Support for immigration reform is arguably strongest in California. This only makes sense, as the state is home to the largest number of immigrants in the country – more than 10 million, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. More than 25 percent of its total population was born outside of the U.S. as of 2011, and about 50 percent of all children had at least one immigrant parent.
President Obama’s immigration reform executive decision is certainly something to celebrate for this heavily foreign-born state, as undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for temporary protection from deportation as early as spring 2015. But the upcoming year holds plenty of other historic changes to praise, including several new state laws that mean greater freedom and opportunities for unauthorized immigrants. These include:
- Eligibility to apply for a state driver’s license starting Jan. 1, which is expected to draw some 1.4 million eligible new drivers to the department of motor vehicles.
- Access to affordable car insurance through the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program. Car insurance is necessary to apply for a California driver’s license.
- Development of a new DREAM student loan program through the University of California and California State University systems, which provides financial aid for college to undocumented immigrants who entered the country without authorization or stayed beyond their visa expiration. It’s expected to help about 2,500 students attend college.
- $3 million for legal representation for minors who came to the U.S. without their parents and are facing deportation. This legal aid will be provided by non-profits using state funding.
End of a rocky year for immigration
With the end of 2014 comes the closure of what Senator Kevin de Leon termed “dark chapter in our state’s history,” according to the Los Angeles Times. With the passage of SB 396 (introduced by Leon) came the repeal of Proposition 187, which denied many public services related to education, health care and legal rights to undocumented immigrants since 1994. As said Joseph Villela, policy and advocacy director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the Orange Country Register, the decades-old erasure of this proposition signified a warm welcome to immigrants and a shift toward unity among all Californians.
“California has done a tremendous job in terms of fully integrating immigrants into our state,” Villela said. “And we also closed the ugly chapter that was Prop. 187.”
Looking forward to 2016
Not all laws passed in California in 2014 will go into effect in 2015. One such law will allow all residents of the state, regardless of their status, to apply for professional licensure by requiring state licensing boards to accept federal taxpayer identification as an alternative for a Social Security number. That means immigrants who are highly skilled but were once ineligible may fill positions as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, accountants, real estate agents and beauticians. According to the Orange County Register, Senator Ricardo Lara, who sponsored the bill, commends it as a progressive change to benefit all Californians.
“This is about doing right by those individuals who have studied, sacrificed and mastered their professions, but are unable to practice because of their immigration status,” Lara said in a statement, according to the Orange County Register. “Our state is stronger when we have qualified, highly skilled workers contributing their talents and tax dollars to advancing our economy.”