The California state budget on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk puts tens of millions of dollars into programs that could help undocumented immigrants fight federal efforts to deport them, including opening up $10 million to hire lawyers for unaccompanied minors trying to stay in the U.S.
The budget pushed through by majority Democrats expands funding for immigration legal services offered through the Department of Social Services and public colleges.
It also includes $1.6 million to build a team of eight attorneys and investigators in the Labor Commissioner's office at the Department of Industrial Relations. They would enforce a state law that requires businesses to tell their employees when they’re contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
That team would carry out last year’s Assembly Bill 450, which California lawmakers advocated as a rebuttal to the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Employers face penalties of $2,000 to $10,000 if they fail to notify their workers of a pending immigration action.
“Donald Trump’s out-of-control deportation force is constant threat to our immigrant communities,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who wrote the law. “This expenditure shows that the Labor Commissioner and the State of California are serious about protecting our immigrant workers.
The $200 billion budget package did not deliver the big-ticket items immigration activists wanted, such as proposals that Assembly leaders sponsored to provide health care coverage and tax breaks to undocumented Californians.
The failure of those items surprised some advocates because they won endorsements from key lawmakers and opponents did not speak out against them at public hearings. Supporters are planning to try again next year.
“It’s something that we have to continue pushing for,” said Carolina Gamero, spokeswoman for the California Immigrant Policy Center. “We were a bit caught off guard in this budget deal because of the reports of California being the fifth largest economy in the world, and how immigrants continue to struggle in California in various ways.”
The items allocating money for immigration lawyers build on existing programs. Last year’s budget, for instance, put $45 million into providing legal services to immigrants. The Department of Social Services can tap that money to hire nonprofit organizations that will work on immigration cases.
Two years ago, almost 46,000 people used those services, according to the department.
The new funding steers some of that money directly to colleges. It gives $10 million to community colleges for immigration legal services, $7 million to the California State University system and $4 million to the University of California.
College students have had trouble navigating the immigration system since President Donald Trump announced that he would end the Obama administration program that protected young undocumented residents from deportation. It’s unclear whether Congress will pass a law that would allow them to stay in the U.S.
“Uncertainty at the federal level continues to cause anxiety on our campuses,” CSU Chancellor Timothy White wrote on Twitter after the budget passed. “I am greatly appreciative that this funding will provide an additional measure of support for CSU students and staff as we advocate for a permanent solution.”
UC Davis hosts the UC Legal Immigrant Services Center, which is a hub for the system. It worked with 800 students in 2017 and has opened 1,200 cases this year, its director, Maria Blanco said.
The upcoming budget also more than triples legal funding for undocumented minors. Last year, the Department of Social Services received $3 million for those cases. In the next budget, the department gets $10 million to help young undocumented immigrants.
Carlos Montes-Ponce, an organizer for Sacramento’s Area Congregations Together, was disappointed that lawmakers and Brown did not fund health care for undocumented Californians. He was heartened by the funding for attorneys to enforce Assemblyman Chiu's workplace law.
The notice "gives the employee enough time to fix whatever circumstance they may be in. Maybe their permit has been expired, or they could be undocumented and vetting their papers. It gives employees a chance to fix any irregularities," he said.
The new law requires employers to demand that immigration agents present a warrant or subpoena before entering parts of a workplace not open to the public or accessing some employee records. It also mandates employers provide notice to workers if there is a federal request to examine I-9 forms, which employees fill out to verify their eligibility to work in the United States, and inform workers promptly if the review of those documents turns up any problems.
Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the labor commissioner, said the Department of Industrial Relations has visited employers in the past year to discuss the notification law and released guidelines to help businesses comply with it.
Sacramento Bee senior writer Anita Chabria contributed to this report.