Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.
While most immigration law in the United States is Federal law, the states sometimes will get involved and enact laws on immigration issues. Especially in the face of the Trump administration generally issuing Federal anti-immigration policies, it is noteworthy today when the states enact laws to expand immigrant rights. Such is the case with respect to California, as new California laws have extended certain rights for immigrants.
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed 3 new laws expanding immigrant rights.
First, Governor Newsom signed a law that allows undocumented immigrants to serve on government boards and commissions in California. Second, Governor Newsom signed a law that bans arrests for immigration violations in state courthouses across California. This second law was in part attributable to comments by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye that such arrests in courthouses were “disruptive, shortsighted, and counterproductive . . . It is damaging to community safety and disrespects the state court system”. Third, Governor Newsom signed a law that expands California’s college student loan program for so-called “Dreamers” (immigrants brought to the country illegally as children) to include students seeking graduate degrees at the University of California and California State University schools (undergraduate “Dreamers” already were eligible for such loans in California). These 3 new laws each take effect on January 1, 2020.
In a written statement after signing these new laws, Governor Newsom said, “Our state doesn’t succeed in spite of our diversity – our state succeeds because of it. . . . While Trump attacks and disparages immigrants, California is working to ensure that every resident – regardless of immigration status – is given respect and the opportunity to contribute”.
These 3 new laws follow 3 other laws enacted in California earlier in year 2019 concerning immigration issues.
First, California ended the use of civil immigration detention centers in California (as part of a more general elimination of private, for-profit detention facilities in California). Second, California extended “Medi-Cal” healthcare coverage to undocumented immigrants through the age of 25. Third, California required public schools to provide year 2020 U.S. Census materials to students and parents that encourage them to take part in the Census’ nationwide population count. Concerning this third law, the author of the law, Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes stated, “Even though the courts, in the end, took out the citizenship question, there were lots of damage that was already done in our communities. . . . We have to be able to tell them in a way that they can trust, tell them that they needed to be counted”.
In commenting on California’s immigration laws, Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, stated, “The governor came into office understanding that close to 50% of the population in California is either an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. . . . Pro-immigrant policies are pro-California policies. If immigrants thrive, we all thrive”.
The issue always with state laws on any national issue is that they vary from state to state. Some states, such as Illinois, are generally similar to California, as they have enacted laws that protect immigrant rights. Other states, such as Arizona, take an opposite approach, as they have enacted laws that restrict immigrant rights. In addition, even in “pro-immigration” states, there are limitations on the rights of immigrants.
For example, in California, Governor Newsom vetoed a bill that would have given the state attorney general the authority to investigate any death at civil immigration detention centers (he believed that the bill was unnecessary given the above-described ending of the use of civil immigration detention centers in California). And proposed legislation to extend “Medi-Cal” healthcare coverage to all undocumented immigrants, regardless of age, was not enacted (instead, as described above, “Medi-Cal” healthcare coverage was extended to undocumented immigrants only through the age of 25).
However, given this background for immigrants, it is very important that immigrants retain a qualified immigration attorney, such as the Kameli Law, which has had years of experience and success in representing immigration clients, to make certain that their rights are being maximized under applicable state law (as well as under federal law). If you need assistance with any immigration matter, please contact Kameli Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-233-1000, for help and support.