IMMIGRATION POLITICS - California is home to nearly one-quarter of the nation’s 11 million or so illegal immigrants. So it is understandable, laudable even, that Gov. Jerry Brown intends to be a player in upcoming discussions back in Washington on comprehensive immigration reform.
“I’ll be directing some efforts on national reform,” Brown said Thursday, in a statement released by his office. The governor appears most interested in debate in the nation’s Capitol as to whether the federal government should go ahead and create a “pathway to citizenship” for the undocumented.
After much polarization here in the Golden State on the thorny issue of illegal immigration, there now appears to be an emerging consensus that the state’s undocumented population, most of which hails from south of the border, out to be brought out of the shadows.
As Brown prepares to offer California’s prescribed approach to national immigration reform, he has chatted up business, agriculture, labor and other groups, according Gil Duran, the governor’s spokesman.
Brown has already embraced certain reforms at the state level.
In 2012, he signed legislation allowing issuance of California driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to this side of the border when they were young, and who have been upstanding state residents since.
And in 2011, the governor signed a measure permitting undocumented kids who have lived here in Golden State most of their lives, who have attended California high schools, to apply for Cal Grants and other student aid to attend college.
When he goes to Washington to talk immigration reform, he ought to lend his support, as governor of the state boasting both the nation’s largest population and biggest economy, to several proposals percolating on Capitol Hill that would be particularly beneficial to California.
That would include a guest worker program, proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, which would provide the labor the nation’s agricultural sector needs to harvest crops, while conferring legal status upon undocumented laborers who make up most of the nation’s 1.6 million farm workers.
It might also include a proposal to make permanent law an executive order by President Obama that takes effect this Spring. It makes it possible for undocumented immigrants here in the United States who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for a “green card,” permanent residency, without having to return to their home country.
Then there’s the proposal by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, that would offer undocumented immigrants the pathway to US citizenship Gov. Brown favors.
It would require the undocumented to have a job, learn English, commit no crimes, and take their place at the back of the line for naturalization (a process that can take as many as 10 years), behind legal immigrants.
A UC Berkeley-Field Poll published this past September revealed just how far California has come since 1994, when voters approved Proposition 187, the Save Our State Initiative.
Among other things, the 1994 ballot measure denied heath care to undocumented immigrants, denied undocumented children enrollment in California schools, and ordered state and law enforcement officers to report to both the state Attorney General and the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service the dossiers of detainees suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Eighteen years later, the UC Berkeley-Field Poll found that two-thirds of California voters favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Pushing immigration reform is smart politics for Brown. But, more importantly, it’s the right thing to do for California.
(Joseph Perkins is the Business Editor for San Diego Magazine. He previously authored a nationally-syndicated column for the San Diego Union-Tribune and served on the White House Staff of former Vice President Dan Quayle. He currently blogs at calwatchdog.com where this piece was first posted.)
Vol 11 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2013