Letter Back Home: California

Dear California,

Thank you.

Last Sunday, the California legislature voted to pass a bill to protect unauthorized immigrants from the Trump administration’s harshened deportation policies. Once signed into law, the bill, SB-54, will make California the first true “sanctuary state” in the nation by explicitly prohibiting state and local resources from being used to aid immigration authorities in deporting undocumented Californians. California law enforcement will be forbidden from asking about any person’s immigration status, and they will be forbidden from interrogating or detaining any person on the basis of a civil immigration violation.

California is just one state out of fifty, but the effects of the bill are still significant, as this one state is home to at least 2.3 million unauthorized immigrants. The passage of SB-54 means that 2.3 million people might not have to make the impossible choice between getting their infant the emergency care they need or avoiding arrest by ICE officers. They might not have to suffer years of domestic violence and sexual abuse for fear that they will be deported while filing a police report. They might not have to avoid church shelters in below-freezing conditions because the site is being staked out by ICE agents. They might not have to fear that they will be arrested by immigration authorities when they drop their 12-year-old daughter off at school. The passage of SB-54 means that my former classmates might not have to live with the anxiety that their undocumented family members could be torn from them without any warning. It means that my neighbors back home might not have to live their lives in the shadows, completely and utterly disenfranchised. It means that our police officers can actually serve and protect undocumented Californians, rather than remaining complicit in their deportations.

This bill is not a panacea for immigration issues in the United States, or even in California. It is, however, a significant first step, a concrete action that sends a strong message to the Trump administration and everyone who calls America home. Like his statuary counterparts, Donald Trump stands as a monument to white supremacy, fulfilling in human form the same function of intimidation and oppression as do the Confederate monuments that stipple the map of America, including here in DC’s Judiciary Square. SB-54 is the antithesis of those monuments. While the vestiges of white supremacy tell non-white, non-Christian, non-cisgendered, non-straight, non-men to stay in their place, that “you do not belong,” California’s legislation counters that notion with a resounding “you are welcome here.”

SB-54 brings California one step closer to fulfilling the promise written below the Statue of Liberty. Now, California’s tired, its poor, its huddled masses can actually breathe free, fully participating in society without having to fear that they will be exiled to a place that is not their home. I urge California to take further action to fulfill this promise. The California legislature must continue to support unauthorized immigrants, and the rest of the United States must follow California’s example to protect the other nine million undocumented Americans who live here. While I remain cognizant of the inequity and injustice that unauthorized immigrants throughout the United States continue to face, hearing news like that of the passage of SB-54 is a comfort in these trying times, making me proud that I, too, call California home.