Thirty years ago, Pedro Rios was smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico by his uncle. Today he is a citizen and a Republican candidate for the 32nd Assembly District, which includes part of Bakersfield and an area to the north of the Central Valley city.
In between, Rios benefitted from President Reagan’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 1986 law which provided a path to citizenship for people who had entered the country illegally. Rios became a citizen in 1996.
But these details were not public until late October. While his Democratic opponent, Bakersfield City Councilman Rudy Salas says he won’t make an issue of Rios’ prior undocumented status, people are taking issue with Rios’ refusal to back President Obama’s DREAM Act, a policy to allow young people who have come to the U.S. illegally to apply for legal residency.
Jose Gaspar, a columnist with the Bakersfield Californian talked to Candi Easter, chair of the Democratic Party of Kern County:
“I think it’s honorable that Rios came here undocumented and became a citizen,” Easter added. “But what I find dishonorable is his opposition to the DREAM Act,” she said. The DREAM Act is proposed federal legislation that would grant a path to citizenship for qualified undocumented youth in this country. And in fact, Rios admits he is against the legislation, saying he wants comprehensive immigration reform instead.
“That is what hurts him the most with the Latino community. His being against the DREAM Act means he has turned his back on helping other undocumented youth which he once was,” said Cal State political science professor Mark Martinez.
Rios said he supports other means that would grant citizenship to the undocumented, although he did not specify anything other than to say “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Then there’s Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the conservative Republican who represents Bakersfield and is House of Representatives majority whip. He leads the list of Rios’ endorsements, but McCarthy himself is strongly opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
An editorial, also from the Bakersfield Californian takes Rios and his backers to task:
What sets Rios apart from the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today — the ones so often demonized by Republicans for breaking the law when they crossed the border? Rios got lucky. That’s all. He was here at an opportune time, during the Reagan administration, when Congress passed an amnesty plan that gave legal status to 3 million illegal immigrants.
But to hear his political supporters tell it, Rios is somehow different, more virtuous and deserving, than the millions of other undocumented immigrants today who weren’t lucky enough to get amnesty.