Soapbox

Why state needs to follow Sacramento’s lead on immigrants

Juanita Ontiveros of the Sacramento Area Congregations Together listens to Mayor Darrell Steinberg outside of a community immigration forum on March 28.
Juanita Ontiveros of the Sacramento Area Congregations Together listens to Mayor Darrell Steinberg outside of a community immigration forum on March 28. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

California is home to one of every four immigrants in America. When many are facing threats of deportation, California has a responsibility to uphold the constitutional due process. That is why I am encouraging our Legislature to pass Senate Bill 6.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would ensure that those facing deportation solely for their immigration status have access to fair representation in court.

The consequences of neglecting the right to due process are very real. Those with legal counsel during a deportation proceeding are five times more likely to have a positive outcome, but 68 percent of detained immigrants in California are not represented.

The city of Sacramento is already taking steps to safeguard this precious right. The City Council approved my proposal to set aside $300,000 for legal aid for residents facing deportation – a relatively modest but potentially life-changing fund. We are now working with legal aid clinics and community organizations to ensure all our residents get the representation in court they deserve.

Some may question why we are spending tax dollars on this effort. Let’s not forget the city receives sales taxes and, according to the California Endowment, undocumented immigrants contribute $58.9 million a year in Sacramento County.

In Sacramento, immigrants comprise 20 percent of our residents and 22 percent of our workforce, contributing $9.3 billion toward our local economy. Many industries, including agriculture, manufacturing and construction, would be greatly harmed without their hard work.

But the city can only protect these rights within its borders. That is why we need SB 6 to protect all California residents. SB 6 would allocate $12 million, less than one one-thousandth of the state’s general fund, and also allows private donations and nonprofits to supplement these public dollars.

It was encouraging to see that Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised state budget proposal included another $15 million to protect the legal rights of immigrants. But this item must compete with other funding needs.

We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws designed to protect rights from being trampled by partisan politics. We must commit to working together to protect California’s immigrants from harmful federal government overreach by ensuring their right to a fair hearing.

Eric Guerra represents District 6 on the Sacramento City Council. He can be contacted at eguerra@cityofsacramento.org.

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