Soapbox

California needs to invest in deferred action plans for immigrants

California’s population is one of the most diverse in the world, and we should be proud of our level of inclusion and equality.

Latinos are the largest ethnic group in California, and state demographers indicate the Asian population will dramatically increase in the next 50 years. We now have the opportunity to lead the nation in the most pressing issue of our time: immigration reform.

Immigration reform leaders in California are paying close attention to President Barack Obama’s executive action, which expanded deferred action programs to offer deportation protection to more than 5 million immigrants in the U.S. Under the order, the eligibility requirements will be expanded for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has changed many lives.

Perhaps even more significant, the president unveiled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. For the first time, this offers protections to undocumented parents – an even larger population than those eligible for the expansion for children.

Not surprisingly, this has ignited fear amongst critics. A Texas judge slapped a temporary injunction on the programs, which was upheld by an appellate court. But California should not delay in building a robust infrastructure to implement deferred action.

Consider that approximately half of California’s 3 million undocumented residents could benefit, including the group suffering the most from the delay: our children. Twenty percent of California’s children have at least one undocumented parent, and with deferred action, more than 400,000 children could be lifted out of poverty. By 2020, children of those eligible for DAPA will make up 1.7 million voters. They’ll likely remember how political leaders considered their families in a critical moment of our immigration policy.

The political landscape is not all that’s at stake. All Californians stand to benefit from deferred action, regardless of any one individual’s immigration status. That’s because those who receive DACA or DAPA status will see an average 8.5 percent increase in earnings, meaning more money being spent. California stands to gain a $904 million increase in tax revenue over five years. These numbers all point to a powerful boost to the state’s economy.

California can’t afford to hamper the implementation of these programs. The process is complicated. Only licensed attorneys or legally accredited representatives can offer advice to applicants. Most cannot afford a private attorney, and nonprofit attorneys have the capacity to serve only 10 percent of applicants. Without more legal resources, we’re opening the door for notarios, non-attorneys unlawfully providing services.

As part of its final budget negotiations, the Legislature is considering a $20 million proposal dedicated to coordinate citizenship and immigration assistance. This is a step in the right direction, but this step must be followed by others.

I invite Gov. Jerry Brown and Californians to think about the risks of not being ready. I envision resources at state and local levels, with funds from the public and private sectors. We will need millions more to reach out and educate Californians, recruit attorneys and ramp up services, and increase enforcement against fraud.

We need to implement deferred action effectively, with a system designed to benefit the more than 1 million people whose livelihoods are at stake.

Angelica Salas is the executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

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