Responding to federal inaction over immigration reform, California Democrats on Tuesday announced a package of 10 bills that would extend health care, legal rights and business protection to immigrants who are illegally living in the state.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, led the majority party's push to expand health coverage to all Californians, regardless of their immigration status, although they are not proposing any funding to pay for the extensions.
"Today we remind the rest of the nation that California is different," de Leon said at a news conference in Sacramento attended by immigrant-rights advocates and families with members in the country illegally.
Atkins acknowledged there was only so much the state can do because immigration is a federal issue. "This is not easy," she said.
The package includes help for California's estimated 2.5 million immigrants in the country illegally to apply for legal status if they have been a victim of a crime and assistance for the recent surge of immigrant children crossing the border to stay in the country.
Another bill bans businesses from discriminating against people on the basis of their immigration status, citizenship or language. Other bills seek to establish a state agency to help newly arrived immigrants, protect immigrants from unscrupulous employers and extend legal protections to avoid detention and deportation, according to a written summary of the legislation.
Democrats who control the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature have said they want to find ways for immigrants to come out of the state's economic shadows. The 10 bills were previously introduced, but they were touted Tuesday by supporters for advancing immigrants' rights.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, questioned the costs.
"We understand the burdens facing immigrants who want to go to work and raise their families in safe neighborhoods, and the rationale behind these bills is admirable," Huff said. "But without money from Congress and President Obama, it will be very difficult and costly for California taxpayers to fund all of these bill proposals."
California this year began issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has already received a half-million applications. California is also one of several states to adopt the Dream Act, which permits college financial aid for top students seeking citizenship.
Among the key bills in the package:
-- SB4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would open California's Medicaid program to immigrants, as well as extending subsidized health benefits in a new insurance marketplace for those without legal status.
The proposal previously carried a cost as high as $1.3 billion a year. But Lara said he is trying to lower the tab by seeking a federal waiver so immigrants can purchase private health insurance.
-- SB674 by de Leon and Atkins would give immigrant victims of crime the opportunity to apply for the federal Victim of Crime Visa, known as a U-Visa. De Leon said the bill mandates local law enforcement to certify immigrants who are victims of human trafficking, rape and sexual assault rather than "subjectively start making immigration policy themselves."
-- AB900 by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, seeks to align state law with federal immigration rules to maximize the number of immigrant children seeking legal status.