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Catholic Voice
November 6, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
'We need to reach everyone, especially young people'
CCHD grants help empower
East Bay groups
A Dreamer envisions future
and how to achieve it

Arturo Fernandez, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, is big brother and mentor to four siblings who were born in the United States.
Courtesy photo

Arturo Fernandez is in the fifth year of his doctoral degree program in statistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

He was student body president at Pittsburg High School. He arrived on the Berkeley campus as a freshman in fall 2008. Four years later, he graduated with a degree in applied mathematics and statistics.

He's the eldest of five children of a landscaper and housekeeper, two people pursuing their small piece of the American dream.

Fernandez is the only one of their five children who is not an American citizen. He was carried into the United States from Mexico when he was 3 months old.

He is one of the faces of DACA Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals. He is among 780,000 young people who have been protected by DACA since it began in 2012.

"We're not all criminals," he said, "we're not all PhDs."

Fernandez said he has not always been so open about his status, overcoming "fear, shame and anxiety" to speak out.

As a Berkeley graduate student, he understood he occupied a place of privilege, and wanted to put that to use to draw attention to the spectrum of people who are living their lives "in pursuit of their part of the American dream."

While pursuing his doctoral degree at Berkeley, where he has taught six classes but is mostly involved in research this year, Fernandez is carving out time to work toward immigration reform in East Contra Costa County, where he has lived almost all his life.

How to help

Language matters. Erase "illegal" from your vocabulary.

Join a group such as East County FIRE (www.facebook.com/pg/

If you don't see a group that interests you, start one.

Lobby for a clean DREAM Act
He made his first communion and confirmation at St. Peter Martyr Parish in Pittsburg, where he was an altar server. Growing up, he played soccer in a league formed to help students with too much time on their hands.

Not that Fernandez had a lot of spare time. His gift for mathematics did not go unnoticed. As a middle-schooler, he took a math class at community college. If he enrolled, he could receive college credit.

He asked his mother for his Social Security number.

He recalled her reply: "You don't have one."

Lack of permanent status has not stopped his activism. He is dedicated to bringing resources and hope to the immigrant community in Contra Costa County.

He was involved in the sanctuary city proposal for Pittsburg, whose failure could be blamed on veiled threats of loss of federal funds, which has yet to occur nationally.

From that campaign came EC FIRE East County For Immigrant Rights and Education. He has also been involved in Know Your Rights workshops, sponsored by Catholic Charities of the East Bay and the Diocese of Oakland's Life and Justice office, part of the Department of Faith Formation and Evangelization.

One of those signs of hope is the county's rapid response network to provide legal assistance to undocumented immigrants, championed by the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance.

Fernandez's advocacy encompasses not just those covered by DACA, but the greater immigrant community.

He fears the DACA community, for which many people have compassion, could be used as a bargaining chip to obtain more hard-line immigration policies, such as "building a border wall, getting more ICE agent funding, or reducing the amount of legal immigration."

Toward that end, he joined advocates for what they term "a clean DREAM Act vote," which would not include funding for a border wall or increased number of immigration enforcement agents.

"We don't want to protect the Dreamers just to deport their parents," he said.

Although the people covered by DACA were brought to the United States by their parents, Fernandez is quick to point out that they don't blame their parents.

"Look at where I am," said the young man whose graduate work is funded partially by foundations. "My mom's decision allowed me to get here. I am thankful to my mom and my dad for all the sacrifices they made.

"They just wanted to raise a family together, and provide opportunity for their children," he said.

His parents, he said, gave him "core values."

"My dad gave me a very strong work ethic, commitment and what it meant to work hard," he said. "My mom gave me a lot of love and helped me value education."

Her faith also influenced his life. "My mom is incredibly religious," he said. "It was a great influence. I don't know if I'd be the person I am without my mom's values and her appreciation for the church."

Of his activism, Fernandez said, "I'm in pretty deep." Having felt the vitriol of people who call others "illegal," he said, felt like someone "trying to rip away your humanity."

"I can't be on the sidelines, when another group of people" is being treated unjustly, he said. "I try to be an ally of people who are fighting to be treated as equally as other people."

For those on the sidelines in the immigration discussion, Fernandez suggested becoming involved in community organizations, such as Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights in Alameda County and in Contra Costa, the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and EC FIRE.

Ask the leaders, "What can we do in our community?"

If you don't see one to your liking, he has another suggestion: "Create one. Take a leap of faith."

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