the lack of information.
So even though I started at Delta College, then years later went back to attend De Anza, I couldn’t get a real job so I kept all the other jobs–waitressing, being a nanny, cleaning houses. When DACA passed, I said okay, this is my chance to go back to school. When I do get my degree, I’ll have a chance to have a real job. Through AB 540, I could pay resident fees but it was hard to get scholarships. Thankfully, the California Dream Act had just passed, so I was able to apply for financial aid for the first time. [Ed note: Under California law AB 540, certain non-resident students are exempt from paying non-resident supplemental tuition. A student granted an AB 540 exemption is charged in-state tuition and fees].The lawyer convinced me to go back to school. By the time I’m done, I’ll be able to work and that’s what happened.
When your parents told you about your status, were you upset?
Oh yes, I was furious! All my plans went out the window completely. Not just the driver’s license, but everything. I was mad at them for a long time. Not having legal status affected so many little things. I remember when my friends turned 18 and wanted to go dancing or celebrate at a club, I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a California ID. In my 20s I never went to a bar or club that wasn’t Hispanic-related or a smaller venue where they would accept my Mexican consulate ID. I never joined my friends anywhere because I didn’t have the “proper” ID. Forget about going out to dance with friends, a Vegas trip or a vacation somewhere. Every time someone wanted to go out and celebrate, I would have to call the place and ask if they accepted the Mexican ID. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself and have them embarrass me again, which had happened before. Not all places accept it even though it’s a government issued ID. It’s where my understanding of racial discrimination first started.
To go from the kind of work you were doing — under the table, unprotected — to working in a professional capacity, what did that mean to you?
I served as a waitress for 11 years — from when I was 20 to 31. I worked at multiple restaurants: Denny’s, Applebee’s, mom and pop restaurants, catering jobs. And of course, those jobs are honorable, but they’re hard, physically straining jobs. Long hours and for years I worked at two or more restaurants, back to back. Especially if (customers) know you’re undocumented, they can get away with more exploitation than with citizen employees. Last year was the first year I’d spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day with my family. I had worked every single holiday before last year, for over 10 years. Places like Denny’s never close. I never got to spend any of the holidays with my family, I always had to work.
Was that common to others or just undocumented folks?
Just to the undocumented folks. As long as you could get the hours on the clock…it was just so complicated. They could go back and change the hours that you worked. It was really hard to endure and especially because the people who come in, they think you’re just an object that is there to serve. You’re there to serve them, to the deepest definition of what it is to serve, and they always use you as a punching bag to let out their frustration.
It was really hard at the end when I was going to grad school because I would serve these people who would speak at me as though I were this ignorant, uneducated “thing” that was just there to bring them their extra ranch or diet no ice, when in reality I was busting my butt to work full-time there and be in grad school full-time. I wanted to say “You have no idea how hard I’m working and how hard I’m trying to make it.” But you can’t say that, right? You can’t say you’re not the ignorant person they think you are and they treat you as. I had to quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so burned out. People don’t say “please and thank you” and it’s common for folks to not use manners with servers. I knew I was going to get fired if I didn’t quit, that I was going to snap, so I just quit at the end. But it’s really hard, especially on the holidays when all you want is to be with your family so bad. The pay is only minimum wage. You work for so many hours at minimum wage and tips.
Have you been back to Mexico?
No. I was born there and went back for one Christmas when I was 5 before things got hard at the border, and that was it. I never went back.
Being a young adult, it really sucked at first, driving without a license which meant that I would have to have a cheap car that I could afford to lose, because if they pull you over, they could impound your car. It was really common before DACA to have a cheap car and be ready to get the next one. Most places won’t give car insurance if you don’t have a social security number. You’d get ticketed for driving without a license and your car would be impounded, and then you’d be stuck. You still have to go to work, pick up your kids. It was really frustrating to know I couldn’t have a nice car. Just the constant fear — when a cop would pull up behind you — trying to look as “normal” as you can. But it’s hard when you can’t have a decent looking car, right? Because you make yourself stand out more by having a cheap-looking car. It’s like a never-ending circle of bad circumstances.
Do your parents feel like they made the right decision?
They have always carried guilt because of me. They wish they had come before I was born. They have always felt so bad for putting me in this situation. But they had no way of knowing — they were 20 years old when they came here, searching for the American dream. They could have never foreseen all this. It’s better here than there. At least here, you can have a decent place to live and food to eat, kids can have a decent education. Just the safety reasons alone make it worth coming over here. People don’t understand how bad it is in Mexico. It’s not just like they show you on TV–it’s actually a lot worse. They carried guilt for years and years and I probably didn’t make it any easier when I was a teen. Once I started seeing that those were the cards I was dealt, and that I had to make them work, I decided because I was the oldest of 5, I didn’t want my parents to worry about me. I never asked them for financial help, ever. I didn’t care if I had to have two jobs, I never wanted them to have to worry about me. They hated that I worked graveyard and they never saw me on holidays, but they were proud I was doing what I needed to do to survive. I wasn’t just feeling bad for myself. I just did what I had to do.
When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.
We’ll post Part 2 of Lara’s story next week. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, coward-in-Chief Trump sent his toady Attorney General (Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III) to deliver the damning decision rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through which President Obama, by executive order, had protected more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
With DACA, we promised young DREAMers who were brought here as children through no fault of their own that if they came into the light, we could offer them a chance at legal employment and a reprieve from the constant spectre of deportation. Trump’s evil decision to obliterate this promise plays directly to his racist and anti-immigrant base, and serves only to tear apart families, friends, neighbors, and communities.
Misconceptions about DACA abound, not to mention the vicious lies that Trump and other GOPers spout, many of which Sessions repeated when he told DREAMers they were being shown the door. Eligibility is complicated, stringent, and expensive ($495 every 2 years) – and meeting them did not guarantee approval, let alone review in a timely manner. The basics:
Under 31 years old on 6/15/12 and entered US before 16 years old
Resided continuously in US since 6/5/07 and physically present on 6/15/12
No lawful status on 6/15/12
In school or graduated, or honorably discharged military veteran
No conviction for felony, significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors, and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety
DACA issuances and work permits that expire between now and 3/5/18 must be submitted for renewal by 10/5/17
Advance parole to travel abroad is no longer available
We are united in this fight
DACA recipients and applicants should consult a qualified immigration attorney as soon as possible to figure out your rights, responsibilities, and options. You can find much information on the internet, but please make sure that the source is trustworthy. The Department of Homeland Security published a list of FAQs about the rescission.
There are many groups and organizations who work with the immigrant community. “What Do I Need to Know About the End of DACA?” is the Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s very helpful community advisory, including links to several good sources of information:
President Obama, who has been generally silent as Trump blasts through and overturns so many of the advances made during his presidency, issued a statement on Facebook in which he said that Trump’s decision is ultimately about basic decency. That is obviously a concept which is wholly foreign to the current occupant of the White House.