In Immigration Debate, Calif. Has Most to Win—or Lose

Created: 29 March, 2013
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Reshma Shamasunder
New America Media

As the state with the country’s largest immigrant population, California has the most to gain—or the most to lose—in the immigration debate.

That’s why over 100 organizations based in the Golden State unveiled a bold statement of values and policy recommendations this week, including organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the California Dream Team Alliance.

The statement urges Congress to pass immigration reform that protects the principle of family unity for all, including families with diverse sexual orientations; creates a road to citizenship for 11 million aspiring citizens that is free of obstructions; ends unjust detentions and deportations; protects worker rights; and ensures a humane and efficient border.

California’s experience with immigration is especially pertinent now. The state used to be a lot like Arizona. But ugly policies that today are called “self-deportation” inspired a backlash from immigrant communities that forever changed the political equation in this state.

Since then, we’ve seen the positive impact of polices honoring the values of equality, family and hard work.

Just ask the student in San Jose, who, for the first time this year, applied for state financial aid to further her dreams. Or the cook in San Bernardino, still working hard after a state law busted a discriminatory local plan that would have forced restaurants to fire immigrant workers last year.

Broken Federal Policies

More than any other state, California has seen the immense suffering that broken federal policies cause.

Just ask the families of people like Anastasio Rojas, brutally tased to death by border patrol agents. Or the tens of thousands of people deported last year after arrests as minor as selling ice cream without a permit. (Here, California is also at fault.)

The point is, the fine print matters. Just one paragraph buried among thousands of pages of legislation can transform the lives of all of California’s 2.7 million aspiring citizens and their families.

That’s why Congress must make sure reform sticks to this nation’s founding principle—that all people are created equal.
Of course, the pathway to citizenship that’s gaining acceptance on both sides of the political aisle must be for all 11 million undocumented Americans. It must be as broad as possible and can’t contain roadblocks, especially the awful threat of detention and deportation that hangs over immigrant communities across the nation.

The United States also needs to scrap controversial programs, such as Secure Communities, eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s constitutionally questionable “hold” requests (the driving force behind the deportation of over 92,000 Californians), and ensure fair treatment for those who are detained.

It is imperative that the U.S. protect the rights of all workers. As even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, noted on Wednesday, forcing employers to check workers’ immigration status through web-based programs like E-Verify would essentially make “every business owner a policeman.”

Were E-Verify forced on all California businesses, it would kill the jobs of some 90,000 authorized workers in the state, while pushing many others into the underground economy—including that San Bernardino restaurant worker.

Keep Border Agencies Accountable

Finally, to prevent tragedies, such as the fatal tasing of Anastasio Rojas, the U.S. needs to keep border agencies accountable and uphold basic civil and human rights protections.

Ultimately, border communities should be gateways for trade and relationships. If we’re going to invest more at the border, let’s improve the infrastructure at the ports-of-entry so people and goods can swiftly move through.

We hope that future generations will remember 2013 as the year America’s immigration policies finally came into line with our values.

Reshma Shamasunder is the Executive Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. CIPC coordinated the values statement in partnership with the National Immigration Law Center.