This week brought mixed news on immigration policy. While there were some bright spots at the federal level – particularly with the explicit acknowledgement and consideration of same-sex partnerships in stopping deportation hearings – California missed two critical opportunities to protect the State’s undocumented immigrants. By vetoing the Trust Act and the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, California Governor Jerry Brown endorsed the secondary rights given to undocumented immigrants and domestic workers. Slow implementation of the deferred action program for young immigrants also highlights the long ways ahead to protecting immigrants’ rights, even in the case of supportive legislation.
Same Sex Partnerships Considered in Deportation Cases
In June of last year, the Department of Homeland Security passed new deportation guidelines that enabled law enforcement officers to consider “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” when determining deportation cases for undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. This week, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano published written guidelines that same sex partnerships be considered in the law’s provisions about family relationships. Although this written guidance only reiterates the Department’s existing stance on same-sex partnerships in regards to deportation hearings, LGBTQ advocacy groups considered the formalization of this policy as a step in the right direction. However, there remains substantial discrimination within immigration law for the LGBTQ community – same-sex partnerships do not allow undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards.
Governor Brown Vetoes the Trust Act and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
This week, Governor Brown had the opportunity to sign the Trust Act into law – this piece of legislation would have enabled the State’s local law enforcement officials to use greater discretion in complying with Secure Communities by only reporting undocumented immigrants to ICE in the case that they have a serious or violent felony on their record. The Trust Act would have been an important step towards protecting the many immigrants who are deported each year for minor arrests (such as traffic violations) – as well as their communities who face a range of consequences from family separation to fear and stress as a result of Secure Communities’ strict deportation policies. Only a small number of local governments have passed legislation similar to the Trust Act; California’s acknowledgement of the harms associated with Secure Communities would have sent a strong statement about the health and community impacts of increasing deportation.
Governor Brown also vetoed AB 889 – the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights – a law that would have ensured basic labor protections for the State’s many domestic workers, including overtime pay and meal breaks. Gov. Brown cited concerns about the implications for costs to the disabled and elderly communities who require in-home care – despite the fact that domestic workers and disabled activists have been organizing together to support labor laws that protect both in-home workers and those communities who need care-takers. Good health is supported with laws that protect basic rights such as access to shelter, sustenance, and fair labor.
Deferred Deportation Faces Implementation Challenges
Since the passage of the deferred deportation program in August, tens of thousands of young immigrants have applied for the two-year permits to live and work in the US. However, challenges have emerged that are creating barriers to applicants and slowing the implementation of the law. Employers in particular are concerned with the risks they may face in participating in the law. In order to qualify, a person must show that they have been in the US for at least 5 years and were in the country on June 15 – employers can provide verification of applicants qualification; however, in providing this, they also open themselves up to prosecution for having employed undocumented immigrants. Although the Department of Homeland Security says they will not use this process to go after employers except in cases of severe labor law violations, small businesses and farm employer organizations are hesitant to provide employment verification; particularly in light of the uncertain election season and the potential that in the near future immigration policies could shift substantially. Applicants also face challenges such as finding all the required forms of verification, raising money for the filing fee, and the administrative roadblocks to processing applications. Although over 1 million people are eligible for deferred action, only 100,000 have applied, and to date 29 have been approved.