Building on California's Immigrant Rights Blueprint

This year, California must break new ground for immigrant rights

California was the original "Arizona" of the immigration debate. More than twenty years ago, Prop 187 whipped up a frenzy of fear and hate.

But now, the Golden State is building a blueprint of pro-immigrant policy-making that's reverberating across the nation.

And we are far from done.

This year, we're determined to break new ground and fortify our blueprint for immigrant rights.

Our state's strength and prosperity depend upon it.

With hundreds of immigrants rallying in Sacramento this past Monday for the 19th Annual Immigrant Day, the vitality of immigrant communities is undeniable.

Grassroots leaders' creativity and commitment shine in everything from community-based drivers' license study circles to vibrant protests challenging deportations. The pundits -- and when the time comes, the history books -- should take note: California evolved on immigration because everyday people courageously fought for their families and communities.

Looking back over the last two decades, strategic organizing and advocacy have translated into some thirty statewide victories, including Drivers Licenses, the TRUST Act, the CA Dream Act, and many more. We've recently put together a report to capture some of these wins, spanning all the back to 1997.

Looking forward, what wins will we see in the next two decades?

This year's Immigrant Day priorities help outline a course for the future. Priority proposals for 2015, championed by a statewide planning committee, would make access to health care a reality for every California family, protect the rights of all workers, curb racial and identity profiling, and help Californians apply for both citizenship and deportation relief.

Let's start with Health. We believe no one should suffer or die from a treatable medical condition -- no matter where they were born. Most California voters agree. Yet, because Congress cruelly excluded undocumented people from the Affordable Care Act, conditions like diabetes, gallstones, even cancer, often go untreated until it's too late.

Under the Health for All Act (SB 4 by Sen. Lara), undocumented Californians with low incomes will be able to enroll in comprehensive Medi-Cal - and qualify at the same income levels as other Californians. Those above the Medi-Cal income limits would be allowed to use their own money to purchase private insurance plans.

Last year, UC Berkeley's Labor Center found that expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented Californians would amount to just two cents to each dollar we already spend on the program. A little investment will go a long way.

We also believe that no one should be fired from the job because of what their last name is, or because they stood up for their basic rights.

But the federal E-Verify system is a weapon for abusive employers. Existing California law already makes it clear this program is optional, and we think it's better for the economy if employers don't tangle with a program devoid of due process or worker protections. At the least, federal standards against the worst abuses of E-Verify should have some teeth. Enter AB 622 by Assemblymember Hernandez, which creates penalties for abuse.

On the federal front, the biggest positive development, won after years of organizing, is the expansion of deportation relief with the DAPA and extended DACA programs. An unfounded, anti-immigrant lawsuit has temporarily halted this, but we know in the end we will prevail. In the meantime, California should set up the infrastructure for successful implementation. Enter the "One California" budget proposal, which would invest $20 million in community-based education, outreach, and application assistance for both deportation relief and citizenship. As my colleague Carlos Amador points out, "it takes a village to gain citizenship."

(It's important to note that new deportation relief programs, as important as they will be, will also leave many people out. Meanwhile, a bizarre cloud of uncertainty and secrecy once again hangs over the launch of the Obama administration's "new" deportation dragnet. We're counting on state and local leaders to stand strong against the continued machinations of a heartless deportation machine.)

That brings us to a final plank in the platform. The injustice of the criminal justice system is being called into question like never before. Amid the growing #blacklivesmatter movement, there's unprecedented recognition that the criminal justice system, by way of its very structure, unfairly targets communities of color.

One piece of the solution is pushing back on the use of racial and identity profiling. AB 953 by Assemblymember Weber curbs racial and identity profiling.

At the heart of all of these efforts is hope. Hope for a better, more inclusive future, where the equality and dignity of every human being is fully celebrated.

Each page we add to California's blueprint takes us a little bit closer to that vision.