October 12, 2013
Although the federal government has failed to progress on immigration reform, California continues to blaze the trail toward improving the lives of immigrants. California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed several new bills into law that seek to empower the undocumented and protect immigrants from unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage of those that are eagerly awaiting immigration reform.
The first new law, AB 60, was passed on October 3, 2013. This law will allow the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue drivers licenses to those who are unlawfully residing in the US. The law recognizes the numerous problems associated with preventing undocumented individuals from obtaining drivers licenses. Not only has it caused problems for the individual, but it has also caused safety and security problems for law enforcement agencies and insurance companies.
The law will allow individuals to obtain drivers licenses so long as they can prove their identity, their California residency, and all other qualifications for licensure. The drivers license issued to individuals will contain a special designation and indicate that it is not acceptable as an identification document on the federal level. While this special designation is certainly not ideal, it is a necessary compromise due to limitations imposed by the federal immigration laws.
The DMV must implement the law no later than January 1, 2015. However, there is speculation that the licenses could be available earlier, perhaps by late 2014. Although California becomes the 11th state to enact a law allowing undocumented individuals to obtain drivers licenses, it is by far the largest state to do so. An estimated 1.4 million people are anticipated to apply for licenses during the first 3 years. The other states that allow the issuance of drivers licenses to undocumented individuals are as follows: Colorado; Connecticut; Illinois; Maryland; Nevada; New Mexico; Oregon; Utah; Vermont; and Washington.
The second law, AB 1159, was passed a couple days later, on October 5, 2013. This law seeks to protect the immigrant community from potential immigration fraud by imposing additional requirements on those who provide legal services. The law requires all attorneys that enter into contracts for services related to a potential federal immigration reform bill to inform their client of where a complaint for ineffective assistance can be reported.
Additionally, the law heightens the requirements that non-attorneys must follow. Non-attorney immigration consultants are required to register and file a bond with the Secretary of State, which the new law increases from $50,000 to $100,000 starting July 1, 2014. They must also provide a written contract detailing the services to be provided. Individuals wishing to deal with non-attorneys should at a minimum verify compliance with these requirements or realize that engaging the services of a non-attorney may potentially place them in a worse situation than doing nothing at all.
It also prevents attorneys and non-attorneys from entering into contracts relating to a potential federal immigration reform bill until such a law has actually been enacted. Attorneys and non-attorneys can only be hired for preparatory and investigatory work, such as criminal background checks and FOIA applications to review prior immigration history. Individuals must realize that these limitations have been imposed to protect them, as hiring any individual to proceed on an application where a law has not even been passed is in all likelihood not in their best interest, both financially and legally.
Gov. Brown also signed into law several other bills that provide added protections to the immigrant community. The TRUST Act limits the ability of state and local police officers from detaining individuals charged with minor crimes. Only those arrested for serious offenses may be detained and transferred to federal authorities for potential removal proceedings. Another bill, AB 524, prevents employers from threatening employees about reporting them to the DHS should they complain about workplace violations. Yet another bill, SB66, allows an employer’s business license to be revoked or suspended should they retaliate against a worker based on immigration status.
These laws honor the contributions that the immigrant community has had throughout California. The drivers license law recognizes not only the humane treatment that the immigrant population should be afforded, but also the practical and safety concerns to law enforcement and the rest of the community. The other laws seek to protect those who are so vulnerable of being taken advantage of and ensuring that those who truly wish to help the immigrant community are not displaced by those who simply wish to profit from them.