By Gel Santos Relos
The "safe harbor" program will allow qualified undocumented immigrants in California to live and work in the state but will not be a pathway to amnesty, citizenship, voting rights, a driver’s license, or any other state benefits. They will pay the state about $325 million in taxes. This will help California with its budget problem "while decriminalizing the labor of hard working immigrants. -- SB 901 author Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes
If you are a TnT who came to California before 2008, with no felony convictions, are not a member of a terrorist organization, willing to undergo a background check, know or are learning English, and are willing to pay a fee -- then you may be spared from deportation if SB 901 is enacted into law.
Senate Bill 901 provisions previously set guidelines for a program that pays owners of high polluting vehicles to retire them. However, as The Sacramento Bee reported, it was gutted and amended this week, just days before the California Legislature adjourns -- to propose the “safe harbor” program that will benefit about two million undocumented immigrants, including many Filipinos, in the state of California.
The bill was introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento); co-authors include Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) who wrote the amendment.
The clock is ticking -- this immigrant “safe harbor” measure needs approved by both houses before the Legislature adjourns on Aug. 31. After which, Gov. Jerry Brown would decide if he would fate veto or sign this bill into law.
But as immigration is within the jurisdiction of the federal government, this program will only go forward if the Obama administration agrees not to spend time or resources in apprehending, detaining or deporting its participants. This will allow qualified undocumented immigrants in California to openly live and work in the state, as long as they abide by certain conditions -- including the payment of state income taxes.
Fuentes estimated that some two million undocumented immigrants would pay the state about $325 million in taxes. This, he sad, will help the state with its budget problem "while decriminalizing the labor of hard working immigrants."
"This shows the State is compassionate...While Washington has failed to address the issue of immigration for nearly a quarter century, this is another opportunity for California to lead the way on an important policy issue," Fuentes’ spokesperson Ben Golombek said.
Golombek, however, clarified that the safe harbor program would not be a pathway to amnesty, citizenship, voting rights, a driver’s license, or any other state benefits.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Fuentes and other supporters launched a petition drive last December to place the safe harbor program before voters, but they failed to obtain the 504,760 voter signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot.
Explaining why the measure was introduced so late this year, Golombek said that “it was only a few weeks ago that Fuentes received the final word the safe harbor program could be created through legislation, without a statewide vote, which prompted the gut-and-amend of SB 901 so late in the legislative year.”
Oppositions to the bill are mounting among those who abide by the strict implementation of immigration laws.
The Sacramento Bee reported that founder of nonprofit California Coalition for Immigration Reform, Barbara Coe, said the bill is offensive, arguing that providing worker rights to undocumented immigrants is a "slap in the face" to native-born Americans and to legal immigrants.
"Federal immigration law mandates immediate deportation of illegal aliens -- end of subject," Coe said. "Enforce the law.”
California is the state where the biggest population of Filipinos in America live. Presumably, it is where most of our TnT kababayans have also been living and working for so many years.
What do you think? Should this bill-- that will make California a "safe harbor" for undocumented immigrants -- be enacted into law?
(My Asian Journal Column Article for August 25, 2012. Photo Credit: California)