Subsidized health care, discrimination ban, Office of New Americans and more: Lawmakers want to further protect immigrants

Published on April 8th, 2015

Roxana Kopetman
April 8, 2015
As seen in:
OC Register

The same California legislators who helped get undocumented residents drivers licenses unveiled a package Tuesday of 10 bills that would also provide them with subsidized health care and other benefits, including protection from fraud and discrimination.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said the flurry of bills “unequivocally state California’s commitment to immigrants.”

During a news conference in Sacramento, de León and others switched between English and Spanish to tout the proposed laws they said mark a “historic moment” for the state.

One proposal was floated last year: a bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, that would extend Medi-Cal health care coverage to all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.

The original tab for that proposal was $1.3 billion. A spokesman for Lara said Tuesday the cost could be $200 million to $400 million less if the federal government grants waivers to undocumented immigrants who want to purchase private health insurance through the state’s health care exchange.

De León could not say how the state would pay for the extended health care program.

Other bills recently introduced and announced Tuesday would:

  • Ban businesses from discriminating against residents based on their immigration status, citizenship or language.
  • Create an Office of New Americans in the governor’s office to coordinate efforts on immigration relief, naturalization services and civic engagement efforts.
  • Protect Californians from immigration attorneys and consultants who demand advance payment for services and require that clients be provided a toll-free number they can call to report them to the State Bar of California in cases of fraud.
  • Protect immigrant workers by limiting misuse of E-Verify and creating penalties for abuse by unscrupulous employers.

“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,” said de León.

The proposed laws are the latest aimed at protecting immigrants in California, where legislators in recent years have passed a slew of bills benefiting undocumented immigrants. The most prominent included the California Trust Act, which limits state and local cooperation with federal immigration agents, and a law that allows people living illegally in the country to apply for California driver’s licenses. Since the new driver’s license rules went into effect Jan. 2, the Department of Motor Vehicles reports issuing more than 200,000 licenses to Californians residing illegally in the state.

Joe Guzzardi, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization, which supports limiting population growth, argued that the bills – especially the health care proposal – would encourage more immigrants to cross the border illegally and settle in California. The influx of immigrants also exacerbates the state’s severe water shortage, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, questioned the costs.

“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,” Huff said. “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.”

De León and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said they see California as setting the tone and becoming a model for other states to emulate. They were flanked at the news conference by colleagues who head various ethnic and minority caucuses, along with immigrant-rights advocates.

“What is it that we fear in opening our arms to the millions already here?” de León said.

California has the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the nation, an estimated 2.5 million.

For those who have been crime victims, one of the proposed bills aims to make it easier to get a federal Victim of Criminal Activity Visa, or a U-Visa, as long as they have been helpful in assisting law enforcement in their cases. De León said the bill mandates local law enforcement to certify immigrants who are victims of human trafficking, rape and sexual assault rather than “subjectively start making immigration policy themselves.”

“What happens is that there’s nothing in the law or regulations that requires law enforcement to certify a victim for a U-Visa. Each city or county has its own approach to the U-Visa, and they decide themselves when they will certify,” said Marisa Cianciarulo, Chapman Law School professor and director of the school’s Family Protection Clinic, which deals with immigration cases.

Kathleen Kim, a Loyola Law School professor and faculty supervisor for Loyola’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, was the co-author of the state’s 2005 anti-human-trafficking bill. A portion of that law also required law enforcement to certify victims for the purpose of their trafficking visa applications.

“If this were to be passed, it would be the law, and law enforcement officers would be expected to follow it. I do support this kind of measure,” said Kim, who also serves on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Meanwhile, announcement of the bills was greeted with enthusiasm by immigrant rights advocates.

“This year is poised to mark another crucial milestone on the road to equity for the millions of undocumented immigrants who call the Golden State home,’’ said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7829 or [email protected]

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