The immigration debate has consumed our republic for decades. And 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, but certain of its cities have provided immigrant sanctuary, often via enacted law, and more often by choosing not to enforce existing federal laws. One obstacle we routinely confront in attempting to speak honestly on this matter is the conscious overlapping of terms which are, in fact, distinctive.
For example, a good-hearted American citizen might be opposed to illegal immigration for the reasons patriots of countries around the world oppose illegal immigration, one of which is the fact that it is seen as harmful to the value of citizenship. But those with no such worries about citizenship being potentially cheapened will conflate the term “illegal immigration” with the broader term of “immigration.”
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But setting aside the politics for a moment, what matters most is the fact that immigrants are, above all, human beings. Most have families to care for, families from whom they hope not to become separated. Fortunately, there exist laws to protect immigrants from unjust deportation and lawyers who thoroughly understand those laws as they pertain to deportation.
Illegal vs. Legal Immigration
The fact is, illegal immigration and legal immigration are not one and the same. Plenty of Americans oppose the former for reasons 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.
A California Immigration Law Overview
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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 grey areas. Collectively, they do not render California an outright sanctuary state for immigrants but do restrict many law enforcement measures from being brought to bear on certain categories of immigrant. 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.
- 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 detailing either citizenship or immigration status and confirming date of birth. This presents an obstacle for many immigrants who lack the paperwork necessary to a license for professional reasons or to better care for themselves and their families.
- Employment Eligibility: Securing work legally in the state of California requires the employer 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 administrative problems when seeking honest work. There are workarounds, but 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 was arguably California’s most significant step towards outright Sanctuary status, though 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.
As alluded to previously, 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. But, in all, California legislators have engineered a legal and sociocultural framework which makes accommodations for people whose lives are at risk of being torn apart by enforcement of laws which do not always take individual circumstances into account.
The Rights and Resources Available to You
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, but there remains uncertainty for many who fear deportation or the breaking up their families. If you need capable legal assistance in navigating immigration law as it pertains to you, contact the Simmrin Law Group by telephone— (310)-997-4688 —or by filling out the provided form.