Download Jose Antonio Vargas' letter in PDF format.
September 14, 2012
The Honorable Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Governor, State of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Brown:
On your desk is the most important piece of legislation for immigrant communities anywhere in the country this year: the TRUST Act (AB 1081).
If you sign this bill, you will bring hope to millions of undocumented Americans like me -- and some relief to our family members who fear that if we are arrested for even the most trivial of charges, they will never see us again.
A year after I came to this country, and before I even knew about my own undocumented status, I watched with anxiety as California voters passed Prop. 187. I am a child of the Prop. 187 era. That ballot initiative, in many ways, was the precursor to SB 1070 and HB 56, Arizona's and Alabama's show-me-your-papers laws. Although courts ultimately rejected Prop. 187, fear immediately gripped immigrant Californians upon its passage in 1994.
The specter of local police acting as immigration agents was one of the measure's most unsettling provisions. Many immigrants began carrying what papers they had. I remember sitting in my 7th grade science class when one my classmates, a Mexican student, showed me his green card and asked me if I had mine. I told him I did not.
"Well, I guess since you're Asian, people aren't going to bother you about it," he shrugged.
Two years later, when I learned about my own undocumented status after trying to apply for a driver's permit, I came to understand that I was in a similar boat as my classmate. And despite how much California has changed in nearly two decades, millions of undocumented Californians are still in that same boat.
The grim reality is, the most minor or unjustified of arrests are almost certain to lead to a lengthy detention in local jail and transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Not so different from Prop. 187 after all. Ironically, the federal Secure Communities deportation program, which was supposed to target people "convicted of serious criminal offenses" has instead effectively done what Prop. 187's backers tried to do all of those years ago. It has turned local law enforcement into de facto agents of immigration authorities.
What if while driving from my alma mater, San Francisco State, down to my hometown of Mountain View, I were stopped for the most minor traffic infraction? Or, perhaps, simply profiled? I could have been detained for driving without a valid license, and my fingerprints would be sent to ICE. ICE would then ask the jail to hold me for extra time, at local expense, until they came to pick me up for deportation as my grandmother, a naturalized American citizen, waited for me at home.
This has been the experience of over 80,000 Californians who have been quietly torn from their families under "Secure Communities." Seven out of 10 either had no convictions or lesser offenses. And even though top law professors and law school deans have confirmed these requests to hold immigrants for extra time are "optional," the vast majority of jurisdictions in California submit to each and every one, no matter the damage done to community-police relations.
Governor Brown, you have spoken eloquently about the contributions of Californians who aspire to be citizens. You've put California on a path of inclusion by signing the California Dream Act. The TRUST Act is the next logical step. It reinforces the President's deferred action initiatives and helps ensure that the parents and relatives of DREAMers – and those who, like me, don't meet the age requirements – won't be held for deportation purposes after minor arrests. It underscores that in California, a state built and replenished by generations of immigrants, fairness and equality matters.
It should not be lost on anyone that the bill's author is Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (DSF), an Italian-American who was San Francisco's first openly gay teacher. Assemblymember Ammiano fought for equality alongside Harvey Milk in the 1970's. As a gay man myself, I see many parallels in the history of the LGBT and immigrant communities' fights for inclusion.
And I hope that when the history of this time is written, your signing of the TRUST Act is remembered as a watershed moment in the long journey toward permanent reform that recognizes our common humanity.
Thank you. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Proud graduate of Mountain View High School (Class of 2000) and San Francisco State University (Class of 2004)