As the US Congress continues to mire itself in a tiresome partisan war over every issue that crosses its path, States have begun to answer the call and do the right thing for their own citizens. In California, for example, Governor Brown signed legislation late last year to enhance school, workplace and civil protections for California’s hardworking immigrants. “While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” said Governor Brown. “I’m not waiting.” California’s 2013 laws allow for issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, prohibit attorneys from charging for services under any un-passed Federal Immigration Reform legislation and require attorneys to refund monies paid for such “services,” among other penalties for violations. California’s new laws are a call to arms for immigration advocates, who are rallying in cities across the United States to call on the U.S. House of Representatives to give legal status to undocumented U.S. residents.
Two months ago, Governor Brown signed AB 60, extending the driving privilege to millions of undocumented Californians, the first major immigration reform since he signed the California Dream Act two years ago. In October, Governor Brown continued the trend, signing several bills enhancing immigrant rights. Notably, AB 4 prohibits a law enforcement official from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless specified conditions are met. AB 524 provides that a threat to report the immigration status or suspected immigration status of an individual or the individual’s family may induce fear sufficient to constitute extortion. AB 1024 allows an applicant for admission to the State Bar, who is not lawfully present in the United States, to be admitted as an attorney at law.
Significantly, AB 1159 imposes various restrictions and obligations on persons who offer services related to any Federal “immigration reform” and imposes fines and other penalties on offending attorneys. SB 666 provides for a suspension or revocation of an employer’s business license for retaliation against employees and others on the basis of citizenship and immigration status, and establishes a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation.
The surge in legislative activity hit full steam on September 13, 2013, when California state lawmakers passed a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain legal driver’s licenses. The issue of whether to allow California’s sizable undocumented population to obtain legal driver’s licenses had been debated for decades. During the Schwarzenegger administration, bills passed through the California legislature only to be vetoed by the ex-Governor, who did not want to upset his Republican constituents and friends in the Federal Government by appearing too liberal on the question of undocumented immigrants.
California has joined a growing number of States allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, including Washington, Oregon, Utah and New Mexico. Meanwhile, since last year, a number of localities, including Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon, have also passed legislation granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
While the US Congress’ remains feckless in carrying out its Constitutional mandate to create “uniform” immigration laws, States are picking up the slack to ensure civic and economic well-being within their borders, which must eventually compel the US Congress to do its job.