Tuesday, September 16, 2014
More than a week ago, President Obama announced that he would once again delay any administrative relief for the millions of immigrants currently living under threat of deportation. This decision brought a mix of fear, anger and disappointment to many community members, whose hopes have rested with the President since immigration reform stalled in Congress. Relentless deportations have torn apart tens of thousands of families and ushered in a new era of immigration politics.
But California offers a different opportunity. While President Obama was preparing to make this disappointing announcement, Governor Jerry Brown made clear his commitment to the immigrant community during a Gubernatorial debate. He stated that with respect to immigration, California is “setting the pace" by enacting the TRUST Act to limit deportations, granting immigrants drivers' licenses and allowing young people equal access to higher education. In fact it was precisely Washington's inaction that Governor Brown invoked when he signed the TRUST into law last year, striking a major blow to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation machine.
While the federal government has made life increasingly difficult for immigrants, California is recognizing both their rights and their contributions. And the results are striking. Undocumented immigrants alone contribute about $130 billion of California's GDP--a figure greater than the entire GDP of Nevada. Furthermore, California has taken steps to ensure that undocumented youth can both achieve their dreams and contribute fully to the state's economic well-being by making higher education accessible. By enacting AB 540 in 2001 for tuition equity and the California Dream Act ten years later for state-based financial aid, the state has fundamentally committed to the education and integration of its youth, regardless of their immigration status.
However, as an educator I have seen that despite our investment in their education, the young people who are products of California's promise still cannot pursue their career goals once they graduate. Inconsistencies in our state laws prohibit them from working in their field and thereby limiting their contributions to our state.
Governor Brown has the opportunity to address this limitation. Legislation that is sitting on his desk today will remove one significant obstacle. SB 1159 (Lara) would allow an individual applicant for a professional license to provide, and the licensing board to accept, an individual taxpayer identification number in lieu of a social security number. That would ensure that immigration status does not prevent these young individuals from becoming a full part of the fabric of California. And, it would allow all of us to benefit from their contributions - as nurses, doctors, teachers, and accountants. Of the top twenty fastest growing occupations in California, more than one third require licensure. SB 1159 would help ensure that the people who are trained and eager to contribute in these fields could satisfy the growing demand.
California once again has the opportunity to lead the country and we will be enriched morally, economically and socially by allowing these young individuals to contribute fully. They have worked hard to get to where they are today; all we have to do is let them keep going.