For those in Arizona concerned about issues related to immigration, it can be frustrating how difficult it often is to define precisely where our state stands on these issues. On the one hand, Arizona has been a vanguard in the struggle to impose state-legislated anti-immigrant laws, with its passage of SB 1070 in 2010. And the state has spawned some of the most prominent national figures in the fight against Latin American immigration to this country, including former State Sen. Russell Pearce, Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. However, on the other hand, Arizona is also home to perhaps the most vibrant and active immigrant rights movement in the country, with dozens of groups fighting to protect this population and to promote the issue of real comprehensive immigration reform. And just as Arizona led the country with the passage of SB 1070, the state has also been a national leader in the legal fight against state sponsored anti-immigrant legislation.
This week, California demonstrated that it too is a land of contrasts when it comes to its approach to immigration law. On Sunday Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown frustrated many on both sides of the issue with his decisions on two pending immigration-related laws. Gov. Brown signed into law an important bill that will enable immigrants accepted into the Obama administration’s deferred action program to apply for and legally receive driver’s licenses. However, at the same time, he vetoed another law, considered by many to be much more crucial to immigrants in the state. The Trust Act would have prohibited state and local law enforcement from holding suspected immigrants merely due to their dubious legal residency status, until they could be vetted by federal immigration authorities. Now that the law has been officially vetoed, the practice will undoubtedly continue.
Gov. Brown’s split decision mirrors a larger split within California when it comes to dealing with immigrants. Nationally, California has been somewhat of a leader in promoting a somewhat pragmatic legislative approach to the state’s immigrant community. In addition to the Trust Act, California is also currently considering a Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights for those in the domestic service sector. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed the California Work Permit Bill, which will grant guest worker permits to undocumented immigrants. And the state’s ongoing AgVision 2030 initiative for long term agricultural sustainability contains numerous provisions for protecting the industry’s undocumented workforce.
However, to paint California as a state with an entirely amenable attitude toward immigration reform and its immigrant population would be to ignore a powerful oppositional movement. For example, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has made a name for himself nationally for deporting even more undocumented immigrants last year than Sheriff Arpaio. In fact, Baca deported approximately half of all immigrants who were expelled from the entire state last year. And just as California has become a bastion for the pro-immigrant rights movement, there is a corresponding anti-immigrant movement brewing in the state as well.
As California legislators and law enforcement officers continue to debate how best to respond to the state’s immigrant population, the ultimate decisions at which they arrive could have far-reaching national ramifications. As Arizona and other states fostering contrasting immigration-related movements watch on, where California ultimately falls on these issues could spur others to move in a similar direction.