California has enacted several laws that benefit immigrants regardless of their legal status, including measures that open state funded scholarships to undocumented students and a law that says employers are not required to use the federal E-Verify program to check employee immigration statuses.
Last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 131, the second part of the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented university students to apply for state-funded scholarships.
"The big winner with the approval of the California Dream Act is the state because now a lot of young Hispanic immigrants will be encouraged to continue their studies and pursue a profession," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told Efe.
AB 130, the first part of the Dream Act, signed in July, gave undocumented students access to private scholarship funds.
Los Angeles' Catholic archbishop, Jose Gomez, also hailed AB 131 for enabling young university students to "further their education so that they can one day contribute their talents and skills to the betterment of our society."
The Dream Act complements AB 540, a 2006 state law that authorizes undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they attended a California high school for at least three years.
Last weekend, Brown also signed a law - AB 1236 - that prohibits cities and counties from passing laws that require employers to use the E-verify federal program to determine the immigration status of their employees.
"California again bucks the trend and sets the foundation to not only recognize the important contributions immigrants make to our society, but to also understand the significant role they play in the state that is the eighth-largest economy in the world," Jeannette Zanipatin, legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said.
Brown also has signed AB 207, which requires school districts to accept a broad range of documents as "reasonable evidence" the student meets residency requirements; and AB 353, which restricts authorities' ability to impound vehicles when the driver's only offense is not holding a valid driver's license.
"California is poised to demonstrate to the nation that success comes from inclusion and integration, not from exclusion and division. These laws are a model for contributing to a tolerant and successful state that respects the rights of all," MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas Saenz said in a statement.
But not everyone in California supports the new laws.
"We're saying the citizens of other countries - call them whatever you like - should have certain benefits," California Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro said. "That doesn't make any sense, except for the fact that Jerry Brown is trying to make political points."
Even as California has made life easier for its undocumented population, Arizona - with its controversial SB 1070 - and other states have passed laws that crack down on illegal immigration.
Parts of SB 1070, including a controversial provision that requires police officers to try to determine people's immigration status based on "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally, have been blocked in federal court.
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