Calling for federal reform

A comprehensive federal immigration policy is needed

California is home to more than 2.6 million people who have immigrated illegally. They account for one-tenth of the state’s total labor force, from workers in low-level jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, service and construction to highly skilled professionals. They are an integral part of the economy and culture of our state, and they’re not going away.

Those are the facts on the ground, and California took positive steps toward recognizing them recently when Gov. Jerry Brown signed eight bills expanding immigrants’ rights.

Chief among these were laws enabling these immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and for licenses to practice law—welcome recognitions of their important role in the state economy. Another new law prohibits police from holding individuals for immigration authorities unless they are charged with certain serious crimes, laying the groundwork for increased trust and cooperation between immigrant communities and law enforcement.

As welcome as these measures are, they do not preclude the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. In the absence of a workable national immigration policy, states are creating a patchwork system of their own. Some, like California, are encouraging assimilation. Others, like Arizona, seem to have self-deportation as their goal. The inconsistency is not good for immigrants, many of whom came here as children, and live and work in the United States in constant fear of deportation.

It’s also harmful to the economy. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the landmark immigration bill passed by the Senate back in June would result in a more than $1 trillion reduction of the federal budget deficit over the next 20 years. That pending legislation has increasingly gained support from the left and the right.

The GOP-led House should act now to approve this reform effort and provide a clear path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are part of the American fabric.