Jesus Narvaez, a Lane Community College student and political activist, accompanied Congressman Peter Defazio at the State of the Union address on Jan. 30 because of Narvaez’s fight for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation. Narvaez attended with five other Oregonians, including Esli Becerra, Aldo Solano, Juan Navarro, Leonardo Reyes and Miriam Vargas Corona. The six people represented 11,000 Oregonian Dreamers and were invited as guests by Oregon lawmakers.
For Narvaez, this was one step in a long struggle for immigrant rights. Along with being an honors student, he’s a member of the Lane chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, an organization that helps Latinx youth get support, education and leadership skills. Narvaez explained the Lane chapter promotes learning about indigenous culture and history, and provides a community that feels like family to the members.
Narvaez has been involved with MEChA since 2010 and is one of the regional representatives for Oregon. His girlfriend and fellow Lane student, Janice Gonzalez-Valera, is also an Oregon representative. Narvaez and Gonzalez-Valera are both graduates of Juventud Faceta, an organization that trains youth to be leaders for immigrant rights. Graduation requirements include 500 hours of leadership training and community service.
Narvaez hopes to transfer to the University of Oregon and become a teacher at his former high school, South Eugene. He also talked of eventually getting a Ph.D. so he can teach at Lane, citing the inspirations of Lane faculty members Michael Sámano, Jim Garcia and Judy Gates.
However, unless the DACA Act is approved, many communities and family members Narvaez has served with and advocated for face deportation. Narvaez and Gonzalez-Valera are members of the Oregon DACA coalition and support a “clean” DACA bill, meaning one that does not include support for deportations, border security or extra ICE agents.
“The President wants to do this immigration reform, but with these reforms, he also wants to deport a bunch of people. Basically, he wants to deport my parents, deport people who want to be a part of this country,” Narvaez said.
Time is running out, Narvaez explained, and it’s not just the March 5 deadline that needs to be in the forefront of senator’s minds. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, 122 DACA recipients lose their status and face deportation every day. Narvaez explained that Democrat minority whip Dick Durbin has stated in the senate gallery that even if legislators waited until March 5 to fix DACA, the Department of Homeland Security takes six months to give people legal status.
“In those six months, people who lost their DACA status are still prone to being deported. It’s not just about a March 5 fix, it’s a six-month fix that needs to happen now,” Narvaez said.
Narvaez and Gonzalez-Valera went to Washington, DC, in December to advocate putting a clean DACA act in the spending bill. Part of this involved protesting in Republican and Democratic senators’ offices. On a second December trip, Gonzalez-Valera was arrested as part of a protest in Georgia Senator David Perdue’s office. A group of DACA activists were prepared for the arrests, trained what to do, and told to bring $50 for bail money. About 25 people chose to be arrested that day. Gonzalez-Valera as an ally and citizen wanted to use her privilege, and considered the arrest one of the best experiences of her life.
“I just felt really happy and really proud to be arrested because I knew I was doing it for a good cause. I was doing it for the right reasons,” Gonzalez-Valera said.
Narvaez and Gonzalez-Valera have protested in Oregon lawmakers’ offices as well. They stayed in Senator Ron Wyden’s office for five hours one day in December. After that, they saw on Twitter that Senator Jeff Merkley voted against the spending bill. Once Wyden heard of the protest, Wyden’s immigration staff member met with the DACA Coalition. Senator Wyden then came out publicly in support of the DACA Act. He too brought a Lane alum Dreamer, Esli Becerra, with him to the State of the Union Address.
Narvaez explained how parts of the Address promoted fear of and divisiveness against immigrants.
“I think promoting fear in the nation about immigrants, using tactics to create fear, is what further divides the nation instead of uniting it. People are going to be more fearful of immigrants because of what he said,” Narvaez said.
When President Trump talked about the border wall, a woman seated next to Narvaez stood up and cheered.
“Being the activist I am, it was hard to hold my tongue and not start protesting. My heart wanted to protest, but my mind told me to be quiet. I knew just being there was a protest”.