How California’s Democrats Are Screwing Immigrants

Democrats prove they’re no better than Republicans by offering immigrants a counterproductive grab bag of new rights and privileges.

Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

In the 1990s, Republicans controlled the Golden State and made a mess of the immigration issue by leading with emotion and passing half-baked laws that raised serious questions.

Today, Democrats control California, and they’re making a mess of the immigration issue by leading with emotion and proposing half-baked laws that raise serious questions.

Each camp was more interested in sending a message than making good policy.

For Republicans, the message was “Keep Out.” But no one took that directive seriously, given that contributions from big business is the mother’s milk of the GOP, and big business would be a lot smaller without illegal immigrant labor. Take California agribusiness, which contributes mightily to Republicans in the state. The industry generates more than $45 billion annually in revenue, and it would shrivel up like a raisin in the sun without illegal immigrants.

Indeed, a big reason that the nation’s most populous state is home to an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants is because it’s also home to countless farmers, ranchers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, construction firms, small-businessmen, and homeowners who rely on illegal immigrant labor for their slice of the California Dream. This game is all about supply and demand, and you never hear those tough-talking Republicans say anything about cracking down on the demand side.

Meanwhile, California Democrats want a gigantic expansion of rights, benefits and protections for the undocumented.

Their message is “bienvenidos.” In their language, that translates to: “Welcome to California. Stay a while. You’re just as good as anyone born in this country, and so we’re going to give you the same rights and privileges they have. We can’t give you legal status or a green card. But we can give you a lot of other things to make your stay more comfortable.”

At a news conference in Sacramento, a group of Democratic legislators—switching back and forth between English and Spanish—recently unveiled a package of 10 bills that would, among other things: create an Office of New Americans in the governor’s office to better serve the undocumented; provide illegal immigrants with subsidized health care by extending Medi-Cal coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status; limit use of “E-Verify” (the government-run database that employers use to check if prospective hires are legally eligible to work) and prevent “abuse” by employers; and ban businesses from discriminating against residents based on their immigration status, citizenship, or language.

That last one is a beauty. If it extends to hiring, it flies in the face of federal law, namely the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that made it a federal crime to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant. Now California wants to make it a state crime to not hire one? Employers can now pick their poison: They can violate one law or the other.

I question the motivation for this outburst of legislative generosity. And I have a theory as to why they are doing this now.

For the last few years, President Obama was deporting an average of 400,000 illegal immigrants every 12 months and unlawfully detaining thousands of women and children from Central America in horrendous conditions. Meanwhile, the Democratic members of the California legislature—even the Latino Caucus—were saying nada about it, and I’ve wondered how they were going to work through their guilt and atone for this dereliction of duty.

Now, with the California Democrats’ grab bag of giveaways, freebies and protections, we have the answer.

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There is some good in this hash, but you have to go digging for it. One of the bills proposed would protect immigrants from attorneys and consultants who prey on them and demand advance payment for services. It would also require that the clients of these practitioners be given a toll-free number so that, in case of fraud, they can report them to the State Bar of California. Both of these proposals should be welcomed.

Of course, there’s plenty of bad to go along with the good, and the pushback seems to have caught Democrats flat-footed. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), said the avalanche of bills—which serves as a dramatic affront to nativists and other immigration restrictionists—“unequivocally state California’s commitment to immigrants.” And de León says doesn’t understand why anyone would object to what he and other Democrats are trying to ram through.

“What is it that we fear in opening our arms to the millions already here?” he asked.

Well, the cost for one thing. The health care provision is the most expensive item on the menu, with a tab that was originally set at $1.3 billion. Yet no one will say where the money is supposed to come from in cash-strapped California.

And aside from the price tag, let me tell you what bothers me about this Bill of Rights for illegal immigrants.

It’s not the feeble arguments offered by conservative pundits, columnists, and radio hosts. Liberals don’t understand much about the immigration debate, but they look like geniuses next to conservatives who understand less.

Most of what they’re saying on the right is rubbish. These bills are not intended to lure illegal immigrants to California; we already do that with jobs. They do not signal that Democrats want an open border; the union members who control the Democratic Party oppose that, which could explain why, far from advocating for an open border, Democrats in Congress keep voting to fortify the border.

And finally, it is not true that illegal immigrants pay no taxes; they pay sales, payroll, and property taxes whether they own or rent. In fact, some even pay federal income taxes because Uncle Sam was kind enough to create an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to allow those who lack Social Security numbers to dread April 15 like the rest of us.

So what bothers me about these types of bills? Two things.

First, the undocumented never asked for these things. I’ve interviewed dozens of illegal immigrants over the years, and they always say they want three things and only three things from this country—a work permit, a driver’s license, and the ability to travel back and forth across borders to visit the families they left behind. The rest is just window dressing whipped up by politicians to serve their agendas, not those of immigrants.

Second, these kinds of legislative giveaways serve to legitimize unlawful behavior. It’s still a crime—correction, a civil infraction—to enter the United States illegally or overstay a visa and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about saying so. Every time we chip away at the infraction of trampling our borders—whether it’s by pressuring media companies to stop using the phrase “illegal immigrant,” or showering the undocumented with things they didn’t even ask for, we make it more socially acceptable to be an illegal immigrant.

How is that in the national interest? And what incentive does it provide others to come to this country legally? For that matter, what incentive does it give the undocumented to attempt to change their status if there ever is anything resembling comprehensive immigration reform? Why bother if, thanks to well-intentioned but misguided Democratic legislators in California, you’re already comfortable the way you are?

These questions deserve answers that the politicians who run this state won’t provide. That’s unacceptable, and it should spell the end of California’s great immigrant giveaway.