Capitol Alert

Democratic lawmakers unveil bills to protect, insure unauthorized immigrants

Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, are pressing for state legislation to help undocumented immigrants in California.
Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, are pressing for state legislation to help undocumented immigrants in California. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Continuing California’s reputation as a pacesetter on immigration, state lawmakers unveiled a package of bills Tuesday that would expand the rights of people who are in the country illegally.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, contrasted their actions with the political intransigence in Washington, D.C., where the two major parties have been at loggerheads over comprehensive solutions.

“This is a reflection of the dereliction of duty of these members of Congress,” de León said. “Either their intellectual laziness, or lack of work ethic on this issue.”

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in recent years has signed several landmark pieces of immigration legislation, including bills to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and practice law. Massive interest in the driver’s licenses – nearly 500,000 applications were received so far – surprised state officials and supporters, some of whom openly fretted that eligible drivers would abstain from the process because of deportation fears.

Other bills Brown signed into law protect the foreign-born from labor discrimination and ban jails from detaining immigrants who commit nonserious crimes.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said Republicans here have called repeatedly for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level.

“The federal government’s failure to act has unfairly shifted the burden to the states, and California is taking the brunt of it,” Huff said. “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. But without money from Congress and President (Barack) Obama it will be very difficult and costly for California taxpayers to fund all of these bill proposals.”

Democratic leaders here cast the latest round of legislation as part of a broader effort to embrace the contributions of unauthorized immigrants, including the jobs they work and taxes they pay. The centerpiece of the package is a renewed push to expand access to health insurance coverage.

Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would extend Medi-Cal to unauthorized families based on their income. It also could open Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, to undocumented immigrants, though they would not qualify for subsidies. A more ambitious and costly version of the bill was shelved last year to give supporters time to identify a funding source.

While counties currently provide health care to undocumented immigrants, the coverage varies greatly. Under Lara’s latest offering, state officials would be directed to seek federal permission to allow undocumented residents to buy their own coverage through the exchange. Advocates believe many families, particularly those with mixed-immigration status, would benefit by being on the same insurance policy.

In other bills, identified by their numbers and introduced by Democrats:

▪ Senate Bill 10 (Lara) would establish the California Office of New Americans within the Governor’s Office.

▪ Assembly Bill 622 (Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Los Angeles) would limit misuse of E-Verify and create penalties for abuse by employers.

▪ SB 600 (Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento) would make it illegal for businesses to discriminate against a person on the basis of their immigration status, citizenship, or language.

▪ AB 60 (Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego) would prohibit immigration attorneys and consultants from demanding advance payments for pending government immigration actions.

▪ SB 674 (de León and Atkins) would allow immigrant crime victims to apply for a federal Victim of Crime Visa.

▪ AB 1352 (Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton) would allow defendants who successfully complete a deferred-entry program to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea and in some cases plead not guilty. They would need to show that the original plea would cause them to lose their job, benefits or lead to “adverse immigration consequence.”

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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