By Kiran Savage-Sangwan
Although Congress and President Obama continue to delay and deny relief to millions of immigrant families nationwide, state leaders have concluded another legislative session that brings significant rights and opportunities to California’s 10 million immigrants. The ACLU was proud to support many of these bills, and we applaud the legislators who championed them and the communities that spoke out to secure a brighter future for all Californians.*
Following last year’s passage of AB 60 to restore access to drivers’ licenses for immigrants, immigrant communities and the State of California are working to ensure that all 1.5 million potential applicants are able to successfully obtain licenses beginning January 1st, 2015. The State Budget allocated $67 million to open additional Department of Motor Vehicles offices and hire hundreds of staff people. Legislation signed into law in September strengthened protections for applicants.
- AB 1660 strengthens anti-discrimination and confidentiality protections in AB 60 so that driver’s license holders do not face discrimination by state and local government officials and receive the same privacy protections as other license holders.
- AB 852 protects against scams targeting AB 60 applicants by prohibiting agents from charging a fee for filling out a driver’s license application for another person.
- SB 1273 enhances the California Low Cost Auto Insurance Program by removing the three year driving history requirement and extending the program until 2020, making it available to eligible AB 60 applicants.
Education and workforce
This year California enacted important legislation to protect 10 million immigrants, including 1.85 million undocumented workers in our labor force (PDF). California has taken a number of steps to ensure that immigrant youth can pursue higher education, including providing access to in-state tuition and financial aid. Legislation signed into law this year increases opportunities and protections for immigrant workers and students.
- SB 1159 ensures that otherwise eligible applicants can obtain a professional license if they submit an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in lieu of a Social Security Number, and that they will not be denied a license solely based on their immigration status. It will expand participation in many professions, including nursing, accounting and contracting, with benefits for both workers and consumers.
- AB 1897 holds companies jointly liable for wage theft and health and safety violations for workers brought in by labor contractors. This will protect the largely immigrant workforce in agriculture and service industries by establishing clear responsibility for workers' compensation claims, wages owed, and health and safety claims.
California’s immigrant communities have been devastated by deportations in recent years, with over 100,000 resulting from one federal immigration enforcement program alone. Last year, California enacted the TRUST Act to put limits on local law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration enforcement, and stop thousands of deportations. This year, California enacted legislation to provide legal representation to children in deportation proceedings and to prevent some minor state criminal offenses from having severe immigration consequences.
- AB 1476 allocates $3 million for legal representation for the approximately 4,000 unaccompanied Central American children in California who are currently in deportation proceedings. Currently, most children must appear alone in immigration court and navigate complex legal proceedings without the help of an attorney.
- SB 1310 reduces the maximum possible misdemeanor sentence by one day – from one year to 364 days – so that deportation eligibility will not be automatically triggered for an immigrant who is convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of one year.
- SB 396 repeals the unlawful and unenforceable provisions of Proposition 187 that remain in California statutes today. These include sections impacting education, health care, social services and law enforcement.
Additional education legislation
- SB 1210 establishes the Dream Loan Program, which will allow eligible undocumented students attending the University of California or California State University to access college loans through their universities. The bill closes the financial aid gap that undocumented students face when funding their higher education.
- AB 2160 requires that all public school students enrolled in 12th grade be automatically deemed a Cal Grant applicant, unless he or she opts out, improving access to higher education.
- AB 420 limits the use of suspension and expulsion for the catch-all—and overused—category known as “willful defiance,” which includes minor school disruption.
- SB 1111 keeps school districts from forcing some students to be transferred to non-mainstream schools against their will, which has a disparate impact on students of color.
- SB 1172 ensures that near-vision screening in schools happens at a critical time in the child’s learning and development. This may help identify thousands of school children who are not learning to read because they can’t see the page, including those that frequently change schools and miss current vision screenings.
- AB 1422 limits the monitoring of students’ social media posts by school and district officials.
* The ACLU of California did not officially endorse all of the bills on this list.
Kiran Savage-Sangwan is organizer at the ACLU of Northern California.