California Forum

Forget mass deportation. Give California its own residency program

Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) yell during a protest outside of the Federal Building in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. President Donald Trump on Tuesday began dismantling DACA, the government program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) yell during a protest outside of the Federal Building in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. President Donald Trump on Tuesday began dismantling DACA, the government program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) AP

To: Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Attorney General Jeff Sessions

From: California

Re: An alternative to mass deportation of Californians

This is a legal proposal, so let’s start with a stipulation.

You are monsters.

You are rapidly deporting undocumented Californians, many of whom are crucial members of our communities and families. Your next targets for removal are the 800,000 young people known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States as children by their undocumented immigrant parents.

Tragically, my people can’t stop your deportations, since immigration enforcement is the province of the federal government. But we are slowing you down. While California provides everything to undocumented immigrants from legal aid to drivers’ licenses, we also deluge the federal government with litigation, target you with protests, and work politically to undermine the very legitimacy of your government.

California is confident that being a haven that integrates immigrants will produce more greatness than removing millions and breaking up families.

This escalating conflict is dangerous – which may be what you want. The president’s political advisor Roger Stone has called for a new Civil War, and, as Charlottesville made clear, President Trump is keen on refighting the last one.

But if civil war is not your intention, let’s make a deal that would protect Californians and perhaps de-escalate the immigration conflict.

Under this deal, Congress and your administration would grant California an exemption from federal immigration law. California would then designate certain people – undocumented folks who meet standards that my elected officials determine – as California residents who would have a legal right to live and work here even if they are not citizens or legal residents of the United States.

The federal government could still deport people, but within limits. If a California resident were detained for immigration enforcement elsewhere in the country, he or she would have to be deported not overseas but back to California. And if the federal government decided to deport a California resident out of the country, it would – under the contract I’m proposing – pay all the costs of that deportation including the expense of providing healthcare and schooling for the children and family members of deportees.

To do this, California would have to create a process for residency. Dave Marin, research and policy director for the California Freedom Coalition, points out that state legislation appropriating money for legal aid to the undocumented already offers a list of people that Californians consider to be our own. These include people with family members who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents; veterans of the U.S. military and their spouses; asylum seekers; the “Dreamers”; and just about anyone without a violent felony conviction.

Such a concept of California residency is not new. In 2002, the state’s reform body, the Little Hoover Commission, suggested creating a “Golden State Residency Program” to accelerate the integration of immigrants, including the undocumented, into California society. Little Hoover suggested that anyone who was participating in their local community should have the rights and responsibilities of residency.

Residency is not ideal; it still leaves a sub-class who have full rights only in California. But it’s the best that can be done until the day when a federal administration fully legalizes undocumented people. And residency is principled: Californians should decide who lives and works in our state – not a faraway federal administration that routinely slanders us.

Will you, the Trump administration, do this deal? Probably not. You prefer to lie and scapegoat diverse California – you think it fires up your racist base – rather than learn from our long experience with immigration.

But perhaps you love American tradition. And one such tradition is our federalist system – letting states choose their own paths and seeing how things work out. California is confident that being a haven that integrates immigrants will produce more greatness than your approach of removing millions and breaking up families.

So what will it be? Make a deal that respects California’s sovereignty? Or continue waging war against your country’s largest state?

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at joe@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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