It didn’t have to be a Sunday for religious leaders to come together to denounce President Donald j. Trump and his administration’s recent deportation initiatives.
At the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament last week, a diverse coalition of faith and community leaders held an informal morning mass and rally to support two bills currently making their way through the California legislature that stand to benefit all immigrants in the state – and another to protect religious freedom.
“We are here to stand together and say, enough is enough,” said a Christian pastor from Oakland. “We cannot see the injustice around us, happening each and every day in our communities and not come together to do something about it. We must and we can act now.”
Thousands of supporters filled every single seat in the Catholic church’s pews in downtown Sacramento. Row by row, they cheered and held up signs that read “No human being is illegal,” and “No Ban, No Wall.”
Traveling from as far south as Bakersfield and as far north as Chico, supporters convened at the state Capitol to show their support for two key bills including SB 54, the California Values Act authored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Ángeles and SB 31, the Religious Freedom Act authored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.
“I drove all the way from San Francisco to be in solidarity with everyone– people from all ethnic backgrounds and different faiths, to stand together against a racist, xenophobic, and bully of a president who does not like or accept people of color,” said Rosita Ramírez, a member of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
Inside the Cathedral walls, thousands heard speeches from pro-immigrant activists like Francisco Espino, a UCLA graduate who shared his personal story of being an undocumented immigrant in Ámerica.
“When Trump won the presidency, I wasn’t alone in thinking and feeling like there was no hope. I got home, I was in tears, I spoke to my parents and they said I shouldn’t be afraid,” said Espino.
Instead of mourning like thousands of others in his community, he turned his grief into motivation and decided to mobilize other undocumented immigrants in Southern California who felt targeted by Trump’s negative rhetoric during the campaign trail, and now, as President in Washington, D.C.
“This isn’t the time to be fearful. This isn’t the time to give up. This isn’t the time to wait and see what happens. It is time to act, to change our future, to advocate more than ever, for what we want and to know our rights,” said Espino.
Last month, De León said Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement was not to focus on criminals as he had promised on the campaign trail. Instead, he put a deportation policy in place that would be a “dragnet for thousands, if not millions of hardworking immigrants.”
Senate Bill 54 would curtail the use of local or state resources to fuel mass deportations and allow schools, hospitals and courts to remain safe spaces and accessible to all community members irrespective of immigration status.
Pro-immigrant groups have said the bill intends to protect all vulnerable immigrants who are likely to be racially profiled or have their families separated. Further, the bill intends to protect the growing and eroding trust between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
“We have a federal administration whose values are hate, xenophobia and intolerance. That is not what is in the DNA of California. California is about opportunity, justice, inclusion and compassion,” said Assembly member Rob Bonta, D-Oakland who co-authored SB 54.
Morayka Kaiper, a Fresno State student who is one of approximately 1,000 DACA recipients on campus and a member of the Muslim faith, spoke to activists in the church about her support for SB 31.
“I represent my Muslim brothers and sisters and my community. We will do anything to prevent a Muslim registry. We believe in coming together, standing in sacred spaces like this one, to advocate for what is right and what is just,” said Kaiper.
At Fresno State, Kaiper works with Syrian families who have been displaced by the ongoing civil war and have arrived in Fresno as refugees. Their struggles have motivated her to speak up against injustice.
“To see what these families and their children have gone through is heartbreaking. And, for them to arrive in this country and continue to face oppression, racism and intolerance is completely wrong,” said Kaiper.
Senate Bill 31 would prohibit a state or local agency or a public employee acting under color of law from providing or disclosing to the federal government personally identifiable information regarding a person’s religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation, as specified, when the information is sought for compiling a database of individuals solely on religious belief, practice or affiliation, national origin, or ethnicity for law enforcement or immigration purposes.
Trump repeatedly proposed a Muslim registry during his campaign but has not yet fulfilled his promise. Instead, he signed an executive order dubbed the ‘Muslim ban’ which was initially held up in courts and could not be implemented. Trump followed with a revised version that was also stopped by the courts.
Still, activists are not taking chances.
“This is the time to come together, all of us who are people of color to resist and push back against Trump and any of his policies that affect diverse people,” said Kaiper.
Civil and labor rights leader Dolores Huerta spoke at a rally held on the east lawn of the state Capitol to rally supporters and encourage them to become active and stay engaged during these critical times.
“These are unprecedented and scary times. These are times where we cannot remain silent. We cannot remain complacent. We need to act now against this president who doesn’t understand what he is supposed to be doing in the oval office,” said Huerta.
“We must continue to resist,” she added.
Bishop Jaime Soto of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento believes what is needed is a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will address the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“It is not about this administration, but about three others that have not done anything,” said Soto.
During the Catholic observation of Lent, Soto described how Jesus wandered through the desert for 40 days and how undocumented immigrants have similarly, been wandering for 24 years with no comprehensive immigration reform.
“Today’s actions are necessary but not enough. We need a more humane and just society that acknowledges the most vulnerable amongst us and we must continue to push and fight for all of our brothers and sisters,” said Soto.
Anti-SB 54 resolution thwarted
Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chávez made a motion to table a resolution by colleague Steve Brandau at the council’s meeting last Thursday, effectively shutting down a discussion about the “sanctuary state” bill.
The council voted 3-2 (Chávez, Oliver Baines and Esmeralda Soria) to support the motion.
Brandau was not pleased.
“If there becomes a struggle or a war between Sacramento and Washington D.C., you know a place like Fresno can get caught in the cross-hairs and I wanted to avoid that and I wanted my resolution to say we need this federal funding let’s not start a war,” said Brandau.
Chávez said his decision to pull the item was an effort to avoid shooting “ourselves in the left foot or the right foot.”
Brandau said he wanted to have a public discussion on the matter.
“No matter what the issue is when you have something you want heard and your colleagues don't want to hear it, it’s a little disappointing,” he said.