California Governor Jerry Brown (D) after signing AB60, which facilitates driver's licences to undocumented immigrants, during ceremonies in Los Angeles on October 3, 2013. This is one of several recent laws passed of late by the California State Legislature that favor immigrants. (Reuters/Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti/Handout via Reuters)
California is home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state—and a lot of those estimated 2.5 million people will likely benefit from a number of sweeping bills that have recently been signed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Some of the individual pieces of legislation have been weakened since they were first introduced, but will nevertheless improve conditions for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. While the Obama administration continues its record setting deportations, and Congress is unwilling to pass comprehensive reform, these bills will positively impact undocumented communities.
The Trust Act: The federal government mandates that local jails and prisons share fingerprints with immigration authorities in order to identify people thought to threats to public safety. But under the program, called Secure Communities, people who have never even been accused of committing a crime have been caught in the dragnet. The Trust Act now ensures that only immigrants who have not accused or convicted of a serious offense will now be handed over to immigration authorities for deportation.
The California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights: Most of the state’s domestic workers are immigrants, and all had few protections under the law. This bill, which expires in three years unless it is renewed by lawmakers, makes it so that overtime kicks in after 9 hours of work per day, or 45 hours of work per week.
Driving privileges: Starting next year (or as late as 2015), an estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for a driver’s license. The license will be marked to indicate status, but Assembly Bill 60 will allow drivers to operate vehicles under the law, and obtain car insurance.
Practicing the law: 36-year-old Sergio Garcia applied for a Green Card 19 years ago—and has been waiting for adjustment status ever since. In that time, he finished school, took and passed the bar exam, but was prohibited from practicing law because of his status. But now, thanks to Assembly Bill 24, Garcia and others like him can be admitted to the bar.
Cutting back on extortion and retaliation: Nearly ten percent of California’s workforce is undocumented—and two bills ensure workers aren’t threatened because of their status. Assembly Bill 524 recognizes the threat posed by revealing a person’s real or imagined status as extortion. Senate Bill 666 expands existing protections for immigrant workers by suspending or repealing an employer’s licenses for retaliating against an undocumented whistleblower that files a complaint about sexual harassment or other unsafe working conditions.
Governor Brown signed additional bills to that will help undocumented students, as well as U.S. citizen students whose parents have been deported, as well as bills that will regulate who can profit from immigrants applying for federal immigration programs. Brown has said that California is now "forging ahead." That's made easier by the fact that the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. California has set a new standard for undocumented immigrants. It's now up to other states to follow.
Dave Zirin looks at poor immigrants effected by MLB player Alex Rodriguez's slum apartment buildings.