California's Historic Immigrant Rights Victories Build Momentum

Oct 09, 2013 | Updated Dec 09, 2013

Nearly twenty years ago, I remember sitting down with my immigrant parents to watch the ominous vote count roll in for California's extreme, anti-immigrant Proposition 187, with county after county sadly voting "yes." I remember the fear, anger and confusion that swept immigrant communities. And I remember that everyday people -- moms and dads, students and workers -- stood up and fought back for their families, and fought for what was right.

The courage and determination of immigrant Californians has transformed the state -- and it will soon transform the nation.

This year, instead of watching depressing vote tallies roll in, I've watched signatures roll in on pro-immigrant bill after pro-immigrant bill -- with much popular acclaim.

And it's about time.

We're experiencing what Gov. Brown declared a "grand and great transition" towards a more inclusive future. This year 2013 is truly the "Year of the Immigrant."

I'm proud to be a Californian during this exciting moment -- a feeling that's reverberating throughout our state's immigrant communities. And now, I earnestly hope that other states -- and the increasingly gridlocked-gripped Beltway -- will take note.

So let's review what immigrant communities in California have won.

Since September, Governor Jerry Brown has signed more than a dozen bills to support full inclusion of immigrants into our state and communities.

Some of the significant bills signed by Governor Brown include AB 4 (the TRUST Act), which sets a minimum standard across the state to limit cruel and costly immigration "hold" requests in local jails, AB 60, which ensures that regardless of immigration status, all Californians will have the opportunity to drive on our state's roads legally, AB 241 (the Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights), which extends the basic right of overtime pay, and SB 666, which protects immigrant workers from employer retaliation based on their immigration status. There are many more, which cover areas ranging from access to education to certain protections for immigrant crime victims.

Governor Brown's support for this slate of immigrant rights bills reflects our state's realities -- we are home to more immigrants than any other state in the country and while Congress is frozen in inaction and President Obama continues to deport vulnerable immigrants daily -- we must act.

As Governor Brown said after signing these bills, "While Washington waffles on immigration, California's forging ahead. I'm not waiting."

Given the tremendous advocacy and contributions of the state's immigrant communities, he had no reason to wait. California's immigrants have been at the forefront of these immigrant rights struggles -- rallying in Sacramento, telling their own stories sometimes at great personal risk, and engaging in civil disobedience.

Many media outlets, including the New York Times, are rightfully recognizing California's immigrant rights victories as a blueprint for the rest of the country. Whether it's driving to work safely each day or no longer fearing the possibility of ending up in deportation proceedings if you call the police to report a crime or are cited for a minor violation, these bills go a long way towards building community trust and ensuring immigrants can fully contribute to our state and communities.

California has sent an important message to the rest of the country -- we can and must do better by our immigrant communities, and states and localities can and must lead the way. We've also made clear to Washington that immigration reform must be broad, inclusive, and reflect our shared American values. We are on the cusp of a seismic national transformation as more Americans understand the importance of immigrants to our country, and public opinion shifts in support of pro-immigrant policy. Our time is now. And this year, I am proud that California is leading this transformation and showing others the way.