Despite Supreme Court ruling, California moves forward on immigration

Cathy Cha and Cynthia Buiza
The Sacramento Bee
June 23, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday turned down an opportunity to bring more compassion and common sense to U.S. immigration policy. This is a serious mistake that will perpetuate the pain of exclusion for many people who are deeply rooted in our communities.

From the time the Obama administration first announced it would provide deportation relief through “deferred action,” a strong consensus emerged from top legal experts that the White House was standing on firm constitutional ground. What’s more, the refusal of Congress to take any action on this issue made this relief, while partial, an absolutely essential step.

Fortunately, California offers a model for thoughtful action on immigration in the absence of leadership in Washington. In the past several years, California policymakers have enacted a variety of laws to expand immigrant rights.

California’s pro-immigrant policies include a law providing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. California is also the first state to allow low-income undocumented children to be eligible for free or low-cost health insurance under the state’s Medi-Cal program. Now, the state is charging ahead with efforts to heal the unjust exclusion of undocumented adults from health care.

And last but not least, California is poised to invest $30 million in state funds to help Californians gain citizenship and take advantage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides many undocumented young people with work permits and temporary relief from deportation.

While Thursday’s decision on expanded administrative relief is a temporary setback, we encourage immigrants to become citizens and vote and access all available protections, including DACA.

Thursday’s news is sure to spark further efforts in California to help the rest of the nation see that immigrants are an asset for our communities and our economy. We and our pro-immigrant partners will focus on increasing citizenship, making sure young people in our state continue to apply for the DACA program, and upholding the human rights of all immigrants who call the Golden State their home.

But the fact remains that there are 11 million people living without legal status in communities across the country. This number includes 2 million people in our state, with eight in 10 undocumented California residents having lived in the United States for five years or longer. Whether we know about their immigration status or not, immigrants are a critical part of the fabric of local communities throughout California.

It’s time once and for all to recognize that everyone will benefit when all community members can finally live their lives in the open, with dignity and the ability to contribute without fear to their communities and our local economies. We also need to recognize that progress is essential for immigrants who are too often overlooked, including members of black, Asian, LGBT, Middle Eastern and Muslim communities, those who may have had contact with law enforcement, and those who have recently arrived fleeing violence.

Even as the immigrant rights movement explores legal options in response to the Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie, we need to keep working for inclusive and transformative immigration reform in Washington. Our nation’s leaders need to understand that the threat of deportation that hangs over so many communities is a problem we cannot afford to ignore.

Let’s come together in California to show what happens when we build communities and an economy where everyone can contribute. And let’s keep the pressure on Washington for real, long-term, commonsense solutions to fix our nation’s unjust immigration system.

Cathy Cha is the program director for Immigrant Rights and Integration at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.  Cynthia Buiza is executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.