Proposed state legislation may provide legal support for immigrants

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Photo/Associated Press: Immigration detainees undergoing processing by U.S Customs and Border Patrol agents.
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California legislators introduced several bills on Monday that will aim to provide legal protections to undocumented immigrants and fight back against President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration proposals.

The most comprehensive of the bills was introduced by Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego). ‘Due Process for All’  (Senate Bill 6) aims to award state grants to nonprofit organizations that will provide legal help to undocumented immigrants.

Approximately 68 percent of immigrants held in detention centers currently do not have legal representation, according to a fact sheet provided by Hueso’s office.

“As a result, thousands of California residents are torn from their homes every year,” the fact sheet reads. “Families lose breadwinners; children are placed in foster care; and the economy is disrupted.”

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San Bernardino Community Service Center Executive Director Emilio Amaya–an accredited immigration attorney–said he is “100 percent in support of the bill” because it will alleviate the financial concerns of people in the immigrant community.

“The principal problem in areas such as the Inland Empire and the Coachella Valley is that people don’t have the money to pay for attorneys,” Amaya said. “It’s very difficult to obtain documents without legal representation. We are asking the state legislature and Governor Brown to approve this.”

Another bill–introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (Oakland)–will create state funded programs to provide training and advice to public defenders on issues relating to immigration.

Groups, such as the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ), argue that public defenders usually are not well informed on immigration matters–leading them to ill advise their immigrant clients, which in turn leads to detention or deportation. California law (People v. Soriano) states that defense counsel must investigate, advise, and defend against potential adverse immigration consequences of a proposed disposition.

“A lot of public defenders advise immigrants to plead guilty–without educating them of potential consequences,” explained ICIJ Executive Director Javier Hernandez. “They don’t realize that when they’re undocumented, there are immigration consequences of detention or deportation.”

Other bills introduced by legislators include a required public vote to build a border wall more than $1 billion, prohibiting state agencies to provide information on an individual’s religious affiliation for use of compiling a database, and to cease local government and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) collaboration in detaining immigrants, while also requiring detention centers to meet the minimum health and safety standards.  

While Inland Empire immigrant rights organizers praise the efforts of the legislature, others believe taxpayer money will be wasted supporting immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Robin Hvidston, executive director of ‘We the People Rising’, believes democratic state legislators are trying to find their way around Trump’s immigration policy.

“It really is not fair for taxpayers,” she said. “They are going against federal law and squandering our money.”

Hvidston also believes the fears of the community regarding mass deportations and roundup squads is blown out proportion. “I think the general fear of deportation is unwarranted. Trump has said he will only focus on criminal illegal immigrants.”

Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) believes there needs to be “rule of law” when dealing with matters of immigration.

“I want to remind everyone that we welcome people that want to come here,” he said to his colleagues in the senate. “Not everyone who comes here wants to do that. There has to be a process that doesn’t overwhelm us.”

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