Soapbox

Help immigrants find their way through complex process

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, holds Assembly Bill 60, which granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed it in 2013 in Fresno. Alejo is now seeking money to help immigrants qualify for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, holds Assembly Bill 60, which granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed it in 2013 in Fresno. Alejo is now seeking money to help immigrants qualify for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Sacramento Bee file

From the fields of California’s agricultural heartland to the skyscrapers of our greatest cities, immigrants are helping to drive our state forward. Despite their profound contributions to our economy and culture, too many immigrants face steep obstacles to fully participating in California’s economic and civic life.

As this year’s budget process moves forward, we have the opportunity to make a small investment in the inclusion and integration of immigrants – one that promises to yield big returns.

While Congress continues to refuse to create a workable immigration process for the nation, the least we can do is to help immigrant Californians seize the opportunities that do exist to secure more permanent status. And we don’t even need to start from scratch. Instead, we can efficiently bolster on-the-ground efforts of trusted community organizations that are already working hard to assist and empower California’s diverse immigrants.

That’s why the Legislature’s Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses are enthusiastically backing the “One California” proposal, which would give $20 million to help community groups guide Californians through our complex immigration system. This measure would provide a powerful counterweight to unscrupulous “notarios” who often exploit immigrants in need of legal help by falsely offering legal services they are not qualified to provide.

About half of California’s undocumented residents could receive life-changing reprieves from deportation and work permits under the executive actions announced by President Barack Obama in November. The actions will provide deportation relief to some immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and also broaden eligibility for the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

While a judge in Texas temporarily blocked the programs, when that unjust injunction falls, California must stand up to immediately help our immigrant residents navigate through the sometimes-daunting application process.

Funds from One California would support education, outreach and assistance with gathering the many documents required by the process. That is particularly important for marginalized immigrant communities, where there are troublingly low rates of applications for DACA. As many as 1.5 million Californians could benefit from these new deportation-relief programs.

Moreover, the positive impact would reverberate far beyond these immediate beneficiaries. Researchers at the University of Southern California have noted that 1.6 million of the minor children of would-be beneficiaries are U.S. citizens. Another 2.5 million Californians are eligible to apply for citizenship.

This is another crucial opportunity for qualified community groups to empower immigrants to navigate through the twists and turns of the application process. This proposal is simply one piece of the puzzle. Even when implemented, the new deportation-relief programs will leave many Californians out, and amount to a temporary fix. Moreover, a $20 million investment won’t reach everyone who is eligible.

But it’s a start. And the transformational impact on individuals, families and communities of each new work permit and each new citizen application cannot be understated. It’s time to move forward.

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, is policy chairman of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, is chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

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