It took 10 months for Los Angeles senator Kevin de León to make it happen, and now it’s official : the Golden State is a sanctuary for immigrants, like its neighbor Oregon. The bill passed this weekend in Sacramento means that the local authorities, especially the police forces, will not engage blindly in helping federal agencies when it comes to chasing and deporting undocumented immigrants. Also, the police won’t ask people about their immigration status, being banned from acting as the armed lieutenant of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
LADP chief Charlie Beck already said during the spring that he wouldn’t waste his personnel on implementing federal policies. But if the California Police Chiefs Association remains neutral on the bill, the California State Sheriffs’ Association opposes it. Despite its latest softer version.
The vote indeed came after a compromise between governor Jerry Brown and Kevin de León, also president of the Senate, and both Democrats. The resulting deal is meant to ensure public safety, underlined Jerry Brown, who wasn’t as fierce as de León on the matter.
A 50 year-old Los Angeles educator who comes from a family of undocumented immigrants himself, Kevin de Léon introduced the bill (SB54) last December, just before Donald Trump took office. There was already plenty of raids and deportations under Obama, but with Trump, an increase was predictable.
At the time, de León, who represents blue collar neighborhoods of East L.A., argued that he was “trying to protect [California’s] economy”. Indeed, California is the richest state in the US, bringing to the communal pot its technology, agriculture, entertainment, etc. De León likes to stress that California rose to the sixth rank in the world, just between the UK and France, in terms of GDP. Who creates that wealth? It happens than more than a quarter of its nearly 40 million residents are first-generation immigrants. In 2015, 27% of Californians were foreign-born, the most of any other state, according to the US census bureau. Since 2011, most arrivals are from Asia, and most are known to be documented (75%).
As a consequence, or a cause, immigrants are a large part of California’s workforce. Just like de León’s mother was, as a housekeeper single mom.
Without them, there wouldn’t be such a vibrant economy, in part because they provide cheap labor (which is what triggers controversy), but also high-skilled employees : no restaurant, no hotel, no agriculture firm, no gas station, no transportation app, no tech company, no telecommunications network would function as well without immigrants. California isn’t Hollywood, it is not so white. And who better than Kevin de León, as well as Kamala Harris in the US Senate, embodies this verdad ?
Kevin de León was born Kevin Leon in Los Angeles on December 10, 1966, from parents born in Guatemala, he told the Sacramento Bee. He then grew up in San Diego with his mother, who is no longer around. He had two half-sisters, one of whom also died recently, “after years of struggling with meth addiction and homelessness”, according to the LA Weekly. De León’s mom was an undocumented housekeeper who lived for some time in Tijuana before crossing the boarder. Kevin as a boy didn’t know his father, who apparently had some Chinese roots. In his search of where he’d come from, he added “de” to his name, “thinking that I would somehow connect with my father”, he told the Bee.
But in the end, he came to realize: “I am what I am today because of my mother”, he said in this personal interview with Christopher Cadelago. De León is not afraid of going personal, even in public.
“I can tell you half of my family would be eligible for deportation under [President Donald Trump’s] executive order”, he said in front of a State Senate panel in February, after Trump started issuing his orders.
Aside from economic reasons, de León, who dropped out of college before getting his degree in political studies, never hid that the law was meant to avoid “tearing families apart”. Coming from a broken home, his own family issues, his search for roots and his memories of childhood are no stranger to this concern. The law is made by human beings with a story, after all.
And in California, there are a lot of stories like this one. That’s why it is logically becoming the heart of anti-Trump’s resistance, with de León as its main face. But it’s not just because it’s a diverse place. It is a blue state, with a majority of voters on the Democratic side. And this year more than ever, they felt under-represented. 61,5% of voters chose Hillary Clinton last November (more than Obama in 2012, who gathered 59,3% against Mitt Romney), which means that a majority of people never wanted such an agressive immigration policy.
But the Electoral College decided otherwise, and even though California has the biggest number of electoral votes (55), it has less weight than less populated States like Wyoming or North Dakota, if you consider the population per electoral vote. With that logic, Marine Le Pen could be president of France right now, if a vote in Paris or Nantes counted less than a vote in the French Riviera or in the North region. I know some people in California who didn’t even bother sending their ballot, because of this feeling that it didn’t matter.
Whether or not the majority of voters will reconcile with being treated as a minority is a burning question of the coming years. As for de León, he told the Bee that he hasn’t healed his family issues, and “doesn’t know if he ever will”.