LOS ANGELES -- A measure to allow close to one million undocumented immigrants to live and work openly in California without fear of deportation could be on the state's November ballot.
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) filed the proposal, called the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act (COPA), on Friday. The proposed program seeks to create a "safe harbor" for the employment of undocumented immigrants who "have lived in California for four years, have no felony convictions, are not suspected terrorists, pay a fee to administer the program and can speak English or are learning it."
In exchange, the undocumented workers in the program would pay state income taxes. "We know that a million tax filers in California don't have Social Security numbers," Fuentes told The Huffington Post. "Our estimate is that this program would add another million tax filers, which we estimate would bring in more than $300 million a year in revenue to the state."
Fuentes emphasized that the measure, which he proposed alongside John Cruz, a Republican who formerly served as an appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is not amnesty and does not grant legal status. As the Contra Costa Times clarifies, rather than guaranteeing protection from deportation, the program would authorize the state to simply ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make these cases their lowest priority in enforcement of federal law. Of course, this means the program would only work if the federal government complies.
"Understanding that the federal government is beginning to rank priorities in immigration enforcement, it seemed like a good idea to guide them in this way, saying that we have a pilot program and want to advocate on behalf of these individuals," Fuentes said.
The assemblyman is optimistic about getting the 504,760 voter signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot and predicts that it will ultimately pass. "Our focus group testing shows that both Democrats and Republicans would support the program because of the collection of additional revenue through taxes and because of the strict criteria to be eligible to the program," he said.
"California has revenue problems, an underground economy and criminalization of workers," he added. "There's a consensus that we need to figure out how to decriminalize their hard work and also make sure they're paying their fair share."
As with most proposed laws that involve undocumented immigrants, however, COPA has its fair share of opponents. Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly spoke out strongly against the measure to the Contra Costa Times. "Not only will the state give you free medical care and free K-12 education, heck, now with the Dream Act, we're giving away free college tuition. We're nuts!" He added, "We don't want any more incentives for people to come here illegally."
The proposed measure comes a month after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1236 into law, prohibiting the state, cities and counties from mandating that businesses "e-verify" the legal status of new hires. Several cities in Orange County, including Orange, Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano, had to do away with such mandates as a result.
The measure also comes less than a week after Pomona College fired 16 dining hall workers who failed to prove their citizenship. Some of the terminated employees had worked at the university for over 30 years.
Fuentes made it clear that he would rather have comprehensive immigration reform come from Washington D.C. "But with over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants in the state, we can't afford to wait on Washington any longer," he said. "California has a real need to bring these folks in from out of the darkness."