Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento made one thing crystal clear Tuesday as they touted a package of 10 bills aimed at expanding the rights of undocumented Californians: They are doing this because Congress will not.
Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León said the bills, which would expand legal rights and protections to the state's estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, are the "direct reflection of the brokenness of Washington, D.C."
"This is a reflection of the dereliction of duty of these members of Congress -- either their intellectual laziness or lack of work ethic on this issue," said de León (D-Los Angeles). "Today we remind the rest of the nation that California is different -- we respect immigrants and recognize the contributions they have made to this state. From the very beginning, we have served as a model for the country."
The bills tackle a wide range of issues, including health care access, civil rights protections, due process for those accused of crimes and help for victims of crimes.
Taken together, said Angie Junck, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, the proposed laws will "right many wrongs that currently exist in the federal immigration system."
"These bills will help ensure that immigrant children will have protections that they need to grow up safe and free from violence and neglect," she said. "They will help ensure that immigrants have access to fair, honest and competent legal representation when they need it. And they will help ensure that immigrants aren’t punished unfairly for offenses they have already faced justice for."
Among the proposals:
- SB10 would create an Office of New Americans under the governor to coordinate immigration programs and services.
- SB4 would expand health care coverage to undocumented immigrants; it would require a waiver from the federal government to enact.
- AB622 would prohibit employers from using the federal E-Verify system to see if a person is here legally, unless the business owner must do so under federal law.
- SB600 would make it illegal for businesses to discriminate on the basis of immigration status, citizenship and language.
- AB60 would protect people from paying in advance for services related to federal immigration reform that has yet to be enacted.
- SB674 would require law enforcement to help undocumented victims of crime apply for a U-Visa.
- AB899 would protect state juvenile court records from immigration authorities unless they secured a court order.
- AB1343 would require defense attorneys to tell clients when their actions, such as accepting a plea deal, could result in deportation.
- AB900 would help more juveniles apply for a special humanitarian visa and stay in the U.S.
- AB1352 would wipe the criminal record of undocumented immigrants who avoided criminal prosecution for drug possession by going to treatment, letting them avoid deportation.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said the package is a heavy lift, even in California, but she expects bipartisan support on at least some of the bills.
"Why? Because what affects California affects every single one of us," she said, adding she has heard too many stories of families being ripped apart by deportations.
"These are hard-working individuals who just want an opportunity … this is the right thing to do and if we thought this were easy, it would be done."