The immigration debate has consumed our republic for decades. As has been the case with many issues, California’s legal response to the challenge has shaped much of the national conversation.
In short, California is not itself an official sanctuary state for immigrants. However, some of their legislation comes close. Additionally, certain of the state’s cities have provided immigrant sanctuary, often via enacted law, and more often by choosing not to enforce existing federal laws.
Illegal vs. Legal Immigration in California
One obstacle we routinely confront in attempting to speak honestly on this matter is the conscious overlapping of terms, which are, in fact, distinctive. There are many people opposed to immigration in general, who like to conflate “illegal immigration” with the broader term “immigration.”
The fact is, illegal immigration and legal immigration are not one and the same. Plenty of Americans oppose the former for reasons that have nothing to do with contempt for foreigners. However, there are undoubtedly Americans who oppose immigration outright and believe it should be subject to at least a temporary moratorium.
This viewpoint complicates the conversation, as those who voice it tend to be more readily heard than those with more nuanced views. To introduce a dose of clarity, let’s examine California’s immigration laws for a better understanding of what the term “sanctuary” means and doesn’t mean in this context.
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A California Immigration Law Overview
With our terms now in order, we will look specifically at several of California’s existing immigration laws while explaining what they mean for immigrants. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced and signed into law in recent years. These have, by and large, expanded immigrant protections while clarifying several gray areas.
Collectively, they do not render California an outright sanctuary state for immigrants. However, they do restrict many law enforcement measures from being brought to bear on certain categories of immigrants. Those with criminal records generally do not enjoy such protections.
Below are a few points to consider in assessing California’s legislative response to immigration challenges and realities.
California Driver’s Licenses
To obtain a driver’s license in the state of California, individuals must provide the Department of Motor Vehicles with official documentation. This documentation details either citizenship or immigration status and confirming the date of birth. This presents an obstacle for many immigrants who lack the paperwork necessary to get a license.
Without a license, they may struggle to find or maintain work or face challenges caring for themselves and their families.
Securing work legally in the state of California requires the employer to verify work eligibility for all those they hire. In addition to a name and date of birth, the employee must also provide a Social Security Number.
Much like the driver’s license dilemma, immigrants often face administrative problems when seeking honest work. There are sometimes workarounds. However, employers often find their hands tied in hiring the workers they want and need.
Senate Bill 54
The passage of State Senate Bill Number 54 in 2017 was arguably California’s most significant step towards outright Sanctuary status. Although, the legislation does not go quite that far. What the bill provides is legal protection for immigrants who might otherwise find themselves reported to Federal authorities.
In effect, this legislation allows California law enforcement and government employees to operate independently of Federal law where the matter of immigration is concerned. It functions as a shield from external scrutiny for immigrants at risk of deportation by powers which, in effect, are superior to those of California.
Protections Provided Under the New Law
When State Bill 54 was signed into law, it changed the landscape of how California law enforcement handles issues involving immigrants. A few of the new provision covered under the law include:
- Prohibiting state and local police officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status during routine procedures in the line of duty
- Forbidding state and local police officers from holding illegal immigrants until they are transferred into federal custody
- Prohibiting federal agencies from commandeering local authorities to work with immigration agencies, performing the work of immigration agents
California’s generally favorable inclination towards immigrants does not extend to serious or repeat criminals, nor does it amount to an airtight safeguard against Federal action for non-criminal immigrants.
However, all in all, California legislators have engineered a legal and sociocultural framework of protection. This framework makes accommodations for people whose lives are at risk of being torn apart by enforcement of laws that do not always take individual circumstances into account.
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Opponents to California State Bill 54
Many opponents to the new legislation argue that the law will prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security from performing the duties within California. However, nothing in the new law bars ICE from finding and deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
ICE agents are still permitted to enter state prisons and county jails to conduct interviews. They can also access all data related to a prisoner’s release date.
Despite this, ICE claims that the new bill will make their job more difficult. The agency has implied that with the new legislation, they will be forced to make more arrests in public rather than targeting those already in police custody.
The agency also claims that while working within the confines of the new statute, they will be forced to make more arrests of peaceful law-abiding illegal immigrants rather than focusing on criminals who pose a threat to the public.
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Fearing a ramping up of activity from federal agencies in response to the legislation, state lawmakers passed two additional bills giving further protections to immigrants from federal authorities.
Assembly Bill 450
This bill prevents employers from sharing personal information about their employees or allowing access to the workplace without first making sure the authorities have obtained all of the necessary court documents.
Assembly Bill 291
This bill prevents landlords from using an individual’s immigration status against them in any matters concerning disputed rent, living conditions, or other related matters.
The Rights and Resources Available to You
Setting aside the politics, what matters most is the fact that immigrants are, above all, human beings. Most have families to care for, from whom they hope not to become separated. Fortunately, laws exist to protect immigrants from unjust deportation and lawyers who thoroughly understand those laws as they pertain to deportation.
Immigration law amounts to a tricky intersection of human rights and citizenship standards. The issue is difficult to address in a purely rational manner for that reason. However, immigrants living in the state of California stand to benefit from several laws, regulations, and policies implemented by the legislature in order to foster a greater sense of “sanctuary” therein.
California law has been trending favorably towards immigrant rights for decades. However, there remains uncertainty for many who fear deportation or the breaking up of their families. If you need legal assistance in navigating immigration law, as it pertains to you, contact the Simmrin Law Group by telephone or by filling out our online contact form.