Capitol Alert

California lawmaker proposes office to aid immigrants seeking relief under Obama plan

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, speaks with then-president pro tem Darrell Steinberg on March 11, 2013.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, speaks with then-president pro tem Darrell Steinberg on March 11, 2013. Sacramento Bee file

When the new Legislature is sworn in on Monday, Sen. Ricardo Lara says he plans to introduce legislation that would create an Office of New Americans to help undocumented immigrants by connecting them to legal services, English classes and help applying for relief under the executive actions announced last week by President Barack Obama.

Obama’s plan is expected to affect at least 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in California, and many have questions about how to file paperwork to be considered for relief, said a statement from Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat who chairs the Legislature’s Latino Caucus.

“The success of a large-scale legalization program will depend significantly upon the coordination of multi-agency, multi-sector, statewide public and private effort to provide undocumented immigrants accurate, accessible information and services,” said the announcement from Lara’s office.

“The California Office of New Americans aims to be that hub, developing a coordinated effort that leverages resources to provide education, fraud prevention services, application assistance, legal services, English instruction and civics classes to undocumented immigrants.”

The office would also help undocumented immigrants apply for driver’s licenses, which became legal in California under a bill signed last year. Lara’s statement said he hopes the new effort will help immigrants who came to the country without permission “better integrate into the economic, social and political fabric of our state.”

A spokesman for Lara said the cost of the proposal was unknown because the measure has not yet been analyzed by legislative staff.

Obama’s plan includes suspending deportation for undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or have been legal permanent residents for at least five years. It would also expand the pool of people eligible for work permits and deportation deferrals under an earlier program that offered protection to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

California has more undocumented immigrants than any other state and has been expanding the privileges those residents can enjoy. In addition to the bill granting undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses, the California Legislature in 2013 also passed bills to allow them to practice law, protect them from labor retaliation and bar jails from holding nonviolent immigration detainees for federal officials. An effort to provide government-subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants failed in 2014 but is likely to be reintroduced in the coming year.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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