Editorials

California leads on immigration, too

A Department of Motor Vehicles office in Orange County is inundated as registration opens in January for immigrant driver’s licenses. Since then, about 500,000 have been issued in the state.
A Department of Motor Vehicles office in Orange County is inundated as registration opens in January for immigrant driver’s licenses. Since then, about 500,000 have been issued in the state. Associated Press file

California long has pioneered the future, from climate change to pay equity. Now, in the absence of national reform, Gov. Jerry Brown is offering a way forward on yet another evolving issue: immigration.

On Monday, acting on a bill by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, Brown excised the offensive term “alien” from the state’s Labor Code, a symbolic but telling flourish to new rules that, taken together, offer a national blueprint for dealing with the nation’s undocumented population. We applaud him. It’s about time.

Anyone who remembers the mean-spirited Proposition 187 era knows that ideology is powerless against demography. The courts rightly overturned that harsh 1994 initiative, which sought to deny education and health care to immigrants here without papers. Proposition 187 came during economic dislocation when Californians felt small and beleaguered. But it also pandered to a fear, now national, that the culture is too rapidly changing.

As Gov. Jerry Brown has deduced, the smart approach is to acknowledge those who are here without permission, so that their children aren’t punished, their weak aren’t exploited and the rest of us aren’t endangered by their impulse to remain in the shadows.

The lesson that emerged was that, as ever, fear doesn’t halt change, it just complicates adaptation. Minorities are the majority now in California, with Latinos the most populous subgroup, and though Donald Trump and others may imagine some short-term political gain in demonization, California is only previewing a trend that’s enveloping the country.

As Brown has deduced, the smarter approach is to acknowledge people who are here without permission, so that their children aren’t punished, the weak aren’t exploited and the rest of us aren’t endangered by their impulse to remain in the shadows. That, as an analysis in the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, is why California has created a new body of law, ranging from subsidized pediatric health care and protection against federal immigration enforcement to in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Nearly 500,000 people have signed up for the new immigrant driver’s licenses that came online in January, an extraordinary surge that promises to make the state’s freeways exponentially safer. Another pending bill, with bipartisan backing, would seek federal authority to legitimize farmworkers who already are here by granting them work permits.

The shooting death of Kathryn Steinle at the hands of a criminal Mexican national in San Francisco notwithstanding, these new rules have, for the most part, helped smooth California’s evolution.

Congress should watch and learn, and come up with an overall immigration solution. As California can attest, the future happens, whether you roll with it or not.

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