New post boosts Calif. lawmaker Bonta’s defense of immigrants
SACRAMENTO, California – The first and lone Filipino American elected to the California State Legislature has broken yet another barrier in his lifelong pursuit of “justice and equality for all.”
Philippine-born Rob Bonta, Assembly Member representing the 18th District (Alameda -Oakland-San Leandro), ended 2016 auspiciously as Assistant Majority Leader, the fifth highest post in the State Assembly, when Speaker Anthony Rendon appointed his fellow Democrat last December.
His new post heightens the profile of Bonta, who identifies as a proud immigrant and unabashed advocate for the underdog. He has acknowledged the timing of his ascent as opportune at this juncture in US politics.
“As a member of the leadership team, I will be working closely with the Speaker to move California forward and protect our values and our communities in the face of the Trump Administration,” he told INQUIRER.net.
California has been at the forefront of resistance to the new administration’s current and prospective policies. The state is one of two to date to sue and effectively suspend President Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslims from seven countries.
Bonta authored one of two centerpiece bills rebuffing Trump’s vow to deport almost 3 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the southern border, among the 45th president’s anti-immigrant plans.
“My legislation, AB 3, is one of several key pieces of legislation the leadership teams in the Assembly and Senate are working to get passed quickly as it pertains to assisting undocumented residents of California,” said Bonta, chair of the Assembly Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. “This bill would provide funding to train public defenders to properly navigate the complex immigration laws in order to prevent avoidable deportations.”
The California State Assembly and California State Senate’s joint action opened the 2017-2018 legislative session to “inoculate the potential impact” of Trump’s campaign pledge to deport almost 3 million undocumented immigrants, among anti-immigration pronouncements.
Rendon and Senate President pro Tempore Kevin Leon issued similar resolutions challenging Trump’s pledge of mass deportation.
“Immigrants are vital to many of California’s industries such as technology, health care, agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic services,” said the resolutions. “Immigrants also represent a large percentage of small business owners and create economy prosperity and needed jobs for everyone.”
Legislature leadership counted the undocumented as one-tenth of the state workforce therefore contributing to the $130 billion California’s gross domestic product.
“Immigration is critical for keeping alive the American dream – a dream that the United States is the land of opportunity for people from all over the world,” Bonta said in pressing for AB3. “I’m proud to support a package of bills that protect California’s immigrant population and challenge our society to end policies of profiling and discrimination based on race or religion.”
AB3 joins SB 6 authored by Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), which would create a state program to fund legal representation for those facing deportation.
The measures “send a clear message to undocumented Californians that we won’t turn our backs on them,” said Hueso, Vice-Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus. “We will do everything in our power to protect them from unjustified deportation. In California we embrace people of all walks of life who work hard and contribute to our economy and that won’t change now.”
Legal defense centers
Bonta is pushing for state-funded regional centers to train defense attorneys and public defender’s offices on immigration law and the consequences of criminal convictions.
“We are a nation of immigrants. I’m an immigrant too. I was born in Quezon City and came to the United States at a very young age. Our diversity makes us a stronger and more prosperous,” he reiterated. “Now more than ever, the state of California must stand as a beacon of hope and show our entire country a different path forward. My new position provides me with a prominent seat at the table and a critical voice in shaping the direction of California.”
Social justice is a personal matter to Bonta, who learned literally to walk the walk with his activist parents. His father Warren Bonta marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala. Warren and Bonta’s mother Cynthia Arnaldo Bonta supported the farm workers movement that unionized California farm labor.
Bonta made his strides in the academe, dedicating his Ivy League and Oxford education to public service after a brief stint at a private law office. While Deputy City Attorney in San Francisco, he topped the race for the Alameda City Council in 2010. Two years later he made history by becoming the first Filipino elected to the State Legislature. Twice he has won re-election by a landslide.
Assistant Majority Leader Bonta will represent the Speaker on the Floor, expedite Assembly Floor proceedings and foster camaraderie among legislators.
Applause from peers
He called the appointment a “true honor,” drawing applause from peers beyond and in the Lower House including Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Kevin Mullin.
“He is a great colleague and works hard to represent his district, the Filipino community and the people of California,” said the District 22 representative. “He will be a strong addition to the Speaker’s Leadership Team, and I also look forward to our continued efforts together within the Bay Area Caucus.
Colleague Mark Punzalan, Esq., praised Bonta as “one of the superstars of our community.”
“In just a few short years in the Assembly, we’ve seen Rob lead the charge on a lot of important legislative matters affecting Californians, and he hasn’t shied away from working on some tough issues,” said Punzalan, former president of the Filipino Bar of Northern California who has a private practice in Redwood City, county seat of San Mateo. “With his ascent to Assistant Majority Leader, I see Rob using his great leadership skills to continue working on important laws impacting California. And I think the sky’s the limit for what he’ll be able to accomplish in this new leadership position.”
Pioneer FilAm attorney Ernie Llorente, whose public practice began as a public defender and concluded as city attorney, worked alongside Bonta on the litigation team of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
“Rob impressed me with the quality of his legal research and writing,” noted Llorente, now retired. “Rob handled complex litigation at the time. From time to time we talked about how we could be active in the Fil-Am legal associations.”
Llorente lauded Bonta’s commitment to the underserved especially in his home community.
“Rob has not forgotten his roots in his rapid rise in politics. He effectively represents his constituents of his district at the State Assembly as well as promoting the positive image of Filipinos in California,” said Bonta’s predecessor. “We are fortunate to have him in the state house. Hopefully he has paved the way for more qualified Fil-Am candidates to run and win seats in State Government.”
Speaker Rendon called his appointee a “strong partner on our leadership team.”
“I’ve come to know him as a courageous fighter for his constituents and a member who shares my values of inclusion, justice and opportunity,” said Rendon (D-Paramount).
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