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California Takes Leadership Role Against Broken Immigrant Families

For over a decade, immigration attorneys and activists have known current regulations regarding immigrant criminal offenders are unduly harsh.

At times, the distinction between minor and major convictions has seemed non-existent, especially in the area of drug convictions.

As a San Diego immigration lawyer, I’ve been puzzled and disappointed that California has not stepped up more forcibly on these (as well as other) immigration issues. Given the huge ethnic constituencies in the state, relatively few pro-immigrant measures have been enacted.

Thus, recent news about state legislative actions, while long overdue, are encouraging signs of a new day dawning for immigration reform supporters – and more importantly, for immigrants.

The proposed legislation responds to a pressing need for fairer treatment of immigrants facing punishment for minor non-violent wrongdoings and potential deportation.

Legislators Unveil 10 Bills To Help Protect Undocumented Immigrants
Chris Jennewein, Times Of San Diego, April 7, 2015

California state legislators introduced a package of 10 bills Tuesday designed to protect undocumented immigrants while immigration reform remains stalled in Congress.

“With these bills California will again show the kind of practical, humane, and forward-thinking leadership that we hope can move the needle on the national discussion,” said Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, who represents the 78th District in San Diego.

To be clear, the California move to the head of the pack is a step forward for immigrants.

But it would be foolish to assume the actions are those of disinterested Good Samaritans.

Most politicians, however sympathetic, are not inclined to step forward without knowing which way the public winds are blowing. With a presidential election just around the corner, it is likely the sponsoring legislators are counting the votes they’ll need next year to win reelection.

A Partial Remedy For Overbroad Immigration Criminal Conviction Rules

Of the 10 bills introduced by the California legislator, AB 1352 may have the greatest positive effect on the lives of immigrants and their families.

At its core, AB 1352 is about immigrant family unity. By providing immigrants facing drug convictions a second chance, the legislation seeks to keep immigrants with their families and in their communities.

According to the bill sponsors, if passed, the legislation will end unintended immigration consequences for immigrants who successfully complete deferred entry of judgment programs – alternatives to court proceedings that allow offenders to participate in drug rehabilitation treatments.

This is not a small issue.

A joint law school study by the UC Berkeley and UC Davis revealed that over a ten year period, 60,000 lawful permanent residents were deported for minor, non-violent offenses.

On the average, they had lived in the U.S. for 10 years before their deportations. They had 88,000 children who were U.S. citizens.

The impact of separation on these broken families is huge – from a variety of viewpoints, including psychologically, economically, socially, and educationally.

At present, in California, individuals charged with low-level drug possession and narcotics offenses are allowed to plead guilty and undergo drug counseling. When a defendant finishes treatment, the charges are wiped away.

Under immigration law, however, the convictions still stand and often lead to deportation and broken families.

Under the proposed change, defendants could opt for treatment before pleading guilty.

If they are successful, their cases would be dismissed. Without the conviction on their record, they would be protected from deportation charges.

As a removal and deportation defense lawyer, I applaud the effort to keep immigrant families united. The absence of reasonable regulations for criminal convictions has led to many unnecessary deportations which have not only destroyed families, but also strained government resources.

Contrary to beliefs perpetuated by reform opponents, no immigration proposal is without restrictions. AB 1352 is no different.

The second chance option would not be available for people with a history of drug sales or any violent or other serious felony. Only first time offenders would be eligible.

Immigrant casualties, of course, will not be completely eliminated. Some immigrants who can take advantage of this second chance will stumble. The vast majority will not.

After all, the alternative is family separation, perhaps forever.

Immigration News Curation By Carlos Batara