Once again, California leads the way on immigration reform

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a number of immigration reforms, drawing widespread applause from immigrant rights advocates and no small amount of criticism from those who favor more restrictive immigration policies. The new laws aim to expand civil protections and increase the employment and educational opportunities available to immigrants living in California.

Educational and employment opportunities

One of the recently enacted measures enables undocumented immigrants to apply for the state licenses needed to work as doctors, nurses, dentists, attorneys and other professional occupations. Previous state licensing laws had made these professions inaccessible to many immigrant workers in California.

The recent reforms also established the State Dream Loan Program, which will provide over $9 million in funding to public state universities in California for the purposes of administering loans to undocumented students. Existing federal student loan laws and private lending policies often pose a barrier to educational opportunities for undocumented students, who are ineligible for most student loans on the basis of their immigration status.

Civil protections

Other changes provided for in the recent legislation include a measure that creates sanctions for employers who retaliate against workers on the basis of their citizenship or immigration status, as well as a provision establishing that threatening to report the immigration status of an individual or his or her family members may constitute extortion. Another measure prevents local police in California from keeping immigrants in custody longer than necessary for minor offenses in order to transfer them to federal immigration authorities.

Advocates applaud changes while opponents boo

Opponents of the reforms say they create a safe haven for undocumented immigrants, which they contend will have the effect of encouraging others to cross the border illegally in order to gain access to state resources. However, supporters of the legislation say the measures are needed to better protect the rights of undocumented immigrants already living in California, enabling them to participate more fully in society and contribute to the state's economy. Many of the undocumented immigrants who stand to benefit from the new laws were brought into the country as children and consider the United States to be their home.

Contact a lawyer for answers about immigration issues

California families with questions about how the recent changes apply to their own individual circumstances should be sure to talk things over with an experienced immigration lawyer in their area. An attorney who practices in immigration law can advise clients of their rights and legal options with regard to these and other immigration-related issues.