GONZALO SANTOS WAS TIRED, EXCITED, passionate when he called me about the Wednesday’s immigration reform protests in Bakersfield, Calif. He and other demonstrators followed several U.S. Congressmen to a country club, and then to a farmer’s dirt field, as continued pressure on lawmakers to re-write a system of immigration laws, Santos says are “woefully outdated.”
It was after ten p.m. on Thursday when we finally spoke. I’d missed the demonstrations but wanted to talk to someone who was there. Santos, a Professor of Sociology for California State University of Bakersfield, is also a member of the Kern Coalition for Citizenship, where he represents the California Faculty Association (CFA), a union of 23,000 professors, librarians and other California State University educators. He has invited me to speak out and read poetry at various immigration reform rallies and marches since 2006.
On Wednesday, Santos jumped in his car and followed House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker John Boehner, as well as U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes and U.S. Rep. David Valadao, who were in Bakersfield for a press conference in a Central Valley farm field over water issues.
“We went and chased them,” Santos said.
Santos called the media event a guise. “In reality, McCarthy was coming to support the re-election campaign of Valadao. So he came to Seven Oaks Country Club before going to the press conference.”
McCarthy follows in the footsteps of U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas of Bakersfield, former Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas was in Congress from 1979-2007. Santos calls California’s Central Valley a bastion of influence. “They have votes, and enormous amounts of money. McCarthy taps into the agri-business and oil of California. It is one of the great sectors that funds the Republican Party.”
“We picketed outside the country club,” Santos said. The demonstrators then went to the farmer’s field. “We were right at the entrance. We could see each other. We picketed and then Boehnor left.”
UNREGULATED CENTRAL CALIFORNIA DEPORTATIONS
Santos said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been committing highly unethical persecutions of immigrants in the Bakersfield area.
He called ICE an “unregulated agency romping around doing what they want.”
Since Congress passed a quota in the budget requiring more than thirty thousand beds in detention centers to be filled, there has been a tremendous pressure on ICE to fill those facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted audio and photos of Bakersfield-area residents, including Sergio Villatoro and Gurvinder Singh, who were grabbed by ICE officials at courthouses. They and others have been arrested for following the law, including getting married, obtaining a domestic violence restraining order, and paying traffic ticket fines.
“Bakersfield was a low hanging fruit for them [ICE],” Santos said. “They figured Bakersfield was a backward, conservative city, that it was safe for them. They were not expecting, of course, that we would catch on and lodge a complaint.”
MINOR VICTORY AGAINST ICE: STAY OUT OF OUR COURTHOUSES
Santos said pressure against Bakersfied-area deportations began around October of last year, putting the spotlight on ICE through letters, demonstrations, and dialogue through sensitive government channels.
On Jan. 23, Kate Desormeau, a staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, commended ICE and the Department of Homeland Security for their temporary halt of deporting immigrants taken from Bakersfield-area courthouses. “Every day people go to courts to participate in important legal matters – to get married, to seek child custody, to finalize adoption, to obtain life-saving protection from abusers or stalkers, to testify as victims or witnesses in criminal cases . . . This is a matter of public safety, victim protection, and equal justice.”
Santos noted the fix wasn’t permanent. Also, a letter I was copied on quoted ICE as saying they would only stop entering Bakersfield-area courthouses “at this time.”
That leaves schools, churches as safe, and courthouses only temporarily so.
MCCARTHY LETS HIS CONSTITUENTS DOWN, AGAIN
After the farmland press conference, McCarthy went on local television news to say that only obtaining a legal status would protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. He went on to say he would not back a pathway to citizenship.
Santos, who met McCarthy after a pilgrimage across hundreds of miles of Central Valley farmland last year, said that nothing has changed in the representative’s language. “Of course the normal [legal] channels are choked. It was a very insulting solution for Latinos.”
‘IF KERN COUNTY CAN DO IT . . .’
Santos, though weary, was headed to the Mexican Cultural Institute in Los Angeles early Friday, Jan. 24 on Olvera Street. He is scheduled to speak as part of the Protect Our Families Campaign.
Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo and Calif. State Sen. Ron Calderon have called on President Obama to stop deportations and grant protected legal status to America’s 11-million undocumented immigrants. A bill is being introduced by Calderon to the state senate that Santos said will further document California lawmakers’ call for action that the Obama Administration stop deportations.
Similar actions will be taken by the San Francisco City Council. Orange County, Chicago and New York City are all working on proposals as well, according to Santos.
“We’ve got to protect immigrants as congressed deliberates,” Santos said. “More than 1,200 people each day are getting deported. That’s 400,000 a year. This is tearing families apart.”
What will Santos be discussing in Los Angeles? “I will be saying, if Kern County can do it, then so can others,” Santos said, about the recent victory over ICE.
Santos, who has taught at CSU Bakersfield since 1992, just received his U.S. citizenship last year. “I’ve been having a great time speaking as an American citizen, though I spoke openly beforehand,” he said.
“Now that I have a certificate, that gives me permission. I have been speaking as a constituent of Kevin McCarthy and his lack of effort. I demand he listen to me.”
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