Editorials

Sen. Lara’s office for immigrants comes from heart, but at what cost?

State Sen. Ricardo Lara announces SB 1210, the California Dream Loan Program to expand college financial aid for undocumented immigrants, in April. He filed legislation Monday to create a state agency for people who aren’t official Californians. It would be called the California Office of New Americans.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara announces SB 1210, the California Dream Loan Program to expand college financial aid for undocumented immigrants, in April. He filed legislation Monday to create a state agency for people who aren’t official Californians. It would be called the California Office of New Americans. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

State Sen. Ricardo Lara kicked off the new legislative season Monday by filing legislation to create a state agency for people who aren’t official Californians.

Called the California Office of New Americans, it would be designed specifically to be a hub to connect undocumented immigrants with the services they need.

That might include English classes, directions for enrolling kids in school, help filling out citizenship papers and protection from attorneys reportedly defrauding immigrants trying to access President Barack Obama’s deportation deferral program. It appears to be modeled on New York state’s Office of New Americans.

Lara, D-Bell Gardens, noted that office would specifically reach out to undocumented immigrants who generally fear government.

“This is government being proactive, bringing them out of the shadows,” he said.

This legislation comes straight from the heart. Lara’s parents were undocumented immigrants. But it also raises big questions that must be answered fully as this bill goes through the legislative process.

First and foremost, how much will the agency cost and where will the money come from?

Lara told reporters Monday that he is still working on the cost estimates. He said he had already talked with some foundations interested. The office would be a public-private partnership.

Lara says correctly that California has been a leader in immigrant rights. This state has been more than welcoming to immigrants, even those who are here without permission. California has pioneered pro-immigrant laws. Political leaders and advocates have demanded that Congress overhaul immigration law.

But it’s also a state that isn’t fully funding its obligations to existing Americans. The state’s per-pupil education funding is among the lowest in the country. We have essentially thrown out the master plan for public higher education and while hiking the cost of public colleges. We can’t afford to maintain our freeways the way they require and are systematically turning them into “feeways.”

We can’t help but think that 120 legislators, each with district offices and eager aides, could provide many of these services to new immigrants, documented or not.

This is an important discussion for the Legislature to have when it returns in January, but it is one that must turn on the question of financial obligation.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to take out incorrect information provided to The Bee by Sen. Lara, who told a member of the editorial board on Monday that the office would be fully funded by private sources.

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