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Look to California’s Model

3 Sep

Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor a path to legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants, and this support has remained steady over the past decade. That is to say, immigration is not an issue that the majority of Americans are actually angry about.

Despite consistently high popular support for legalization, Congress has failed to act. After the 2012 elections, reform seemed possible — many conservative leaders, including Paul Ryan, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were supportive, and the Senate passed an immigration bill with 68 votes in favor. But, many House Republicans were worried about backlash from conservative constituents, and Eric Cantor’s primary loss in 2014 effectively ended any hope for congressional action for the foreseeable future.

But just because our national Congress can’t act, it doesn’t mean that undocumented immigration is the crisis situation current G.O.P. presidential candidates make it out to be.

What’s more, there is considerable progress at the state level.

The Supreme Court’s 2012 United States v. Arizona decision arrested momentum on restrictive state laws. Meanwhile, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — meant as a temporary measure that would spur congressional action toward a more permanent legislative solution — instead spurred state-level reforms.

Many states began providing drivers licenses to DACA recipients and, especially in Democratic-led states, this paved the way for even more pro-integration policies.

California, for example, has passed an array of immigration reform policies — known as the “California Package” — that give undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition and child health benefits, in addition to professional and driver’s licenses, and low-cost auto insurance. California was once a major battleground for opposition to unauthorized immigrants, but after years of measures that actually help those immigrants, Californians show overwhelming support for them.

Though it is too early to make conclusions about the effects of these laws on workers and households, the state will likely reap many of the economic benefits that would have occurred under federal immigration reform. Indeed, supporters of these measures have included not only immigrant rights organizations, but also police chiefs who believe the reforms will result in safer roads and fewer unlicensed drivers; business groups seeking economic growth and less labor uncertainty; and health advocates pushing for preventative medicine rather than a reliance on emergency care.

In many ways, these measures benefit not only immigrant residents and their mixed-status families, but also bring important benefits to the state in terms of economic growth, public safety and healthier communities. Finally, most of these immigration laws have passed with Republican as well as Democratic support, a kind of pragmatic, bipartisan leadership that the rest of the country could benefit from — a model, if not for Congress, then certainly to the other states.