Victor Perez is the face of the immigration debate because he picks grapes. He’s Hispanic and he works the fields.
However, Oct. 5 was the day Victor the agricultural worker saved the life of an eight-year-old girl from certain death at the hands of a street gangster kidnapper.
Victor is a U.S. citizen. He lives in Fresno, Calif. However, he has family roots in Mexico. His mother lives there. Victor looks like most of the people Californians and Americans see working the fields.
He is a house framer by trade, but has been out of work for weeks because of California’s recession. He picked grapes this fall to support his two sons.
He and his cousin were watching the morning news when a story flashed about the abduction of a little girl while she was walking to school in Victor’s Fresno neighborhood.
The televised alert contained a video of the suspected kidnapper’s truck. About the same time, Victor saw the truck making a U-turn on his street. He yelled at his cousin to call 911, and he jumped into his 22-year-old pickup and gave chase.
He tried to get the gang member to pull over, but he refused to stop. Still suspicious, Victor continued tailing the truck. From behind, he spotted the little girl’s head through the back window. He was more convinced than ever it was the kidnapper and his victim.
“I wasn’t going to give up – I couldn’t give up,” added the unemployed construction worker.
Victor knew gangbangers carry guns, yet he cut the truck off and confronted the kidnapper. When he did, the child jumped from the truck. Neighbors grabbed her to protect her and called police. The kidnapper took off; however, Victor continued to follow him, gleaning a partial license plate to give to police.
Forty minutes later, police cornered the suspect and arrested him. Police are convinced the gangbanger would have killed the third grader had Victor not intervened. Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer called it “truly a miracle” the girl is alive.
Victor became a hero. He was recognized on national television. Almost 40,000 people at a Fresno State football game gave him a standing ovation.
Victor could have been sitting in a cell on Oct. 5 rather than saving a young life. Had the Border Patrol raided the vineyard where he was working Oct. 4, he would have likely been handcuffed and taken to a holding area until he, like all the other pickers in his crew, could verify their citizenships. If for some reason Victor could not prove his citizenship, he could have been deported.
What is the difference between Victor the suspected illegal grape picker and Victor the life saver? Not one thing.
The debate over illegal immigrants has focused on agriculture and has disintegrated into a political debate lacking a human face; devoid of Victors.
The people who struggle mightily to cross the Mexico-U.S. border to work are far different than the drug smugglers. The border debate must separate the two. It must be given a human element, not a blanket criminal element.
Victor gave a little girl her life back. Let’s give the people who want to work legally in this country some dignity and take away fear. Let’s create a viable guest worker program.
Let’s separate the drug smugglers from those who cross the border for work. Let’s make people who work hard to give all of us food into heroes, instead of villains.