Skip to main content

Carlos Amador grew up undocumented in Los Angeles after his family moved here from Mexico when he was fourteen. He worked his way through community college and then Cal State Fullerton, later receiving a Masters in Social Work from UCLA. For the last five years he has worked as the Community Engagement Director at the California Immigrant Policy Center. He is part of a crowded field of candidates on a June 4 special election ballot vying to fill the City Council seat left vacant when Mitch Englander resigned last October.

Carlos Amador

Growing up, it was the economic insecurity the family faced that made an impression on him, more so than their undocumented status.

“The late 90’s were very difficult economic times for my family. So my parents decided to come to America. The idea at first was to come on a temporary basis, save some money and then head back. We came with our tourist visa and just overstayed it. My father went from working at a bank in a suit and a tie every day to working at a bakery factory,” and then a series of cleaning jobs.

Amador worked as a warehouse janitor himself during high school. When he returned to the job later while in college, one of the workers told him, “I knew you would come back. You guys always come back.” The experience shaped his understanding of the connections between economic opportunity and immigrant rights.

The reality of his family’s undocumented status struck home when his older brother was detained by immigration authorities after a short visit to Mexico and then deported. “It was a Sunday and they were supposed to arrive at the airport in Ontario. There was a separate gate for flights from Mexico. I remember we were there waiting for him and he never came out. It was devastating for the family, emotionally and financially.”

It was immigration that launched Amador into activism—specifically the 2006 protest marches against a bill sponsored by Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin that would have criminalized assistance to undocumented immigrants.

It was immigration that launched Amador into activism—specifically the 2006 protest marches against a bill sponsored by Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin that would have criminalized assistance to undocumented immigrants, created 700 miles of fencing at the border, and eliminated the green card lottery program. Over 500,000 marched in Los Angeles.

“There was a lot of fear about this anti-immigrant bill passing. So my parents, my sister and I went to the march. It was my parents’ first march, it was my first march. It was life-changing, to see how many people were out in the streets in LA.”

Two years later he was active in the campaign for the California Dream Act and later for the Federal Dream Act.

“Today [May 18th] is the ninth anniversary of the first major civil disobedience action by undocumented youth, in Arizona at Senator McCain’s office. Months later I led a hunger strike outside of Dianne Feinstein’s office as part of the escalation for the Dream Act. There were two of us, Jorge Gutierrez and myself, who went the whole fifteen days. We were there day and night, camped out in front of her office. While the Dream Act didn’t pass, it was a galvanizing moment for undocumented youth across the nation—who went on to build organizations at the local, state, and federal level.”

 With wife Bridgette Mia and daughter Vivianna.

With wife Bridgette Mia and daughter Vivianna.

That campaign led to the effort to push Obama to take executive action—a strategy even some liberals looked on skeptically. “People would say, Oh, that’s a great idea, but it’s not legally possible. Oh, that’s a great idea, but you’re never going to get Obama to move on it—but we did!” There was pushback from some for targeting Obama. “Don’t attack Obama, don’t attack Democrats, he’s running for re-election, don’t jeopardize this.” Amador even got a call from a Democratic political consultant. “I don’t know who he was, or how he got my number, and I never heard from him again.” Months later, Obama announced DACA. It was an early lesson, he says, in the importance of speaking truth to power, regardless of party.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Amador sees the same condescension in how mainstream Democrats lecture the insurgent progressives elected last year about how “unrealistic” proposals like the New Green Deal are.

“We need to listen to the younger voices. If elected to City Council, I would be the youngest member by a wide margin. AOC is six years younger than me. Having those voices in the mix shifts the conversation to a much more forward-looking approach. We need someone in City Council who has been organizing from the outside. We can shift the conversation at the local level as well. And that definitely has ripple effects up: from city to county to state to federal level. It’s completely possible.”

Amador admires how Ocasio-Cortez continues to use the grassroots organizing strategies that got her into office. “I’m trying to borrow from her. Even after winning, she continues to be very accessible: breaking down the process of how government works or doesn’t work.”

He wants to open up the political process at City Hall.

“Right now, most of the important conversations and decisions happen from 9 to 5. City Council meeting are often in the morning. I would like to see, maybe once a month, a City Council meeting in the evening so people who are not paid to be at City Council, or who don’t have the ability to take a day off, can engage in these conversations.”

Carlos Amador

Amador has seen the sway that developers and other large donors have at City Hall. In a campaign video he discusses his pledge to refuse donations from developers and corporations.

Although he sees himself as an outside, Amador says he has learned that grassroots campaigns can have success at City Hall.

“I was a leader in the passage of the LA Justice Fund, which provides funds for deportation defense. I have also been part of efforts to change the policies of LAPD. We’ve been able to get LAPD to stop asking about place of birth in the field. I was also part of efforts to stop the City from participating in the Department of Homeland Security’s CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] program, a program we know that would have resulted in profiling of Muslim community members.”

He feels his years at the California Immigrant Policy Center have given him a “well-grounded understanding” of multiple policy issues. “Every policy touches immigration: health care, housing, worker rights, access to services, economic mobility, criminal justice.”

The biggest lesson he has learned has to do with “the organizing tenet of putting those who are directly impacted at the center of the issue, having them lead efforts for change. One of the things I want to do in City Council is make sure the most impacted are part of the conversation.”

A touching moment in the campaign came when he was gathering signatures in February to get on the ballot. “A Filipino immigrant told me, I can’t sign that. I’m just an immigrant. I’m just an immigrant, too, I told him. I understand the importance of engaging with the disenfranchised, with those who haven’t been heard. I know what it’s like to not be heard. But I also know what it’s like to force the government to hear me and hear my issues. That is a perspective and experience I bring that many candidates don’t have.”

scott doyle 200

Scott Doyle