THE BLOG
09/25/2013 11:14 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2013

California's Immigration Reforms May Affect the Rest of the U.S.

A "Si Se Puede" chant inside city hall for the Due Process for All ordinance, one of several occasions where order had to be called.

California is, as Supreme Court Justice Brandeis put it, one of the "laboratories of democracy." Within this particular laboratory, the experiments have been going strong: AB 60 (driver's licenses), AB 1024 (right to practice law) and the Trust Act are all awaiting signature or veto from Gov. Jerry Brown, alongside the more local San Francisco Due Process for All ordinance and the in re Garcia case.

While this has the potential to change the landscape of immigrant rights in the state, the implications run much deeper as California provides a bold example to the rest of the country: as California Governor Jerry Brown said of AB 60, "Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due." Immigrant rights groups across the country are looking toward AB 1024, in re Garcia, the Trust Act and the San Francisco Due Process for All ordinance and thinking the same thing.

California's AB 60 would grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants within the state. While California has denied this in the past, this has not lead to undocumented drivers avoiding the roads; in many parts of the country, driving is a requirement of everyday life, legal or otherwise. The bill would encourage undocumented drivers to go through the usual processes of licensing and obtaining insurance, ensuring more safety on the roads.

AB 60 passed through the California legislature with strong support from the Governor, who stated "This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally.

Awaiting signature next to AB 60 is AB 1024. AB 1024 is related to the California Supreme Court case, in re Garcia: Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, has graduated an ABA-accredited law school, passed the California Bar exam and passed the character and fitness exam. The Committee of Bar Examiners said "Mr. Garcia's status in the United States should not, ipso facto, be grounds for excluding him from law licensure. He has met all of the prescribed qualifications and there is no reason to believe he cannot take the oath and faithfully uphold his duties as an attorney."

While the case has yet to be decided, AB 1024 would specifically allow undocumented immigrants like Sergio Garcia to practice law, provided they pass all of California's state Bar association requirements. So far there has been a lot of momentum behind the bill, passing the California Assembly 62-4 and the Senate 29-5.

Lastly, there is the Trust Act and San Francisco Due Process for All (SFPDA) ordinance. With both a large border and cities like San Francisco that draw large amounts of immigrants, California has the most immigrants of any state in the nation. Because of this, it is unsurprising to find laws like Secure Communities (SCOMM) unpopular in this state.

SCOMM requires local law enforcement hold an arrestee to do a check against an ICE database. If the arrestee comes up as deportable, they are often deported. Deportations are not reserved for serious public safety risks: the mother of Erika Andiola, a well-known undocumented immigrant organizer, was recently put on a deportation bus resulting from a minor traffic incident.

Laws such as SCOMM discourage undocumented immigrants from going to the police. This is especially problematic for undocumented women: Lucy Allain, an undocumented organizer, recently released details of her sexual assault at the age of 14. Her attacker knew she was undocumented, and used the fact that she was too afraid for herself and her family to go to the police against her, which is a story echoed within the undocumented community. Undocumented victims of crime, especially sexual assault and domestic violence, fear deportation separation from their family if they turn to the police, even just to report information on their assailant.

"The Secure Communities program has diminished trust in our immigrant communities of local law enforcement... This has resulted in less cooperation and conflict for immigrant victims and witnesses of crime" said William Landsdowne, Chief of Police in San Diego, in a letter to the Governor. Both the Trust Act and the SFDPA ordinance represent a strong rejection of Secure Communities SCOMM, limiting local police to holding arrestees for immigration checks only for serious crimes.

Both at the courthouse for in re Garcia, and at San Francisco's City Hall for the Due Process for All hearing last week, I had to shuffle through crowds as even overflow rooms filled to capacity and then would spill over into second overflow rooms and hallways. Within City Hall during what was scheduled to be the second and final vote on the ordinance, several times chants, boos and hisses would break out and a supervisor would shout for order. Clearly, the momentum is in the direction of reform in California, and this reform could prove to be the model for a nation that so desperately needs to update it's antiquated immigration system.