The ‘ Cal­i­for­nia pack­age’

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By Karthick Ra­makr­ish­nan and Allan Col­bern Allan Col­bern

While the fed­eral gov­ern­ment stalls on immigration re­form, some states have be­gun act­ing on their own. Much at­ten­tion in the last decade has fo­cused on Repub­li­can- dom­i­nated ar­eas that have tight­ened en­force­ment. Mean­while, more qui­etly, Cal­i­for­nia moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, en­cour­ag­ing in­te­gra­tion rather than de­por­ta­tion.

Cal­i­for­nia has passed more than a dozen laws on im­mi­grant in­te­gra­tion be­tween 2001 and the present. In mid- June, the state ex­panded healthcare ac­cess to all un­doc­u­mented chil­dren and boosted spend­ing for nat­u­ral­iza­tion as­sis­tance. These var­i­ous laws col­lec­tively pro­duce a kind of state- level cit­i­zen­ship — call it “the Cal­i­for­nia Pack­age.”

The Cal­i­for­nia Pack­age is in­no­va­tive in sev­eral re­spects. Not only does it grant rights to im­mi­grants that are re­stricted at the fed­eral level, but it also tends to blur the dis­tinc­tion be­tween cit­i­zens, au­tho­rized, and unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants — valu­ing ev­ery­one who lives in the state and con­trib­utes to so­ci­ety.

Thus, for ex­am­ple, qual­i­fi­ca­tion for in- state tu­ition is not based on im­mi­grant sta­tus but rather on the num­ber of years any per­son has spent in the K- 12 sys­tem in Cal­i­for­nia. Sim­i­larly, the state passed a law in 2014 that re­quires all pro­fes­sional li­cens­ing boards to con­sider ap­pli­cants re­gard­less of their immigration sta­tus. And all res­i­dents can ob­tain a driver’s li­cense.

This cre­ation of a de facto sys­tem of state cit­i­zen­ship may seem rad­i­cal, es­pe­cially af­ter a cen­tury or more of think­ing about immigration law as fall­ing squarely in the do­main of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. How­ever, we have seen even more ro­bust forms of state cit­i­zen­ship in the past.

Be­tween the Civil War and the early 1900s, more than a dozen states al­lowed nonci­t­i­zens the right to vote, and many al­lowed them to cast a bal­lot not only in lo­cal but also in state and fed­eral elec­tions. These nonci­t­i­zens sim­ply had to de­clare their in­ten­tion to be­come cit­i­zens, a rel­a­tively easy task given that the United States had fairly lax rules on immigration at the time — with the no­table ex­cep­tion of Asians, who were ex­cluded from immigration and nat­u­ral­iza­tion.

The Cal­i­for­nia Pack­age does not go quite so far. In fact, Gov. Jerry Brown ve­toed a bill last year that would have al­lowed le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents to serve on ju­ries, and sev­eral at­tempts to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote in lo­cal elec­tions, in­clud­ing school board elec­tions, have failed.

Still, the Cal­i­for­nia Pack­age stands out as sig­nif­i­cant to­day, es­pe­cially in light of the fail­ure of com­pre­hen­sive immigration re­form and, more re­cently, the block­ing of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on de­por­ta­tion re­lief and work au­tho­riza­tion for the par­ents of U. S. cit­i­zens.

The Cal­i­for­nia Pack­age also stands out in con­trast to the poli­cies of its neigh­bor­ing state — what we might call “the Ari­zona Pack­age.” If we clas­si­fied states by their im­mi­grant poli­cies, Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona would oc­cupy op­po­site ends of the spec­trum .

Ari­zona has been pass­ing re­stric­tive mea­sures on immigration since 2004, and even though the U. S. Supreme Court blocked most as­pects of its en­force­ment law in a 2012 de­ci­sion, the state still has some of the tough­est mea­sures on the books when it comes to em­ployee ver­i­fi­ca­tion, state voter reg­is­tra­tion and re­stric­tions on ac­cess­ing state ben­e­fits.

In Ari­zona, an un­doc­u­mented high school grad­u­ate can­not qual­ify for in- state tu­ition, state fi­nan­cial aid or health ben­e­fits, even if she is the ben­e­fi­ciary of Obama’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, or DACA, pro­gram. By con­trast, an un­doc­u­mented high school grad­u­ate in Cal­i­for­nia can qual­ify for ed­u­ca­tion and health ben­e­fits and ul­ti­mately find work as a board- cer­ti­fied ac­coun­tant, ar­chi­tect or engi­neer. And she can do these things even if she is not a ben­e­fi­ciary of DACA.

Back­ers of Cal­i­for­nia’s pro- in­te­gra­tion laws have jus­ti­fied these mea­sures as a way to get more im­mi­grants con­tribut­ing to lo­cal economies. Given the like­li­hood of con­tin­ued pol­icy grid­lock in Washington, we can ex­pect a num­ber of lib­eral states to hear Cal­i­for­nia’s mes­sage, and to fol­low suit.

Karthick Ra­makr­ish­nan is a pro­fes­sor of public pol­icy, and

is a doc­toral can­di­date in po­lit­i­cal science, at UC River­side.

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