On Immigration Reform, California Issues a Bold Message

Daily headlines and the inflammatory rhetoric from the Republican party have led immigrant communities and advocates to fear the rise of radical, new policies that both exclude and discriminate against immigrants. In the current campaign cycle, fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric is essentially a litmus test for GOP candidates.

But while unrealistic and inhumane ideas surrounding immigrant detention and deportation continue to grab headlines -- state legislators on the front lines of the immigration policy debate have taken a decidedly different tack: passing practical and meaningful reforms that will measurably improve the lives of immigrants.

This month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a host of new measures that include: drug law reform to limit the disproportionate impact of federal consequences including on immigrants, providing enhanced humanitarian relief for children and youth, ensuring due process of law for immigrants, and protecting immigrant victims of crime. Taken together, these new laws focus on helping the most marginalized within the immigrant community, including youth and those with run-ins with the criminal justice system. Once California fully implements these new measures, they will embody significant progress towards strengthening California families and communities and furthering the state's legacy as a leader in implementing smart, effective, and morally sound immigration policies.

As other states wrestle with how to create inclusive immigrant policies, the California legislature's bold steps should serve as a roadmap. California's demographics help to illustrate why inclusive and compassionate policies are not only a reflection of our national commitment to honor the rights and dignity of everyone, but also sound economic policy.

Immigrants are integral to the social fabric of our state. Half of California's children live in households headed by at least one foreign-born parent and undocumented immigrants comprise nearly 10 percent of California's workforce. Simply put, it's in everyone's interest for the men and women who form the backbone of some of California's most fundamental economic sectors -- such as agriculture, food services, construction, textiles, and domestic services -- to have the protections essential to continue working, supporting, and contributing to our state.

While the new laws each contain vital and overdue protections, it wouldn't be accurate to call them novel or surprising. Instead, these laws represent common-sense reforms to ensure that immigrants are provided equal protection under the law. For example, AB 899, the Juvenile Confidentiality Bill, protects immigrant youth from fear of deportation by protecting their records from unauthorized disclosure to federal officials, including immigration authorities.

AB 1343 is a straightforward solution to a problem most people probably take for granted as it requires defense attorneys to provide accurate advice to immigrants who interact with the justice system, while prosecutors must consider as one factor the potential and often devastating immigration consequences of a criminal case. AB 900 closes the gap between federal and California law to make sure that as many immigrant children as possible have access to humanitarian relief. Another bill, AB 1352, ensures that immigrants aren't punished a second time for crimes they have already served their time for.

On the national stage, it seems likely Congress will remain gridlocked on major immigration policy measures while GOP candidates continue their anti-immigrant posturing. Meanwhile, California will continue to lead the country, implementing new measures to improve the lives of immigrant communities, setting the standard for other states to follow.