What the Supreme Court Can Learn From California on Immigration

President Barack Obama's executive actions in November 2014 to provide relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of Californians was welcome news, not just for those directly impacted, but for our state as a whole.
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President Barack Obama's executive actions in November 2014 to provide relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of Californians was welcome news, not just for those directly impacted, but for our state as a whole.

The President's actions expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and created a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. These measures would allow families to remain united, contribute to our state's economy and public safety, and provide a path to health coverage for these undocumented Californians through Medi-Cal. Since our state is stronger when more people have access to health coverage, DAPA and an expanded DACA are important steps towards achieving health and justice for all.

However, before the President's actions could be implemented, a challenge in federal court by the State of Texas has put the promise of these new initiatives on hold for over a year for the entire country. The case, known as United States v. Texas, has worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on April 18th, the eight current justices of the court will hear oral arguments for and against lifting the hold on the President's immigration actions.

The stakes for California are so high that The California Endowment joined a group of civic, educational, religious, political and business leaders from across our state to make the case to the Supreme Court for the benefits of DAPA and an expanded DACA in a robust amicus brief, also known as a "friend of the court" brief in which those interested in a legal case provide information to help the judges, or in this case Supreme Court justices, put the case in greater context. The court should listen to the diverse voices from California represented in this amicus brief. After all, we have a larger stake in the Supreme Court's deliberations than any other state.

More than one in four immigrants in the United States resides in California, 40 percent of our population consists of immigrants and their children, and the Golden State has been at the forefront of developing policies to better integrate immigrants into the social, economic and civic life of the state. Our experience demonstrates that when we welcome immigrants, our economy benefits, as does the overall health of our state.

However, there is only so far we can go as a state since immigration laws are written and enforced at the federal level. We need the DACA expansion and DAPA to build on the progress we've made thus far. As we assert in the amicus brief, the economic benefits are especially compelling: "the DACA expansion and DAPA would generate 130,000 new jobs in California alone, increase the collective wages of undocumented immigrants in California by more than $5.5 billion annually, and support public programs with $3.8 billion in new business, personal and sales taxes annually."

An even more compelling need for an expanded DACA and DAPA is their impact on health. Immigrant families that fear deportation face greater physical health problems and psychological distress, and are less likely to seek care, further compounding these challenges.

California has sought to address this through enactment of the Health for All Kids law, passed with bipartisan support, to provide state-based Medi-Cal to undocumented children under age 19. This law provides critical health services to children and saves the state money by giving families a more affordable alternative to costly emergency room care. However, as the California amicus brief argues, "state-level efforts cannot fully counteract the pernicious civic effects that grow out of fear of deportation. This fear derives, ultimately, from uncertainty about federal immigration enforcement practices."

We hope the Supreme Court justices will take our arguments into account and help dispel the unnecessary fear that holds too many Californians back from contributing fully to our state. When they are freed from fear, we will all win.

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