Among hundreds of bills signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown – many just before the Oct. 11 deadline – were several providing new protections for immigrants.
Senate Bill 4, the Health for All Kids Act, by state Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, will implement a decision taken in this year’s state budget, to provide health coverage to all undocumented children in the state. An estimated 170,000 children will be eligible for coverage under Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, starting May 1, 2016. The measure was backed by all Democrats and some Republicans in the legislature.
“When I began the effort to expand health care coverage to undocumented Californians, many people said it couldn’t get done,” Lara said. “Just a year later, we are covering all undocumented children, becoming the largest state to do so.”
Calling SB 4 “a down payment on achieving true health for all,” Lara said the second measure in the legislative package, SB 10, will be considered in the next legislative session. It will include coverage for adults through a capped enrollment program, and a federal waiver will be requested so immigrants can buy coverage through Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Lara’s bills were part of the “Immigrants Shape California” legislative package of 10 bills announced by legislative leaders in April, aimed at greatly expanding undocumented Californians’ access to labor rights, legal rights and protections against discrimination. All but SB 10 have now been signed by Gov. Brown.
Among them are measures to limit the abuse of E-Verify immigration status probes, bar businesses from discriminating on the basis of immigration status, citizenship or language, strengthen due process for immigrant defendants, and protect immigrants against fraud when they seek help from immigration lawyers and consultants.
Another landmark bill Gov. Brown signed is Assembly Bill 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. It updates California’s definition of racial and identity profiling to match recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the U.S. Department of Justice, to include profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability. Law enforcement agencies must uniformly collect and report data on stops, frisks and other interactions. An advisory board including law enforcement, community and faith organizations, civil rights activists and a youth representative will analyze the data and develop recommendations to address problems with racial and other forms of profiling.
In a statement Oct. 13, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California called AB 953 “the strongest racial and identity profiling law in the country,” and noted that it is the nation’s first law mandating collection of data on all pedestrian and vehicle stops. The ACLU noted that nationwide, unarmed black men are seven times more likely to die by police gunfire than are unarmed white men. The organization also cited AB 71, which it called “a strong bill to require reporting on serious use of force by police.”
The ACLU and five other organizations – the faith-based community organizing network PICO, the Youth Justice Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Reform California, and Dignity and Power Now – co-sponsored the measure.
In the months before AB 953 was signed, its supporters organized many demonstrations, including a pilgrimage down the North Coast of California through communities with many Native American residents, and demonstrations by Black Lives Matter activists and others at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The state Fraternal Order of Police, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, and other law enforcement agencies urged the governor to veto the measure, saying it would be a costly burden on police.
The California New Motor Voter Act, AB 1461, by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego and sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, would automatically send to the Secretary of State data on every eligible citizen who goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get or renew a driver’s license. The newly registered voters would then pick a political party status, or could choose to opt out of voting. Information on noncitizens would not be sent to the Secretary of State. The measure is based on a law recently enacted in Oregon.
In commending Gov. Brown for signing the bill, California Public Interest Group (CALPIRG) president Emily Rusch noted that in the 2014 election, 6.6 million Californians weren’t registered to vote, including over half the eligible young people ages 18-24. Others have pointed out that in that election, California ranked 43rd among states in voter participation.
Rusch also called for “voter outreach and education in order to create an electorate that is engaged and informed.” She said AB 1461 would enable voting advocates to refocus on voter education.
Late last month 21 California members of Congress urged Brown to sign the bill. Predictably, Republican legislators, and anti-immigrant activists, opposed it, saying citizens would lose their right to remain unregistered, while undocumented people might be enabled to vote.
Photo: On September 2 Day of Action for AB853, hundreds gathered in Sacramento, the state capital, to ask Governor Brown to sign a bill to curb racial and identity profiling in California. Here a sit-in by clergy. | ACLU of Northern California.