Visalia City Council remains silent on support for DACA solution
Visalia City Council passes on vote to discuss supporting legislation to address Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Tulare County’s largest city will not take a position on children and young adults living in Visalia who were brought to the United States illegally. In fact, they won’t even discuss it.
At its March 5 meeting, the Visalia City Council chose to remain silent on the issue of locals who are among the nearly 700,000 people living in limbo after the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal program was officially rescinded earlier this month. Reasons cited by councilmembers for not placing the item on the agenda included that it was out of the jurisdiction of the council, that the council does not take stances on federal issues and that many DACA recipients failed to take the proper steps to remain here legally.
Leticia Lopez wasn’t planning to talk that night, but when councilmember Phil Cox questioned why undocumented people were living in the United States for years without becoming citizens, she decided to share her family’s story.
The 20-year-old said her mother came to the United States in 1987 to work in the fields. Her mother, who she asked to remain nameless, filed for U.S. citizenships in 2001. While waiting for her application to be processed, Lopez said her mother returned to Mexico in October 2009. Ten years after she applied, U.S. immigration officials met with her in Mexico to review her application and she was denied re-entry into the U.S. for October 2019. “It’s been eight years she lived with us and it has been difficult,” Lopez said.
Already living paycheck to paycheck, Lopez’s father Manuel Lopez struggled to make ends meet and sending money to support his wife in Mexico. It took Lopez and her father two years to save up enough money to visit her mother in Mexico. Through it all, Lopez said her mother insists that she stay in America where she has more opportunities than south of the border.
“I thank my mother for her strength,” Lopez said. “It’s what gets me through when she isn’t here to share in my accomplishments, like graduating from high school or attending college. It’s been hard without her.”
Before leaving the podium, Lopez urged the council to place the item on the agenda and give people an opportunity to discuss the issue with their local representatives.
“Please consider this to at least give a sense of security to those living in Visalia,” Lopez said.
Vincent Salinas, a former candidate for District 1 of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, said he was a migrant farmworker until he was 27 years old and knows from talking with many farmlaborers here illegally that they are afraid to fix taxes, report crimes or even file for citizenship for fear they may be deported. He said supporting DACA recipients was not only the right thing to do morally but also financially.
“The City does have something to gain,” Salinas said. “If we remove 800 people from Visalia we lose $1 million per year in tax revenue. I’m looking at this as a local issue because they will become citizens once the Dream Act is passed.”
The Tulare City Council unanimously approved a “letter of support” urging Congress to support DACA recipients and pass a permanent solution for them on Sept. 19, 2017. Tulare City Councilmember Jose Sigala
“We passed this letter to show all residents that we value their work and efforts and to tell our representatives that this is the right thing to do,” he said. “I hope you take a leadership role on this and help it to move forward.”
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors similarly approved a letter of support at its Oct. 31 meeting by unanimous vote. On Nov. 13, 2017, the Farmersville City Council unanimously approved a near identical letter of support. Farmersville City Councilmember Greg Gomez asked Visalia to join the growing list of cities that have at least approved a letter of support to show unity in Tulare County. He added that many of the undocumented youth in his community are afraid to go to college because the government might find them and deport them.
“Are they scared [to apply for citizenship]?” Gomez asked. “I think they are.”
The Lindsay City Council considered a resolution at its regular meeting on March 13, which happened after press time. Porterville is the only Tulare County city to pass a formal resolution regarding DACA as of press time. The Porterville City Council unanimously approved the resolution on Feb. 20. “Deporting immigrant youth who are protected under DACA and brought as infants is unfair and a violation of our values as a nation,” the resolution reads.
Steven Nelson was critical of those who commented saying he didn’t appreciate people from Farmersville, Tulare and Woodville telling him what to do in his city. Nelson said he was sympathetic to the cause of farmlaborers describing them as the “hardest working people we have.” Nelson said he was personally in favor of simplifying the path to citizenship but that this was not a city issue and therefore as a city councilmember would not support it.
“This is not a Hispanic issue but an immigration issue and all of us are immigrants,” Nelson said. “But I can’t support this as a councilmember.”
City councilmember Greg Collins said it was important to remember that many undocumented residents are not “visible” and may not be able to attend council meetings but that they certainly exist in Visalia and contribute to the city. He wouldn’t support any legal actions or resolutions but would support a letter expressing that all Visalians are important and that the city hopes Congress can find a resolution to the issue.
“It’s important to give people an opportunity to talk about it,” he said.
Collins made a motion to place a letter of interest on the next agenda for discussion, but the motion died for lack of a second. “
After the meeting, Lopez said that the Council’s decision to do nothing was disappointing.
“I’m really disappointed they wouldn’t even put it on the agenda for discussion,” Lopez said. “We weren’t even asking them to vote on anything, just put it up for discussion at a meeting people can plan to attend.”
Lopez said she will continue to fight for those who live in Visalia and Tulare County without a voice because they are afraid to speak up and risk deportation. Lopez said she has spoken about her family’s story at local immigration forums, women’s marches, at community college campuses and at public meetings. She is studying to a be an immigration lawyer to help families by offering low cost fees to help them navigate the convoluted path to citizenship but took a break from her studies at Porterville College to do advocacy for DACA recipients.
“Everything I am doing I know in the long run will help someone else,” Lopez said. “I understand how much of a struggle there is and I don’t want other people to have to go through it.”