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California on Immigration—Great Steps Forward and New Requirements for Immigration Attorneys

shutterstock_89347900Governor Jerry Brown signed several bills last week that will make a huge difference for many immigrants.  “While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” Governor Brown said. “I’m not waiting.”  The bills are mostly positive, but one creates new requirements for AILA members practicing in California.

First, undocumented immigrants in California will be able to obtain driver’s licenses which is great news, not just for immigrants and their families, but also for many law enforcement agencies and insurance companies who supported such a measure for safety and security reasons.  This isn’t likely to be instantaneous; according to reports, the licenses are expected to become available to immigrants no later than January of 2015.  However, there is talk that the licenses could become available as early as late 2014.  They also won’t be just like other licenses, instead they will have a special designation on the front and a caution that the document is not a form of identification at the federal level; a sort of scarlet letter.  California isn’t alone; my state joins ten others that already had similar measures.  But California is the biggest state to pass a bill like this; an estimated 1.4 million drivers are expected to apply for the licenses during the first three years.

Governor Brown also signed the TRUST Act—which will prohibit local law enforcement from detaining immigrants charged with minor crimes in order to let federal authorities know about them for immigration violations.  If an immigrant were charged with a serious offense, then they could be held for 48 hours and transferred to federal authorities for potential deportation.  We’re delighted that Governor Brown signed the TRUST Act, along with bills allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain law licenses and one that criminalizes employers who “induce fear” by threatening exposure of a person’s status as someone who entered the country illegally.  AB 524 prevents employers from using the reporting threat to stop workers from complaining about workplace abuses, unsafe working conditions and wage theft. SB 666 allows an employer’s business license to be suspended or revoked for retaliation against workers based on immigration status.  Governor Brown also vetoed a bill that would have allowed noncitizens to serve as jury members.

So those were all big steps forward for immigrants and advocates.

Governor Brown also signed AB1159, a bill that was of tremendous concern to AILA.  The law’s intention is to protect potential victims of immigration fraud.  At its onset, AB1159 sought to regulate the practice of Immigration Law in California.  AILA raised major concerns about the bill earlier in the summer when the state legislature was taking up the measure, including the fact that some requirements could endanger attorney/client privilege, make it more difficult if not impossible for lawyers to offer pro bono or low cost services, and even prevent lawyers from advising clients on how changes in the law might impact their case or how to prepare for change.

Due to the staunch advocacy led by the California Chapter Chairs, AILA’s Executive Committee, and many AILA members, AILA was able to correct the misguided efforts of the California State Bar and the bill’s authors. After long negotiations, the bill’s author agreed to take out the onerous requirements against Immigration Attorneys, while continuing to tighten requirements against immigration consultants and notarios.

AB 1159 prohibits Immigration Attorneys from entering into contracts relating to Immigration Reform before the law is actually signed into law by the President.  AILA carved out an exception for preparatory and investigatory work, like requesting FOIA’s, background checks, and post-conviction relief.  If money has been collected by an attorney for a law that does not exist, the attorney must refund the money or place it in an attorney/client trust fund.

Additionally, AB 1159 requires all attorneys that enter into contracts relating to an Immigration Reform Bill to inform the client where they can report complaints.  The California State Bar will create the document, translate it into various different languages, and post it on their website.  After reaching this compromise, AILA withdrew its opposition to the bill.

The bill also increased the amount of bond that immigration consultants must carry from $50,000 to $100,000 as of July 1, 2014.  It also prohibits the use of the term “notario,” which has been misconstrued as someone who is qualified to give legal advice.  The bill also provides that a person who violates the ban on the use of the term “notario” is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per day for each violation.

While the bill is far from perfect, AILA remains at the forefront of promoting ethical lawyering and preventing the unauthorized practice of law.  AILA has been advocating against the unauthorized practice of law way before it became politically expedient to do so.  AILA will continue to monitor other state legislatures for similar bills and reach out to legislatures to ensure the best method in which to combat immigration fraud at all levels, including the new fraud frontier – internet notarios or “net-tarios.”


It was a frantic Tuesday with voters lining up in the early morning to cast their votes in another historic election.  Media coverage lit up the screens of homes and businesses across the nation, social media crowded the internet and pundits began their analyses.  By the time night had descended on this great nation, even as some votes were still being counted in Florida, the message was clear: Democrats would return their candidate to the White House for a second term.  It was a bitter pill for Republicans to swallow, even Fox News had a fit of denial, as they continued to scrutinize “the numbers” and began the blame game.

Reports showed that President Barack Obama captured an astounding 71 percent of the Latino vote. That translated to a 44 percentage-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Latino vote–down from Republican shares of 31 percent in 2008, 44 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000. President Obama also picked up 93% of the African American vote and 73% of the Asian American vote.

The message was clear.  Not only do the political parties need to wake up to the changing demographics of our nation, but the nature of the American discourse on immigration must change.  Winning the Latino vote requires consideration of tone, respect, and connection with the community.  Republicans were able to attract Latino voters in the 2004 Presidential election because they showed with their language and tone that they had respect for the Latino community.

Not so in 2012.  Latinos were treated to an onslaught of poisonous and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric by the Republican candidates; from their incessant use of the racially charged slurs like “illegals” to their standard bearer’s opposition to the DREAM Act and support for the inhumane policy of “self-deportation.”

Nor was the hateful rhetoric  limited to the presidential debates.  Congressional Republican candidates, like Steve King, added to the fervor by categorizing immigrants as “animals” and then added insult to injury by claiming he meant his words as a compliment to Latinos and the immigrant community.

In this politically hostile climate Latinos were subject to racial profiling in several states and a rise in hate crimes in their communities.  The effect on Latinos was perhaps best summarized by a Puerto Rican voter inFloridawho answered when asked by a reporter why he voted for President Obama, “Don’t the Republicans know we are listening?”

As the comedic genius, Rodney Dangerfield, repeated throughout his career, we “just don’t get any respect.”  Human nature requires respect as a starting point for any meaningful communication or relationship.  The disrespect exhibited by the anti-immigrant voice in this election cycle was obvious and clear.  No party can expect political support when there is no basic human respect.   If the message of hate is directed at me, why should I support you?

Political candidates need to understand that dehumanizing the undocumented immigrant population  is also offensive to against those who immigrated but are now citizens with the power of the vote.  Simply stated, if you attack the undocumented immigrant population, you inherently attack the documented immigrant’s sister, brother, parents, uncle, aunt, cousin, boyfriend, girlfriend and family.  Statements like, “we support legal immigration, but not illegal immigration,” do not effectively distinguish between legal or non-legal family members or mixed status families.  Latinos do not tell their family members, “We support and love legal family members, but not undocumented ones.”  This runs to the core of the Latino Community.

Nor is it enough to simply learn “Latino Speak,” as suggested by Republican strategist Karl Rove. Understanding Latinos necessarily involves connecting with our community.  That means making sincere efforts to incorporate and interact with the fastest growing minority group in the United States.  Embracing Latino political candidates is a start, but not an end in and of itself.  Understanding, believing and advocating for issues that are important to the Latino community is certainly the right road to travel.  These issues are not Democratic or Republican.  They are American.

Political candidates need to come to terms with the awakening of a political sleeping giant.  Thanks to all the dehumanizing attacks against the immigrant population, this voting population has been rudely awakened, and it will never go back into hibernation.  Latinos have decided to stand up and say in a loud and clear voice “enough is enough! We will no longer be ignored and we will be counted.”

Political parties who alienate the Latino Community do so at their peril.  This likely explains conservative political pundit Sean Hannity’s new found and “evolving” support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Latinos seek a serious and robust debate about all issues of concern to their community and to America as a whole—including comprehensive immigration reform.  But the discussion must be respectful in tone and founded upon a sincere desire to connect with our community.

In the words of Aretha Franklin, political parties need to have a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”  Tone, respect, and connection come before political support.

Who will take it up?  ¿Quien dice yo? We are listening…

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis and Annaluisa Padilla     


Touting the Record

by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Secretary

Yesterday, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano and the director of ICE, John Morton proudly announced they had broken a record—in fiscal year 2010, the Obama Administration deported 392,000 immigrants.  That’s good news for those who claim Obama does not enforce the nation’s dysfunctional immigration laws.  But, statistics and numbers do not tell the entire story.

Everyone agrees that we need to protect the American public.  And the Administration has correctly made removing dangerous criminals a top priority.    Yet, only half of those removed—more than 195,000—were convicted criminals.  And there is no way to know whether they were priority cases—Terrorists and dangerous criminals—or simply folks who had been deported for some long ago youthful indiscretion. The rest of the deportees–197,000 people–had committed no crimes and were otherwise likely law abiding,  hard working folks.  The government’s big statistic leaves me wondering how many of them were mothers and fathers forced to leave American families.

ICE programs like Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), aimed at detaining noncitizen criminals, might look good on paper but don’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny.  Both programs have drawn criticism because they are susceptible to abuse.  Critics argue they lack safeguards against racial profiling or related abuses..  The Administration stated Wednesday that no racial profiling will occur because the Secure Communities program screens everybody who gets fingerprinted regardless of race.  Yet, this claim does not account for the fact that an individual’s immigration history can be checked regardless of whether he or she is ever charged with an offense.  The obvious danger is that an arrest may easily become a pretext for a quick check on a person’s immigration status creating a very real danger that people who look or sound “foreign”– including US citizens – will be subjected to racial profiling.

The CAP program has resulted in Latinos suffering increased rates of arrests for petty offenses.  A report on the CAP program discovered that implementation of the CAP program in Irving, Texas coincided with a spike in the arrests of Latinos for petty crimes.  See Trevor Gardner II and Aarti Kohli, The C.A.P. Effect: Racial Profiling in the ICE Criminal Alien Program (The Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, Sept. 2009). The report concluded that there is compelling evidence that the CAP program “tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.”  The report also noted that ICE is not following the program’s congressional mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.

In Florida the most recent ICE data shows that in Broward and St. Lucie counties over 51 percent of Secure Communities deportations are of non-criminals.  All 67 Florida counties became party to Secure Communities as of June 2010.  See, ICE, Secure Communities: Setting the Record Straight.  In Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 54 percent of deportations are of non-criminals.  In Harris County, Texas, 1,880 of the roughly 8,000 illegal immigrants removed through the program were counted as aggravated felons, about 5,500 had convictions for lesser crimes and 620 had no criminal history.  See Susan Caroll, All Texas counties join ICE immigrant checks. Yet, the Harris County Texas Sheriff failed to mention this at yesterday’s press conference.  In Webb County, Texas, 53 percent of individuals deported pursuant to Secure Communities had no criminal record.  In Maricopa County, Arizona it was 54 percent.  In Pima County, Arizona, it was 51%.  See, ICE, Setting the Record Straight.   Yet, Wednesday’s announcement continues to boast that Secure Communities as a program that successfully targets serious criminal aliens. This is simply not the case.

The bottom line is that Secure Communities has created “insecure communities” where people live in fear and families have been separated due to minor driving violations.  Addressing this concern, the Administration stated in yesterday’s announcement, “unfortunately families do get separated in the immigration process.”  What about America’s commitment to “family values”?  Where is the humanity in this process? Numbers and statistics do not tell the whole story.

Some communities have requested to opt-out of the Secure Communities program to maintain their strong relationships with the community.  In a recent letter Secretary Napolitano assured Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren that a community not wishing to participate in the Secure Communities program could opt out. Yet, in Wednesday’s announcement Secretary Napolitano stated, “we do not view this as an opt-in, opt out program.”

Thus, while the higher deportation numbers are offered to underscore the Administration’s enforcement efforts, we need to ask whether, in the absence of a comprehensive fix to our dysfunctional immigration system, it is also smart enforcement.  Who has been deported? Are we removing undocumented youngsters whose only offense is to dream?  Are we deporting future soliders and scholars? Are we deporting mothers and fathers who support American families?  Are we forcibly separating mothers from small children?  Are we deporting the Nikki Diaz Santillan’s of our country who work tirelessly to make our businesses and families prosper while receiving no reward for their efforts?

If these are the people we are deporting, then there is nothing to tout about.

I fear that by the time we get around to reaching a solution countless American families will have been separated and destroyed.   I for one hope that the Administraion’s next announcement of record breaking immigration news will be that it has kept its promise to the American people to fix our badly broken immigration system.

Now that would be something to tout about.