Dems propose immigrant protections

Published on April 7th, 2015

Gary Warth
April 7, 2015
As seen in:
U-T San Diego

SACRAMENTO — Democratic state lawmakers on Tuesday announced a package of bills aimed at expanding protections and providing health care for unauthorized immigrants in what supporters said could set a national example.

“Today we remind the rest of the nation that California is different,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, at a Sacramento news conference. “We respect our immigrants and recognize the contribution that they have made to this state. We serve as a model for the rest of the country.”

Critics expressed concern about the cost of the legislation and the potential that the proposals will act as a magnet for unauthorized immigrants, further stressing state services.

“My main disagreement is that it’s certainly going to encourage more illegal immigration into California,” said Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she and other state legislators were stepping up to do work that national lawmakers have neglected.

“This is the right thing to do,” Atkins said. “And if we thought this were easy, it would be done. D.C. would be doing something if it were easy. We intend to set the model.”

The “Immigrants Shape California” legislative package would create an Office of New Americans in the governor’s office, extend state-funded health care coverage through Medi-Cal to qualified residents who may not be legal residents and make it illegal for businesses to discriminate against individuals based on their immigration status, citizenship or language, among other actions.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, agreed that Congress should be doing more but voiced caution about the proposals.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is important to California’s way of life, and California Republicans have repeatedly called for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level,” he said in a statement. “The federal government’s failure to act has unfairly shifted the burden to the states and California is taking the brunt of it.”

Huff questioned how to fund the cost of the new efforts.

“We understand the burdens facing immigrants who want to go to work and raise their families in safe neighborhoods, and the rationale behind these bills is admirable,” he wrote. “But without money from Congress and President Obama, it will be very difficult and costly for California taxpayers to fund all of these bill proposals.”

Ted Hilton, president of Taxpayer Revolution, said the legislators’ first priorities should be helping legal residents and citizens.

“What the state should really be doing is putting welfare recipients to work,” said Hill, a San Diego resident. “Minor drug offenders should be doing agriculture as in other states. Also, we have disability and worker’s comp fraud. That has to be addressed. Those should be priorities. Putting able-bodied Americans to work.”

Although all 10 bills in the package are from Democrats, de León predicted they could have some Republican support.

Guzzardi, of Californians for Population Stabilization, said news of the legislation will spread throughout Latin America, encouraging more people to come to California in hopes of receiving health care and other benefits.

“California’s got a fixed number of resources, whether you’re talking about natural resources or social resources, and anything that encourages more growth and more people is not a good thing for all of California,” he said.

Legislators and advocates of the bill package who spoke at a news conferences in Sacramento on Tuesday said the new laws would help all Californians.

“By giving into fear, by persecuting and alienating those who come to our nation in search of a better life, we create many of the problems we seek to avoid,” de León said. “By forcing undocumented immigrants to live and work in the shadows, we all lose. We lose wages, we lose revenue. We lose innovation. We lose justice. Most important, we lose our identity.”

Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a community organization that fights for inclusion of immigrants and other marginalized groups, also said the bills would help all Californians.

“When we talk about what’s helpful to immigrants, we talk about what’s helpful to the larger community,” she said Tuesday.

As an example, Guerrero said that one proposed law would protect an unauthorized immigrant from deportation after reporting certain crimes.

De León and Atkins proposed the Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act, SB 674, to ensure all immigrant victims of crime in California have an opportunity to apply for the federal Victim of Crime Visa, also known as a U-Visa, if they were a victim of certain crimes such as sexual assault or human trafficking and have been helpful in investigations.

Guerrero also said expanding health care coverage can be less expensive than providing emergency room treatment for people without insurance. It was unclear how much that coverage would cost the state.

The package includes two bills from Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who said Tuesday that he had discussions with federal lawmakers last week about how to make unauthorized immigrants eligible for the Affordable Care Act.

One of Lara’s bills, SB 4, would extend access to health care coverage to all Californians who qualify and expand Medi-Cal to include all people who qualify for enrollment in the program based on their income, regardless of their immigration status.

Another Lara bill, SB 10, would create an Office of New Americans within the governor’s office to coordinate a multiagency approach to immigrant integration.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s press secretary Evan Westrup said the governor does not generally comment on pending legislation. Westrup did note that Brown had signed several bills to help unauthorized immigrants. The Dream Act allows certain unauthorized immigrant students to apply for college financial aid and another law allows unauthorized immigrants to apply for a special driver’s license. He said the governor also has signed other bills to enhance protections for immigrants in schools, the workplace and in society overall.

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