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Undocumented immigrants could serve on California boards under new bill

California senator wants Gov. Jerry Brown to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented adults

Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara is seeking to expand the state’s low-income health program to undocumented adults up to age 26.
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Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara is seeking to expand the state’s low-income health program to undocumented adults up to age 26.

Immigrants residing in California illegally would be able to serve on all state and local boards and commissions under a proposal introduced in the state Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill 174 amends existing state law to allow the appointment of any resident over the age of 18 to a civil office regardless of citizenship or immigration status. California law currently states that someone is incapable of holding office if they are not a citizen at the time of their appointment.

“California is stronger when we utilize talents of all our residents, and opening state and local boards and commissions to every Californian will allow us to better serve our diverse communities," Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens and the bill's author, said in a statement. “Undocumented Californians are our neighbors, co-workers and parents, and as lawmakers we can’t make good policy if their voices are left out of the discussion."

Lara's office said each board or commission would have to analyze federal law to determine if the appointee can be compensated for the work based on their individual immigration status. Federal law prohibits residents without legal status from seeking salaried positions, for example, but immigrants granted work authorization under the Federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be eligible for pay, Lara's office said.

Lara introduced the bill on Monday in the latest move by state lawmakers to provide more opportunities to immigrants in California without legal authorization as the Trump administration moves in the opposite direction. Lara has carried bills to expand health care coverage to undocumented immigrants over the years, including a proposal this year to offer Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults.

The California Senate made headlines earlier this year when a panel of lawmakers appointed Lizbeth Mateo, a 33-year-old attorney and civil rights activist, to the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee. It marked the first time the Senate appointed someone living in the U.S. without legal authorization to a state post.

At the time, Sen. Kevin de León's office argued that the appointment was legal because Mateo's committee is advisory in nature and not delegated to adopt laws and regulations or allocate state funds.

Lara said the law banning immigrants without legal status from state posts dates back to 1872 and was written to target Chinese immigrants.

“The California Inclusion Act turns the page on the anti-Chinese laws written in the 1870s and our state’s shameful history of excluding immigrants from civic life," Lara said.

Lara gutted an unrelated bill and amended it with new language on appointments. SB 174 is currently in the Assembly.

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