Guest Post: Immigrant Integration - California Leads the Way

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BY RESHMA SHAMASUNDER | NOV 27, 2013, Executive Director, California Immigrant Policy Center

 (MDC: Reshma is a leading immigrant rights advocate in California. I remember when at all-day strategy session she didn't miss a beat despite holding a newborn in her arms. This post, originally appearing on Irvine Foundation’s blog,  illustrates the transformative steps that are “Made in California” - see below.)

The courage and determination of immigrant Californians have transformed the state – and they will soon transform the nation.

We’re experiencing what Governor Jerry Brown declared a “grand and great transition” towards a more inclusive future. This really is the “Year of the Immigrant” in California.

I’m proud to be a Californian and advocate for immigrant rights during this exciting moment – a feeling reverberating throughout our state’s immigrant communities. Recent victories advance true inclusion of immigrants and lay the groundwork for important fights ahead.

These victories stem from years of intense and strategic work by immigrants and activists. Extensive organizing and mobilization, well-run, smart campaigns, and most importantly, the vocal leadership of immigrant youth, parents and workers who put themselves on the line contributed to these critical victories. Immigrants, grassroots organizations, faith leaders, advocacy groups, and many other organizations worked closely to create the momentum necessary for positive change in California.

Below are a few recent policy changes that highlight California’s leadership on key immigrant issues.

{C}   {C}A minor or mistaken arrest will not turn into a costly, extended detention in local jails for deportation purposes. This will help thousands of people like Sacramento mom Juana Reyes, arrested for selling tamales without a permit and wastefully held in jail on an “immigration hold” for 13 days. We’ll also save local resources, improve community confidence in local law enforcement, and keep many families together.

{C}   {C}Workers who contribute so much to our state’s economy will have important new protections. Domestic workers will finally have overtime pay like nearly all other workers. And unscrupulous employers won’t be able to intimidate immigrant workers who stand up for basic rights on the job— a policy that will help improve conditions for all workers.

And by no later than January 1, 2015, all Californians will be able to obtain driver’s licenses. That means parents will be able to drive their children to school or get to their jobs. With all drivers trained, tested, and insured, roads will be safer for all.

This slate of positive policies reflects our state’s realities – we are home to more immigrants than any state in the country. It also reflects the importance of taking risks and of listening to the leadership of directly impacted communities. Many media outlets, including the New York Times, are recognizing California’s immigrant rights victories as a blueprint for the rest of the country.

Now, community groups and advocates will be working diligently to make sure these recent wins translate into real progress on the ground. We’ll all be closely watching to make sure the state’s sheriffs, labor agencies, and the DMV implement all of these new policies fairly and effectively. From grassroots education to ensuring that the voices of people fighting deportation and mistreatment are heard in the media, 2014 promises to be an exciting year.

In the years ahead, much work remains. At the state level, advancing proposals that support naturalization and legal services, healthcare for all Californians, and full inclusion of immigrant communities remains critical. At the local level, continued immigrant leadership, organizing, and civic engagement are key to integration and continued policy wins.

We are on the cusp of a transformation as a country as more Americans understand the importance of immigrants to the United States and public opinion shifts in support of pro-immigrant policy. And this year, I am proud that California is leading this transformation and showing others the way.

Tags: Immigration Reform and Immigrant Integration