Politics & Government

The State Worker: Lawsuit raises question for California immigration reform

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed bills that give driver’s licenses and college money to undocumented immigrants, and allow them to practice law.

Now a federal discrimination lawsuit filed in San Francisco has added an ironic twist to Brown’s immigration record.

The complaint by 34-year-old Victor Guerrero says Question No. 75 on the state’s correctional-officer job questionnaire unfairly targets Latinos by asking applicants if they have ever used a different Social Security number.

In 2011 and again this year, Guerrero answered “yes.”

Guerrero’s parents brought him across the border in 1991 when he was 11. At 15,, he was given a Social Security number for work, according to his lawsuit, but didn’t know he was undocumented and that the number wasn’t his. He found out two years later, but kept using the number, in one instance to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Guerrero paid taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number issued by the Internal Revenue Service until becoming a legal permanent resident and receiving his own Social Security number, his lawsuit says. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Guerrero twice passed written and physical-agility tests to become a correctional officer, but the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation dumped him. He appealed to the State Personnel Board the first time and lost. After the second rejection, he sued.

Government officials aren’t commenting on the case, but the board’s 2012 decision on Guerrero’s first application, provided via a Public Records Act request, shows that the state found his actions didn’t comport with civil service standards “of integrity, honesty ... accuracy, good judgment ...” And correctional officers, the board noted, “are held to a higher standard of conduct.”

But Guerrero’s attorney, Marsha Chien , says Question No. 75 “bars a particular population, Latinos, from employment.”

Her logic echoes what the “ban the box” movement says about felony-conviction check-box questions common on many job applications.

The movement has gained momentum from Obama administration warnings that conviction inquiries on job applications may discriminate against African American applicants, since that group makes up a disproportionate percentage of criminal convictions.

Brown signed a law that, starting next year, narrows when state or local government employers can ask about job candidates’ conviction records. Nearly a dozen states have similar laws. San Francisco is considering expanding its current ban-the-box law to private employers.

Chien, who works for the San Francisco-based Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, says Guerrero’s case has a significant difference: “He not only wasn’t convicted. He didn’t even get arrested.”

It all sounds like an issue ripe for legislation next year and, perhaps, a chance for Brown to wade more deeply into immigration law.