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Welcome to California, President Trump! Now skip the wall and let us educate you

Welcome to California, President Trump! Now skip the wall and let us educate you
President Trump is coming to California. (Associated Presss)

If it's not too late to juggle his itinerary, I'd like to offer an invitation to President Trump on his first visit to California since he took office.

Why not stop by my Monday night class at Cal State L.A.?

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The campus has several hundred students living in the U.S. illegally, by the best estimate. Many of them have temporary protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Trump has both defended and vilified, depending on his mood or whom he last spoke to.

It might help educate Trump if he were to actually meet a DACA student or two, rather than taking easy shots from a distance. Maybe I could arrange for him to meet with students of mine who've written powerful stories about their immigration experiences. One of the best was turned in a couple of years ago by a young man who wanted to be a pilot.

He wrote that when his family lived in Mexico, his father flew small commercial planes and was ordered — under threat of violence to him and his family — to smuggle drugs across the border. In terror, his father stayed in the U.S. after one flight, sent for his family and never got to fly again because of his lack of legal status. So the son wanted to fly, for his dad.

This week, as we know, the Trump administration sued California over its laws protecting immigrants. Gov. Jerry Brown called it a political stunt and "SAD!!!," mocking Trump's Twitter style.

So why is Trump coming to California at all?

Border wall prototypes are shown in San Diego.
Border wall prototypes are shown in San Diego. (Los Angeles Times)
Off the wall

Officially, he's supposed to visit San Diego County and inspect the prototypes for his border wall. Then he has a big reelection fundraiser in Beverly Hills, where dinner starts at $35,000.

As for the wall, I think Trump should reach out to Albert Garcia for some advice. Garcia is a retired Border Patrol welder who spent decades repairing holes in the wall near Calexico. In my latest visit with him last year, Garcia — a conservative Democrat who voted for Trump — laid out a sensible immigration reform plan but said he'd rather not see his tax dollars spent on a wall.

"I don't think anything they make is going to hold them back," he said. "They're going to come across and it doesn't make any difference. If you can see blue sky, they'll go up and over the top, or they'll crawl underneath."

And as we know, most of the people who now immigrate to the U.S. illegally don't sneak in, they overstay visas. So spending billions of dollars to replace one wall with another might draw cheers in some quarters, but it doesn't make much sense, especially if Mexico isn't paying for it as promised.

I'd like Trump to know that in between his San Diego and Beverly Hills events, I'm available for a round of golf. I haven't hit a ball in years, so I might not offer much competition. But I can offer the perspective of someone who was born in California with grandparents from Spain and Italy, and has been told on many occasions to go back to Mexico. I can also explain to Trump why he got trounced in California by Hillary Clinton.

When it comes to immigration, Californians just aren't as constipated as Trump. That's a generalization, for sure, because our red regions are painted a deep, deep red. But let's look at the numbers.

Activists supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program sit in a downtown L.A. crosswalk in 2017.
Activists supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program sit in a downtown L.A. crosswalk in 2017. (Los Angeles Times)
A visit to the real California

Last year, based on polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, 7 of 10 Californians were opposed to building a wall the length of the border. Also, 85% of Californians said immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay legally, and two-thirds favored having their local public school districts declared sanctuary safe zones.

Why do a majority of people feel this way?

Partly because more than one-quarter of California residents are foreign-born, about 40% of the population is Latino and 15% is Asian. We're not just accustomed to cultural diversity, we're defined by it, we're unafraid of it and we get to eat a lot of really good food.

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This doesn't mean we don't respect rule of law, or we don't want to kick out rapists and drug dealers, or we don't understand there are costs involved in supporting a large undocumented population. And it doesn't mean we're in favor of throwing open the borders.

It just means we know that most people here illegally are economic refugees or fled violence. And clearly, many of them are here because the U.S. appetite for drugs fueled corruption in Mexico and Latin America and empowered narco bosses. Those bosses terrorize with weapons manufactured by American companies that are protected by the gun lobby's good buddies in Congress and the White House.

Knowing these things, as we do, provides context and a deeper sense of humanity, and makes it easier for us to identify gasbag politicians who specialize in red-meat rhetoric but are incapable of reason or reflection.

So sue us.

Getting real about immigration

Last week at Cal State L.A., I had a nice chat about Trump and immigration with two DACA students.

"The reason my parents came from Mexico was that they feared all the organized gangs and feared for their safety," said R., who was 1 year old when he was brought across the border.

R. said that in Mexico, violence was not a possibility, but a reality. An uncle was decapitated.

Today, R. is studying microbiology with a goal of becoming a doctor. His father, an attorney in Mexico, is a baker here. His mother, who sold aircraft parts, is a housekeeper.

R.'s friend H. said he came across when he was 1 ½ because, as his parents tell it, they lived in a home with dirt floors and outdoor plumbing, and there was little hope on the horizon. H. is studying history and wants to be a teacher.

Neither R. nor H. has been back to Mexico since they came north as babies, so if DACA is rescinded, they would be sent to a country they don't know.

H. said he doesn't feel sorry for himself, but for his parents, who don't have the temporary legal protection he has under DACA.

R. said that when he found out as a teen that he lacked legal status, he didn't feel any resentment toward his parents. Instead, he felt guilty, because they gave up their careers for his sake.

Not knowing what might happen is maddening, but given the flip-flops and political exploitation of immigrants, some students tell me their focus is on school, family and jobs.

In a state with a lot of Trump haters, R. and H. told me they don't fear the president so much as they worry about the anti-immigrant sentiment that existed before him and will linger after he's gone. But they'll remain committed to their goals.

These young men are Californians in my book.

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In a state at war with the president, they make it easy to choose sides.

Get more of Steve Lopez's work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez

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