California State Senator Kevin de León detailed his vision for California in its role as a national leader in diversity, economic output and climate policy in a talk at Stanford Law School (SLS) on Monday evening. De León served as the keynote speaker for the Stanford Latino Law Student Association’s (SLLSA) “Semana Latina.”
De León, a Democrat, represents California’s 24th district and is the first Latino to serve as Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus in over a century. He is currently challenging Senator Dianne Feinstein’s ’56 U.S. Senate seat, which she has held since 1992.
De León argued that California’s leadership role within both national and global politics should stem from its rejection of President Trump’s policies. He commended the fact that over half of Californians voted against Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re not going to allow one electoral aberration to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, our scientific advancement, our economic output and our sense of global responsibility,” de León said.
Central to de León’s vision is the protection of California’s racial diversity and maintenance of the state’s role as a sanctuary for immigrants. Specifically, he opposes Trump’s proposed merit-based immigration policies, which prioritize immigrants with qualities considered beneficial to the United States.
“We will not lift a single finger or spend a single cent to be a cog in the Trump deportation machine, and we won’t be complicit in his effort to make American great again by reengineering the legal immigration system,” de León said.
De León, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, said he believes that the story of his upbringing illustrates the value of welcoming immigrants into the U.S. and, more specifically, into California. Raised by a mother who worked as a housekeeper and attained only a third-grade education level, de León was the first in his family to attend either high school or college. He graduated with a bachelor’s from Pitzer College in 2003.
“In California, we celebrate our diversity,” de León stated. “We celebrate who we are because we’re proud of who we are, we’re proud of where our families come from.”
De León also emphasized California’s role as a global economic leader that has implemented progressive policies to benefit its citizens.
“From education to the environment, from high wages to health care to human rights, California is proof that progressive policies put into action improve the human condition of all individuals,” he said.
According to de León, fighting climate change is central to California’s continued commitment to improving Californians’ quality of life. In March, his bill to make California completely reliant on renewable energy by 2045 passed the state Senate. He said he hopes to make California a model for effective climate policy, especially in light of President Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
With events planned throughout this week, Semana Latina celebrates Latino cultures within SLS’ student body and, more broadly, the legal profession. Previously called “Cinco,” Semana Latina emphasizes the diversity of Latino culture.
Vanessa Guerrero, a third year law student and chairwoman of SLLSA, said she believes that Senator de León embodies the the purpose of Semana Latina: to inspire Latino law students to aspire to leadership positions.
“It was really important to us to have someone like Senator Kevin de León be our inaugural address, because he really encompasses the American dream,” Guerrero said. “He’s a great example of someone who, although he’s moved on to bigger and better things, always remembers where he comes from.”
Sophia Carrillo, a third year law student, said she appreciated de León’s speech both for its relevance to California policies and celebration of Latino identity.
“Here at Stanford Law School, it’s really important to have these conversations about Latinos in leadership,” Carrillo said, citing the low numbers of Latinos in the legal profession.
While the event was aimed at Latino law students, De León said that California offers opportunities to all its residents.
“I want you to know that California is your sanctuary,” de León said. “We will always be a place where you can be whoever you are and become whoever you dream of being. California will always stand up for you. That’s a principle that’s bigger than partisanship, more powerful than any president.”
Contact Gabriela Romero at gromero2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.