SDABJ Pro For A Day Nov. 3, 2017
From fighting fires to fighting deportation, John Ybarra spent the past two months in fear for his life and livelihood.
Ybarra is a firefighter for Butte County, Calif. and risked his life fighting fires that ravaged nearly a quarter of a million acres of land in Northern California in October.
He is also a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implemented by former President Obama in 2012, that allows young people who came to the United States as children to stay and work for a renewable two year period.
President Trump’s decision to end the program in March of 2018 means that Ybarra will not be able to reapply for his DACA status, and he now faces deportation to Jalisco, Mexico.
Ybarra and his attorney, Jasmine Graves of Littlefield and Assoc., held a press conference at Cooper College in San Diego on Nov. 3 to fight for him to stay in California.
“I love to help other people and I want to continue to help other people. America is my home,” said Ybarra. “It’s scary for me because this is all I know.”
Ybarra shared that his parents brought him to the United States when he was five years old and he grew up in San Francisco. He said he does not speak Spanish, has never been back to Mexico, and does not know his extended family there.
It was not until Ybarra was in his junior year of high school that his parents told him that he is in this country illegally. He worked three jobs to put himself through college and received a degree in Fire Management from UC Berkeley in 2003.
“This man is a hero and he may have to go back to a country that he doesn’t know,” said Graves. “We have a situation where we have a federal government that is turning it’s back on these folks who have contributed, who are contributing to our society and how it functions daily.”
Graves has represented Ybarra for the past six months pro bono. She also said that she and Ybarra, along with community organizers from the San Diego nonprofit Keep DACA Here (KDH), will be protesting every day for at least the next week.
“We want to make sure that this administration understands what it’s doing to people,” she said. “We, as a country, cannot afford to lose someone like Mr. Ybarra.”
A community organizer from KDH, Pedro Martinez said, “Firefighter Ybarra is a true American citizen and a hero to so many people he helped save in Northern California.”
According to Martinez, around 700,000 people are DACA recipients, commonly known as “Dreamers.” “These are people who contribute to American society: firefighters, lawyers, doctors,” he said.
Martinez called Ybarra, “a legend in the community” and said he is proud to organize the daily protests that will take place at Cooper College and at Congressman David King’s (R, Calif.) office.
King did not share the same opinion about Ybarra and other DACA recipients. He said, “I think it is time for the Dreamers to wake up.” He called the DACA program unconstitutional and told Ybarra, “We are going to send you back.”
When asked whether he has any respect for Ybarra, King said that he has respect for those who came to the country legally. King shared that his wife, Rosario King, was born in Brazil and married King here in the U.S. 20 years ago and therefore immigrated legally.
Regarding the daily protests at his office, King said, “I hope they’re ready. There’s a clear line and if they cross it, you’ve seen what will happen.”
During the press conference a man named Willie Jones, who described himself as a hard-working American citizen, yelled that DACA recipients are stealing tax money and they should go home. Jones said his goal in attending was “to get all our voices heard.”
Jones said he is a proud supporter of President Trump and that he follows Congressman King on social media, which is how he learned of the protests. Congressman King called Jones a “truth speaker” and said people like him are “the backbone of this country.”