David Campos looked at the pictures of tear gas at the US-Mexico border and flashed back to 1985. That’s when the assistant Santa Clara county executive, former SF supervisor, Harvard Law graduate, and chair of the SF Democratic Party crossed the border at Tijuana, age 14, crawling under the fence without documents, with his five-year-old sister holding his hand.
They were those children, the ones that Donald Trump’s troops shot with tear gas.
“That’s the image that comes to mind,” Campos told me. “It’s the crossing that we went through.”
Campos has one of the most remarkable stories of anyone in local politics. His family escaped war-torn Guatemala and made it to the US – and it wasn’t easy. As we reported in 2014:
Crossing the border into the US was just the final leg of a trip on buses and trains from Guatemala – and for much of that time, the family had to stay out of sight, since they had no papers to enter or pass through Mexico. “We crossed at Tijuana, where we had to hide for two days with nothing to eat but crackers and water,” Campos said.
When it came time to walk across the border, he took his five-year-old sister and his mom took the eight-year-old. They walked all night and crawled under the fence. “It was really cold, my sisters we so cold,” he remembered. “You could see the lights on the other side, the United States. I don’t know how my mother did it.
“You were risking your life. You saw all these empty bottles of water. You never knew if you were going to make it alive.”
So now Trump wants to be sure the next David Campos – someone who pretty much embodies the American Dream, who worked so hard for so many years, excelling in school after learning the language, getting scholarships to top universities, becoming a public servant – doesn’t get that chance.
“It brings up a lot of emotions,” Campos told me. “It’s upsetting, it’s painful, it’s heartbreaking – and it’s infuriating to think that this is where we are now as a country, that we are tear-gassing children.
“There are a lot of gray areas in immigration policy, but at this point we have crossed a line.”
Campos has personal experience with the experience Trump derides. “Imagine yourself, you are a parent in your 30s and you decide to give up everything you have and everyone you know, you may never see your parents or your loved ones again, to try to find a safe and better life for your kids. You leave with only what you can carry. You are risking your life and the lives of your kids. Your native country doesn’t support you. Yet you do that to give your kids a chance at a country of freedom and opportunity.
“The first image I had of the US was the lights across the border. How quickly Trump has destroyed that idea, that the US was a beacon of light.”
Campos rightly points out that the success of the United States is due to generations of immigrants. “They are pushing out the people who can make this a better place…. It’s a defining moment four us as a country.”