It’s Tuesday night. I’m supposed to be working on a research project right now, but instead I’m listening to “proud racists” try to convince the Santa Clarita City Council to oppose SB 54, a bill which would prevent federal deportation processes from using state and local resources. I admit, I’ve often been frustrated with the members of the Santa Clarita City Council, but I’ve never been particularly enraged at them. Yet, I am now somewhere between sobbing and seething because the Santa Clarita City Council has voted to support the presidential administration’s lawsuit against SB 54, the California Values Act.
As a member of the Southeast Asian American community, it is excruciatingly painful to listen to arguments against SB 54 that inherently criminalize the existence of undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants aren’t just crossing the border to seek better lives, they’re crossing the entire ocean. It is factually untrue that all undocumented immigrants come into the country via the southern border of the United States.
The undocumented population in the United States is not exclusively composed of people from Mexico, Central America and South America. Data aggregated by the AAPI Data program at the University of California, Riverside reveals that 20 percent of undocumented immigrants residing in California are from Asia. From 2000 to 2011, the nationwide undocumented population originating from the Philippines grew by 35 percent, and the undocumented population originating from Vietnam increased by 10 percent. While the Asian immigrant population has been granted the most amount of green cards compared to other immigrant populations, it’s also important to note that the vast majority of green card holders from Asia are from China and India, suggesting that Southeast Asian immigrants are perhaps more likely to be undocumented. These statistics demonstrate that – contrary to popular belief on who constitutes the subject population – whatever results from both the state and local debate on undocumented immigrants will deeply impact more immigrant communities than just one.
Crime is often cited as a primary factor in the concern over “sanctuary city” status. However, the sizable Southeast Asian undocumented population defies this concern – and so do most undocumented immigrants in general. According to the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, upwards of 2,000 Southeast Asian refugees have been deported, many for nonviolent crimes committed when they were young that they’ve already served sentences for. These 2,000 that have been deported are a fraction of the 15,000 Southeast Asian refugees who have been served final deportation orders, including those who hold green cards. They’ve been imprisoned for as long as the courts have demanded they be punished via incarceration, and yet the public still demands that they be further punished by being deported.
I understand, however, that it might be hard to relate to a daughter of Vietnamese refugees. If so, then know that I support SB 54 also as a fellow taxpayer. As a working-class American, I am vehemently opposed to my hard-earned tax dollars funding resources that might be used to deport my fellow neighbors. Local and state law enforcement have never been required to enforce federal immigration policy, and SB 54 would prevent funding such an unconstitutional process with my – and your – tax dollars.
I’m not writing this as a futile wish for a time machine to take the city back to Tuesday night. I don’t believe anything would have changed how the City Council voted. I am writing to explain exactly what the City Council has done. By voting to support the federal lawsuit against California over SB 54, the City Council has indirectly endorsed those who terrorize my friends and neighbors.
Opposing SB 54 is validating the same people who regularly honk at me and shout “Go back to China!” while I’m walking to the grocery store, the same people who slow down their cars in residential areas to follow me while shouting racial slurs. It’s telling refugee and immigrant families – those from El Salvador to those from Cambodia – that you don’t think our undocumented family members deserve to live free from fear. I support SB 54 because I refuse to let taxpayer-funded local and state resources be used to deport my fellow community members – some of whom are extended family. My hometown’s City Council voting to oppose SB 54 only reaffirms what’s been demonstrated to me for years: I might care deeply for this city that I’ve spent my whole life in, but my hometown clearly doesn’t even want me.
Mai Nguyen Do is a poet, researcher, and lifelong Saugus resident.