Assemblyman Miguel Santiago during interview with Boyle Heights Beat students. Photo by Jackie Ramírez.

Early in October, California enacted what is being called the nation’s strongest net neutrality law, which allows for equal access to the internet. The law prohibits internet service providers from favoring or blocking websites.

Within minutes of Governor Brown signing the law, the Trump Administration sued to strike down the law. Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) co-authored the bill, with Senators Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) and Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

“This measure ensures that we, in California, will maintain a free and open internet that doesn’t discriminate or price users or content differently,” Santiago said at a press conference. “California will now lead by example and show the Trump Administration that their backwards agenda is unacceptable.”

Santiago has represented the 53rd Assembly District since November 2014. His district includes Boyle Heights, downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Pico-Union and surrounding areas.

He graduated from UCLA, the first in his family to graduate from college. He lives with his wife, Celina, and two young children in Boyle Heights.

Santiago, running for re-election in November, spoke to Boyle Heights Beat about issues facing the community. Boyle Heights Beat reached out numerous times to his opponent, Kevin Hee Young Jang, but he was unavailable for an interview.

Miguel Santiago

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

BHB: Why did you decide to become a politician?

It was a complete accident, really, that I got involved in politics. When I graduated UCLA two decades ago, politics was probably not going to be the place for me. I had this feeling that I needed to find myself and find a relationship with God, so I ended up working in a parish.  I flirted with the idea of going to a seminary.

I worked at the parish for three or four years when I discovered a deeper breadth of civic engagement. We began to do community organizing and registering people to vote, and before you knew it, I was back in the swing of organizing and got involved in politics.

BHB: Exide Technologies’ effect on Boyle Heights and surrounding areas has been devastating. While thousands of properties around the facility were tested for lead contamination, only those with the highest contamination level earned a cleanup. Would you say the lives of these residents are not being prioritized?

For 33 years, the Exide facilities contaminated this community, and nothing was done. When I first got into office, we made this a priority. In the first year we were in office, the Department of Toxic Substances Control set aside $7 million to begin the cleanup. That’s when we thought 1,000 homes were affected. But when we discovered that it could be a larger radius, we fought extremely hard and got $176 million.

When you have limited resources, you go after those homes that would be most affected, those that have children or where there may be seniors and with the highest contamination. We will continue to do everything in our power to make sure that (Exide is) accountable and that our neighborhoods are cleaned up.

BHB: You were on the board of trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District, and you are a proponent of free college education. Why?

I went to community college and don’t know where my life would be had I not had that opportunity. I also knew that the community college system could give other people the same opportunity. This September, you’ll have free community college in the state. Now we’re introducing a second year of free community college.  It’s good economics and good policy.

BHB: As a member of the Latino Caucus in the Legislature, can you tell us its priorities?  

After the Trump Administration withdrew Temporary Protection Status [given to citizens of designated countries affected by war or natural disaster], we requested money to give TPS recipients help to find a pathway toward residency or legalization.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago during interview with Boyle Heights Beat students.

I also put my foot down for money to help represent unaccompanied minors and children in federal courts. In May, the Trump Administration was not only tearing families apart; they also withdrew the federal funds for the representation of children in the courts.

BHB: Given the administration’s decision to add a question about legal status to the Census, what should California do to ensure that millions of undocumented residents participate?

California has to make sure our communities are accounted for, especially the communities I represent. There’s funding consequences and electoral consequences.

Because there have been massive [ICE] raids by the Trump Administration, we’ve been warning people not to open the door when it’s a government official, but now we’re needing folks to open their doors to get counted. We need the dollars, and we’re going to need our community organizations to pound the floor to get people counted. There could potentially be electoral consequences if we lose a Congressional seat.

With reporting by the Boyle Heights Beat youth news team.

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Jacqueline Ramírez

Jacqueline Ramírez is a former reporter and recent graduate from Mount Saint Mary’s University. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and New Media. She enjoys sharing the art of storytelling...

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