By Eduardo Stanley
Several California cities that are under the control of Republican city council members, such as San Diego, Alamitos, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, San Juan Capistrano and Yorba Linda, recently passed resolutions against SB 54, known as the California Values Act, and joined a lawsuit against the state, led by the Federal District Attorney’s Office, aiming to stop it.
SB 54, introduced by Kevin De Leon (D–Los Angeles) was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2017 and went into effect on Jan. 1. The law ensures no state or local resources are diverted to fuel any attempt by the federal government to carry out mass deportations and that our schools, hospitals and courthouses are safe spaces for everyone in our community.
SB 54 puts limits on the cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and immigration agents. Now local law enforcement agents cannot ask a person about his or her immigration status unless such person is responsible for a serious crime.
SB 54 cannot prohibit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from doing their job, but it did put a limit, and it was well received by immigrant rights organizations, and even by the California Teachers Association. However, conservatives saw an opportunity to step up their influence in areas where they hold office.
“They do this (anti-SB 54 initiatives) just before the June primary election…It could be a strategic move to distract us from enrolling new voters, promoting citizenship and the right to vote,” said Roberto De La Rosa, a veteran activist for immigrant rights in Porterville.
Republican Opportunism and Project Blitz
Everything indicates that this is, indeed, part of a strategy by Republicans to recover power in a state in which they are a minority: 8,438,268 (44%) registered Democrats versus 4,769,299 (25.1%) registered as Republicans, according to the California Secretary of State. Besides the attack against SB 54, Republicans have another frontline, thanks to the help of Project Blitz. This project provides a manual, created by extreme conservative and religious organizations, with blueprints of bills to be introduced aiming to impose their agenda.
An example is the motto “In God We Trust,” which several cities already approved.
It might look insignificant, however, it is a spearhead in the fight to impose the language and conservative values, and to reduce—even to eliminate—the traditional separation between state and religion that has existed for about three centuries in modern democracies.
At least 75 laws have passed in 20 states since 2017 following the blueprint of Project Blitz, for which the 116-page manual is mailed to conservative legislators around the country.
This project follows the teachings of a group named the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, founded by a former Republican member of Congress who wants to “protect freedom of religion, keep the Judeo-Christian heritage of the nation and to promote prayer.” Apparently, about 600 legislators follow this organization.
This political and religious agenda goes after the rights of the LGBT community, including same-sex marriage and children’s adoption by LGBT couples.
The next step, as can be observed with the anti-SB 54 wave, is the anti-immigrant agenda with the purpose to limit, even more, the rights of almost 3 million undocumented immigrants in California, 6% of the state population who work in manual occupations such as agriculture—traditionally the lowest-pay jobs.
Rural California and the Example of Porterville
Rural areas in California continue to be conservative, as well as San Diego and Orange counties. Cities such as Porterville, Hanford and Fresno, located in the San Joaquin Valley, passed the motto “In God We Trust.”
In this rural California, converging reactionary forces connected with agribusinesses, which demand a hands-off government—in accordance with the conservative agenda—but do not hesitate to cry for government help when there is not enough water for their lands. Big billboards along the main roads of the San Joaquin Valley, placed in their agricultural lands, demand “Build Dams, Not Trains!” and “Pray for Rain!”
In this context, the city of Porterville—with a population of almost 60,000 people—recently went through an unusual experience of popular resistance against the anti-SB 54 forces.
Trying not to be noticed, Republican City Council Member Cameron Hamilton placed the topic of dropping SB 54 and joining the lawsuit against it on an agenda meeting.
“We are aware of what is going on in City Hall, we check the weekly agenda,” said De La Rosa. “Many of us attend the meetings, we know the council members and their political affiliations.”
On May 1, the Porterville City Hall was packed. Before the meeting started, Latino activists, including young students, called for a press conference where they exposed the way the topic about SB 54 was included in the agenda and demanded it be dropped. It wasn’t.
“One council member asked the public who was in favor and who was against passing a resolution against SB 54,” De La Rosa said. “Only two people were in support of such resolution.”
People presented their arguments.
“There were not only political arguments but those humanitarian ones,” said De La Rosa, who admitted he was surprised by the final vote: 4-1 in favor of not passing a resolution against SB 54.
“It was a victory for the people,” said an emotional De La Rosa. But he warned, “We can’t relax, they will come back, they will not cross their arms and wait.”
De La Rosa, along with his wife Teresa, founded Ola Raza, an organization dedicated to helping immigrants with their immigration paperwork. They also dedicate time and energy to voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns.
He expressed optimism about the effort to create a social conscience in a community traditionally neglected and marginalized by racism.
“Just about 20 years ago there was a KKK parade in this city,” he said. De La Rosa concluded expressing how important it is to work with young people to change in the near future the current ideology and social status quo in this important agricultural area of California in order to achieve a more racially and economically plural and egalitarian society.
Eduardo Stanley is a freelance journalist for several Latino media outlets and a Spanish radio show host at KFCF in Fresno. He is also a photographer. To learn more about his work, visit www.eduardostanley.com