As Congress remains paralyzed on immigration, California Democrats have put forth a state-level package. Building on the immigrant driver’s licenses approved last year – a move that has deluged the Department of Motor Vehicles with an incredible 500,000-plus applications – the lawmakers propose a bold, even comprehensive approach.
There are some much-needed ideas, such as fraud protections against unscrupulous immigration attorneys. There are some long shots, such as offering Medi-Cal to the undocumented.
There are some practical solutions, too. A proposal to allow the undocumented to buy unsubsidized health insurance through the state’s exchange, Covered California, for instance, could simplify health coverage for the many families with mixed-immigration status.
All merit study. All, however, underscore the national vacuum on an issue that ought to be dealt with more deliberately and from a much broader perspective. Immigration isn’t just a California problem, and it speaks volumes that, on this as on so many other issues, California is going it alone.
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Ideally, California would be waiting to see how President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration plays out in the appellate courts. There’s no evidence that any harm will come of that effort to give some undocumented immigrants work permits and protection from deportation; the governors of the 26 states that have sued to block Obama should be ashamed of their petty efforts to score cheap political points.
Eventually, the executive action probably will go forward and its results could inform even smarter state policy later.
But state lawmakers also feel Californians’ impatience. The surge of demand for immigrant licenses alone, and the public’s response to it as a general nonissue, testify to the desire here to get back to business after decades of living with anti-immigrant laws that no longer reflect who we are.
Legislative leaders can’t be blamed for responding to the new zeitgeist. But too much, too soon invites its own problems.
If they won’t wait for the federal courts on Obama’s executive action, they should at least take their time in weighing the package of bills proposed Tuesday. We’ll be better able to assess the benefits and costs of each measure if we implement change thoughtfully and slowly.
Meanwhile, we restate our view that federal policymakers should rethink their abdication of responsibility on this pressing national issue. On so many fronts – climate change, health care, food policy, workplace issues – California simply has stopped waiting for the federal government to govern and moved toward its own solutions, hoping they’ll be influential.
The attitude is understandable, and even courageous. But “comprehensive” policies on national issues shouldn’t end at anyone’s state line.