The Undocumented Student Programs (USP) held a special Zoom event with Mark Takano, congressman of the 41st Congressional District in western Riverside County, on Wednesday, Nov. 4. The aim of the event was to have students connect with the congressional representative and to have an open conversation about how to participate in civic engagement and push for change regarding immigration policies.
This event was made possible by Ana Coria, USP coordinator, Kathy Eiler, meeting moderator and director of Governmental and Community Relations, as well as Denise Davis, meeting moderator and director of the Women’s Resource Center. Davis also serves as the Mayor Pro Tem for the Redlands City Council.
When Takano arrived, Davis gave him a quick introduction. According to Davis, Takano has worked to improve the lives of Riverside citizens for over 20 years. He was born and raised in Riverside and showed an early interest in public policy, though after attending Harvard University, he began working as a teacher in the Rialto Unified School District. In 1990, Takano was elected to the Riverside Community College Board of Trustees and later became Board President. In 2012, Takano became the first openly gay person of color to be elected to Congress under the Democratic party. He now serves as chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs and as a member of the Education and Labor Committee.
Takano began by thanking USP for the invitation and addressing the elections as well as the ballot processing occurring across the country. “I know that many of us had hoped that our country would have made a more clear repudiation of this terrible, terrible leadership in the White House,” he stated. Takano affirmed that he knows many people are disturbed and fearful that around half of the country has voted to put Donald Trump back into office; however, he added that while it is extremely worrisome, there are still masses out there who are willing to keep fighting and continue progressing forward.
The meeting then opened up for questions. The first inquiry came from UCR student, Yadira Garcia, and her younger sibling, Victor Garcia, regarding what sort of action can be taken for fighting systemic racism and inequality in our country.
In response, Takano stated that a university education is an especially powerful tool. He pointed out that the majority of white people who voted against Donald Trump were college educated. “Ignorance is our enemy,” Takano stated, explaining that we ought to be generous when understanding our own history, but especially when actively learning about others. He emphasized that this sort of education has the power to inform and broaden the mind, allowing for curiosity and empathy for others to grow. With this education, one can begin to have honest conversation about racism and inequality and what can be done going forward to combat it — a situation that benefits everyone.
However, he also added that it is just as important to remember how far the country has progressed. As a youth growing up in the 1970s, Takano mentioned that he has seen firsthand the changes that have been wrought onto the U.S. He stated that the country has become significantly less racist, and it is essential to remember that. Otherwise, it can be easy to fall into bitterness. Takano advised people to “rise up past the grievances” to understand why they happened and take action to be better going forward.
The second question was raised by The Highlander, asking the congressmember why he thinks it is so important for students in particular to participate in civic engagement.
In response, Takano emphasized the power of young people’s actions and voices, particularly now in light of the traction gained by the Black Lives Matter movement. He pointed out that this wave of social reckoning that has been gaining momentum would not have been possible back in the 1970s during his youth; the difference was laid in the organization and actions of young people from all different backgrounds coming together to incite change. Takano added that young adults can do even better, so long as they continue to learn and strengthen their commitment to social justice.
The third inquiry came from Carlos Alarcon, a student and co-president of Poder at UCR, a student-led organization that seeks to aid undocumented students. He asked about the likelihood of immigration reform happening in the case of Biden winning while Republicans still hold the Senate.
Takano admitted that it is going to be difficult to achieve any sort of immigration policy reform with a Republican majority in the Senate, even if Biden became president. He stated that it is possible that there will be a less “draconian ICE,” but even so, he warned that the federal agency has its own subculture that has worsened under the Trump administration. Takano added that he believes with Biden as president, the government can keep DACA students secure for at least another four years and perhaps at least provide better living conditions for immigrants who are waiting to be judged before the American courts; otherwise, it will mostly result in gridlock.
Congressman Takano experienced technical difficulties and had to leave early, but the final question was answered by Rafael Elizalde, a political consultant. The inquiry was posed by a moderator and asked about the effects that the Supreme Court might have on undocumented issues.
Elizalde stated that the answer is dependent upon what sort of issues are pushed forward. He admitted that there will be future challenges with a conservative-dominant Supreme Court as well as a potentially Republican controlled Senate. However, he added that something to remain hopeful about is the fact that the Supreme Court and lower courts have already ruled in favor of DACA and certain immigration policies that the Trump administration has not been able to pilfer.
The meeting concluded with a brief talk about volunteer and internship opportunities in the congressional office. For those who may be interested, Elizalde may be reached through either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, for politics and official government matters respectively.