Kern County residents heard from a number of immigrant rights advocates Wednesday at the Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance’s second Immigrant Civil Rights Conference at Hodel’s Country Dining.
Elected officials, attorneys, U.S. Census Bureau staff, law enforcement officers all spoke on immigrant rights and how they affect the safety and well-being of Kern County. A topic covered by the majority of the speakers was on fear of personal information being released to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We have Title 13 and Title 26 that protects everyone’s information,” said U.S. Census Bureau, Central California Lead Partnership Specialist Benita Duran of the 2020 Census.
Duran, along with a panel of residents on Kern’s Complete Count Committee, spoke on the 2020 Census. Duran said people give more information when shopping online or when downloading an application on their phone than they would on the census form.
“You matter. You are important, and you need to help us,” said Dee Slade, the executive director of the African American Network of Kern and member of KCCC. “Tell me what your needs are. Tell me how we can help you. Tell me how the Census in your viewpoint can help you.”
Duran emphasized the importance of counting everyone, that way the community receives their, “fair share of federal funds.”
Other speakers talked about fear of speaking up. After a man in Delano was detained in the courthouse in July and after activist Jose Bello was detained less than 36 hours after reciting a poem protesting ICE, advocates say community members are living in fear.
Activist Jose Bello attended the conference and recited his poem, “Dear America” – the same poem he shared at Kern’s second Truth Act Forum and was detained two days later.
“Everybody has that right to be treated with some kind of dignity,” Bello said. “That’s what’s missing there. That part of the system is not being exposed because people are scared to come out and talk. I take a lot of chances and because of that, I have to go through more stuff.”
Valentin Navarez, a staff attorney with GBLA, presented a year in review regarding immigrant rights and Kern County events. One event he shared was Governor Gavin Newsom signing Assembly Bill 32, which intends to phase out the use of for profit prisons and detention centers.
Kern County Board of Supervisor David Couch said he wants to build trust between the government and those afraid “of being discovered,” causing some community members to be hesitant when reporting crime. Asking for ideas, Couch stressed to those in attendance that Kern County would be safer if it could find a way to come together in trust.
The event organizer, Carmen Burgos, said she hoped the conference expands its impact, attracting community members who had not attended last year. With the room packed, sold-out at 287, she said she remains optimistic that the event would reach this goal.