Since the election of President Donald Trump, California has been leading a movement to counter his administration’s various policies from immigration to health care.
One of the progressive individuals on the forefront of this is state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a Democrat of Mexican descent who represents parts of Los Angeles, including Historic Filipinotown, East Hollywood, Eagle Rock and Highland Park.
In an interview with the Asian Journal, de León made it clear that the state is not “looking for a fight with Donald Trump.”
“But we will do everything in our power to protect our economic prosperity, the values and the people in California,” the state senator said on Thursday, February 2 at his district office in Los Angeles. “There are numerous frontal assaults against the people of California in the areas of climate change, environmental protections, workers’ rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights and the threat of separating families…and health care.”
Repealing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), he said, would “devastate many Filipinos in the health care industry.”
In December of last year, de León introduced SB 54 (the California Values Act) to prevent the use of state and local public resources to aid federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in deportation proceedings. The bill creates “safe zones” — public schools and universities, hospitals, and courthouses — that prohibit the presence of immigration enforcement.
“It’s un-American to separate children from their mothers and mothers from their children,” he said. “That’s not who we are as a nation and as a state.”
Further, the legislation bans state and local law enforcement from cooperating and collaborating with ICE agents in the detention and deportation of immigrants.
“To use local tax dollars that we supply the police department to serve the community and have them abandon their neighborhoods to go help ICE agents go raid a workplace or factory or stake out an elementary school waiting for a mother to pick her child at the curbside, that’s not making our communities safer,” de León said, adding that the federal government has the responsibility to carry out federal immigration laws, but shouldn’t use local resources and tax dollars to do so.
On Tuesday, January 31, SB 54 passed the Public Safety Committee — just days after Trump signed a series of executive orders on immigration, including one that calls for defunding “sanctuary jurisdictions” that do not cooperate with federal officials in removing and detaining undocumented immigrants.
“It is my hope that Donald Trump and his administration will find value in what we do in California…,” he said. “If you tear things down and decimate programs, you’ll just be hurting the people of California and the economy of the United States.”
Though the Filipino-American community has not been single out as much as other communities have by the divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric, de León noted how it’s important more than ever to have a support system and to be civically involved, whether by participating in demonstrations, communicating with elected officials, and voting. By coming together and being inclusive, it adheres “to the higher ideals and values of what it means to be an American,” he said.
“Filipino Americans are my neighbors, my friends and they’re Californians,” he said. “As their senator, it is my role to do everything in my power to protect Filipino Americans, whether they’re legal, U.S. citizens, or undocumented.”
“I know that the Fil-Am community has a very wonderful representative in the state, [Assemblymember] Rob Bonta. I’m sure he’s the community’s No.1, but I’ll be the Filipino’s No. 2.”
De León’s ‘Filipino story’
In addition to his current political work in the midst of the Trump administration, de León is proud to have spearheaded the campaign to raise the minimum wage in California to $15 an hour — making it the largest rate in the country.
De León also opened up to the Asian Journal about his special experience with Filipinos that continues to resonate with him. Though he hardly shares this story, it’s one that he will “forever cherish in [his] heart” and gets to the root of why he has been proud to serve many Filipinos in Los Angeles for the past decade.
Growing up in San Diego — which boasts one of the largest Filipino populations in Southern California aside from Los Angeles — de León saw his mother working alongside a lot of Filipino immigrants when she was a housekeeper and later on when she was a licensed vocational nurse and certified nursing assistant at convalescent homes.
“They had a really had a big influence on my mother, and therefore, on me,” he said.
But the firsthand testament to Filipino hospitality and warmth came when his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“If it wasn’t for the Filipino community, it would have been difficult for us to eat because my mother was too weak, she was too sick. Her Filipino sisters would always bring chicken adobo, pancit, lumpia, rice and they kept us fed,” de León recounted. “At times, they took care of us…I’ve always had a very special place in my heart for Filipinos because in the darkest, most painful time with my mom — eventually she passed away — it was the Filipinos…who really stepped up and helped us.”
He added, “California has always been an amazing, beautiful tapestry of different ethnicities from all over the world. I’ve been blessed and very honored to have Historic Filipinotown in my district. I’ve learned so much from my Filipino brothers and sisters: the strong family values, strong religious values, hard work ethic — just like my mother — and wanting their children to succeed and have all the opportunities possible.”