Kevin R. Johnson
Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are unquestionably members of our communities across the United States. Currently, roughly eleven million undocumented immigrants live and work in this country. Employers demand their labor, and immigrants want the work. Nonetheless, the people of United States have long been ambivalent about immigrants. Even in California, now viewed as a pro-immigrant bastion, more attention historically was given to reduce the immigrant population rather than to facilitate the integration of immigrants into American social life.
Consider one stunning example. California voters in 1994 by a 2-1 margin passed an immigration milestone, Proposition 187, known by its supporters as the “Save our State” initiative. The initiative would have banned undocumented students from public schools, required police to report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, and denied undocumented immigrants access to nearly every state public benefit programs. The California legislature subsequently passed a series of laws of the same ilk, including a particularly noxious one that prohibited the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants (even though there was no evidence of any safety or security problems with the state’s long history of licensing—and safety-testing—undocumented drivers).
With its widely publicized Proposition 187, California unfortunately proved to be a trendsetter for the nation. Following the initiative’s lead, Congress’ 1996 welfare reform legislation stripped many legal immigrants of federal public benefits. More than a decade later, a number of other states, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, passed tough immigration enforcement laws that were, in important respects, similar to Proposition 187.
As Bob Dylan famously said: the times, they are a changing’. Indeed, we are witnessing nothing less than a sea change in state and local policy directed at immigrants in the United States and California again is at the forefront. However, the current trajectory in sub-federal immigration policy—pro-immigrant integration, not pro-immigration enforcement—is dramatically different than it was in the heyday of Proposition 187. Ironically enough, the nation has President Donald Trump, an immigration hawk like no other, to thank.
California’s Changed Responses to Immigrants
Responding to Trump: California Seeks to Promote Immigrant Integration
As promised in the 2016 campaign, President Trump from his first days in office pursued aggressive immigration enforcement measures, ranging from executive orders banning travel from predominantly Muslim nations to mass deportations to announcing steps toward building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border and threats of even greater enforcement efforts. Those steps provoked an immediate and inspired response from many state and local governments—and especially from California. Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, led the opposition to the Trump administration’s call for ever-greater immigration enforcement. The resistance has been fueled in no small part by the growing awareness among California lawmakers of the need for increased legal protections for immigrants, among the state’s most vulnerable residents, from the Trump immigration onslaught. The reaction is rooted in notions of fundamental fairness and the firm belief that the aggressive immigration enforcement agenda embraced by the Trump administration threatens to tear families apart, harm communities, and sow widespread human misery, all in the name of “enforcing the law.”
The reaction is rooted in notions of fundamental fairness and the firm belief that the aggressive immigration enforcement agenda embraced by the Trump administration threatens to tear families apart, harm communities, and sow widespread human misery, all in the name of “enforcing the law.”
Abandoning the punitive approach toward immigrants exemplified by Proposition 187, California for more than a decade has been at the forefront of taking steps to more fully integrate undocumented immigrant residents into the social fabric. Consider just a few contemporary examples. In 2001, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 540, a path-breaking law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state fees at California community colleges and universities. This law, which represents a meaningful step toward greater educational access for all residents, commenced a trend among the states. Several years later, the legislature went further and passed the California DREAM Act, which made undocumented college students eligible for state scholarships to help them pay for their education.
Not limiting its efforts to higher education, the California legislature took a number of other steps to promote the integration of the state’s immigrant population. Seeking to facilitate the trust of immigrants in local police officers (who, in turn, need the cooperation of immigrants, and all members of the community, to most effectively protect the public safety), the legislature in 2013 passed the TRUST Act, which restricts state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Among other things, it prohibits the detention of immigrants longer than required by law so that federal officers can, if they so desire, take the noncitizens into custody. The TRUST Act represented a response to the U.S. government’s hyper-aggressive Secure Communities program, which greatly expanded the criminal justice removal pipeline for immigrants who had minor (as well serious) brushes with the law and directly resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people a year. In addition, after considerable debate and years of grassroots activism, the California legislature restored driver’s license eligibility for undocumented immigrants, a significant practical step toward allowing undocumented immigrants to participate more fully in economic and social life, reducing fears of removal due to something as mundane and ordinary as operating a motor vehicle. Showing just how far the state had come from the dark days of Proposition 187, the California Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that a California law allowed undocumented immigrants to be licensed to practice law.
In response to the Trump administration’s strident immigration enforcement agenda, the California legislature is active about taking steps to restrict state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Indeed, the legislature sought nothing less than to declare California to be a “sanctuary state,” a bill (SB 54) that Governor Jerry Brown signed 5 October 2017, which takes effect January 2018.
Other state and local efforts to facilitate the integration of immigrants into civil society, which are wholly consistent with federal law, might include, but are not limited to the following:
- Pursuing additional policies that encourage the cooperation of immigrants with criminal law enforcement authorities;
- Ensuring adequate access to English-as-second-language programs so that immigrants are better able to acquire English language skills and better assimilate into U.S. society;
- Providing that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are generally eligible for state and local licenses necessary to engage in certain professions and occupations (from building contractors to hair dressers) and more fully participate in the American economy; and
- Making noncitizens eligible for public benefits programs that are part of the economic safety net for other residents.
Recent years have seen the emergence of tensions between the federal, state, and local governments about immigration enforcement and immigration policy. While state and local governments increasingly seek to protect their immigrant residents, President Trump has disparaged many of those state and local efforts as “sanctuary” policies that undermine the enforcement of U.S. immigration law. His administration has gone so far as to threaten to eliminate federal funding to “sanctuary cities.”
We should not forget that state and local governments play important roles in ensuring the inclusion of all residents, including immigrants. Such efforts include steps by state and local governments to promote immigrant integration. State and local measures that move us toward a society in which immigrants are full members of the community, not marginalized peoples living in the shadows, deserve support and encouragement. The Trump administration unfortunately attacks, disparages, and derides those laws and policies.
Why California’s Immigration Turnaround?—The Response to Proposition 187
One might wonder on the issue of immigration policy from 1994 to 2017 what explains the stark political turnaround in California. The short answer is that Proposition 187 changed everything.
First of all, passage of the anti-immigrant milestone spurred a generation of engaged political activism. In Proposition 187’s wake, naturalization rates for immigrants spiked and hundreds of thousands of immigrants became newly-minted U.S. citizens (and part of the electorate). In turn, increasing numbers of Latina/o citizens voted, including recently naturalized ones. Not surprisingly, the number of Latina/o elected to the California legislature grew significantly and Republican legislators slowly but surely dwindled in numbers. The legislature’s racial and political composition changed with the election of increasing numbers of Latina/os and Democrats came to dominate the legislature. In fact, California Pete Wilson, who won re-election largely due to his ardent support for Proposition 187, was later effectively exiled, as it were, from California politics, having forever alienated the growing Latina/o electorate.
When all was said and done Proposition 187 dramatically changed the trajectory of California law and policy toward immigrants, as well as the state’s entire political landscape. One can only wonder whether President Trump’s immigration enforcement priorities might ultimately result in a similar political reaction on a national scale.
Providing Counsel to Immigrants Facing Removal
The specter of greatly increased removal efforts by the Trump administration has provoked great fear in immigrant communities. The “Trump effect” has led states and local governments to adopt laws and policies that protect immigrant members of communities and promote their integration. Some state and local governments have looked to provide the most fundamental protection for immigrants resisting removal—ensuring access to legal representation.
Having campaigned on a platform that included tough immigration enforcement, Donald Trump did not surprise most Americans when soon after his inauguration he announced aggressive immigration enforcement measures, including four executive orders on immigration in his first three months in office. States have taken a number of measures intended to moderate the adverse impacts of those tough policies. More are under consideration, including proposals to provide greater access to counsel to immigrants facing removal from the United States.
Unlike the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel to criminal defendants, the U.S immigration laws fail to ensure that immigrants, legal and undocumented, have an attorney in removal proceedings, which are classified as civil in nature. Similar to the movement in the twentieth century to ensure that indigent criminal defendants are provided with attorneys, an organized movement has emerged to ensure legal representation for all immigrants facing removal from the United States.
Guaranteed representation for immigrants facing removal is only fair. As the Supreme Court has emphasized, a deportation hearing can “result in the loss of all that makes life worth living.” That alone suggests the great need for guaranteed representation for immigrants facing deportation. Moreover, the nature of the U.S. immigration laws, which are rivaled for complexity only by the Internal Revenue Code, makes an attorney essential. In addition, the vast majority of immigrants, due to language and culture differences, cannot reasonably be expected to fully comprehend the many nuances, legal and otherwise, of the removal process.
The bottom line is that, absent legal representation, an immigrant facing removal faces nearly insurmountable odds in staving off deportation. Not surprisingly, the available evidence in fact demonstrates that represented immigrants successfully resist removal at much higher rates than unrepresented immigrants.
Scholars for years have argued for guaranteeing counsel to immigrants facing removal from the United States. In direct response to the Trump administration’s tough immigration stances, state and local governments in growing numbers are beginning to allocate funds for attorneys to represent immigrants facing removal. For example, the California budget approved in 2017 provides $15 million to help secure counsel for immigrants facing deportation.
One Model: The University of California’s Immigrant Legal Services Center
For several years running, the Obama administration set records by removing some 400,000 immigrants a year. Young undocumented immigrants were among the immigrants caught in the crossfire.
To begin addressing pressing immigrant student needs, the University of California (UC) in 2015 created a form of student services never before seen in higher education. In establishing the UC Undocumented Legal Services Center (later renamed the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center), the University demonstrated how it can serve all students—including immigrants—and the greater community of the state of California.
Created by UC President Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who was responsible for enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws, the Immigrant Legal Services Center serves the unique legal needs of undocumented students and their parents. Housed at the UC Davis School of Law, home of a well-established Immigration Law Clinic as well as a group of influential immigration law scholars, the Center provides legal services to undocumented students and their families on the UC campuses at Irvine, Merced, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. (The only other UC campus, UC Berkeley, has its own legal assistance program for immigrants.)
One critically important feature of the center’s representation warrants explanation. The idea behind extending services to the parents of undocumented UC students involves a well-researched common sense phenomenon: students are in a significantly better position to succeed academically if they do not fear that their parents are at risk of removal.
The Center has plenty of potential clients, with more coming in with every new entering class. Several hundred undocumented students are enrolled at each of the campuses of the University of California system. Many of them are from Mexico or Central America. However, the University has undocumented students literally from around the world, including Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The efforts of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center immeasurably benefit undocumented students and their families. Many of the students are eligible for relief under the U.S. immigration laws that stabilize their daily lives and, as a result, help to improve their academic success.
At the time that the Center was founded, attorneys expected to focus on assisting students with applications for relief under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was originally created in 2012 and dismantled by President Trump in 2017. However, the legal work proved to be much more varied than initially anticipated. Some students and their family members are eligible for immigrant visas as well as citizenship. They need legal help to identify the potential ways of regularizing their immigration status and to navigate the complex, and often lengthy, bureaucratic process. Many students understandably want to regularize their immigration status so they are able to come and go from the United States and thus can participate in study abroad programs just like many other college students do. Some students are eligible for various forms of relief from removal under the U.S. immigration laws but need legal assistance to identify and collect the information necessary to make their case.
The Quest for Justice for All (Including Immigrants)
As with the efforts to provide legal representation, state and local governments must focus on how to best address the needs of all residents, including immigrants, and strive to ensure that immigrants are treated as full members of society. One important way to do so is provide attorneys to represent immigrants facing removal from the United States. As has been discussed, state and local governments are making efforts to do so. California has been at the forefront of the movement but the state of New York and many cities, including Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C., as well as Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, have already taken steps to assisting immigrant residents secure representation.
Through measures to help ensure counsel for all immigrants facing deportation, we see public support for a more procedurally fair and legitimate system—and one consistent with the ideal of “justice for all.” Through providing legal representation and taking other measures to protect immigrant residents, state and local governments are pursuing their proper role of facilitating the integration of immigrants into civil society. In the past, popular immigration enforcement laws, such as Proposition 187 and Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 that the Supreme Court invalidated in large part, which made state and local police central to immigrant enforcement, had the opposite effect. Far from promoting immigrant integration, these laws have de-stabilized immigrant communities and marginalized, not integrated, significant numbers of state and local residents.
Through measures to help ensure counsel for all immigrants facing deportation, we see public support for a more procedurally fair and legitimate system—and one consistent with the ideal of “justice for all.”
Lawyers unquestionably can help to protect the rights of immigrants. Other state and local immigrant integration measures can as well. In pursuing such measures, California hopefully can provide guidance to the nation and encourage other state and local governments to pursue immigrant integration strategies.
In the long run, however, state and local governments can only do so much to reduce the harsh impacts of the U.S. immigration laws on immigrants. Fundamental change to those laws is necessary to bring full justice to immigrants. To that end, Congress at some point must overhaul the antiquated Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was forged at the height of the Cold War and is not well-suited to addressing the nation’s 21st century immigration needs. In such comprehensive reform efforts, the labor needs of the United States and the precarious status of undocumented immigrants living here will need to be addressed.
 Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “Overall Number of U.S. Unauthorized Immigrants Holds Steady Since 2009,” Pew Research Center, 20 September 2016, available at http://www.pewhispanic.org/2016/09/20/overall-number-of-u-s-unauthorized-immigrants-holds-steady-since-2009/.
 California Proposition 187, Illegal Aliens Ineligible for Public Benefits (1994), Ballotpedia, available at https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_187,Illegal_Aliens_Ineligible_for_Public_Benefits(1994).
 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105.
 The immigration enforcement laws of these other states suffered the same fate as Proposition 187: the courts struck them down. See, for example Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012); United States v. South Carolina, 720 F.3d 518 (4th Cir. 2013); United States v. Alabama, 691 F.3d 1269 (11th Cir. 2012); Georgia Latino Alliance v. Human Rights v. Deal, 691 F.3d 1250 (11th Cir. 2012).
 California Assembly Bill 540, Cal. Legis. 2000-01 (codified at Cal. Ed. Code § 68130.5).
 California Assembly Bills 130, 131, Cal. Legis. 2010-11.
 California Assembly Bill 4, 2013 Cal. Stat 4650 (codified at Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 7282-7282.5).
 Due to state and local resistance to the impacts of Secure Communities, President Obama discontinued that program in November 2014; President Trump, however, reactivated it in January 2017. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secure Communities, available http://www.ice.gov/secure-communities.
 In re Garcia, 58 Cal. 4th 440 (2014).
 Jasmine Ulloa, “California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in rebuke of Trump immigration policy,” Los Angeles Times, 5 October 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-brown-california-sanctuary-state-bill-20171005-story.html.
 Immigration and Nationality Act § 292, 8 U.S.C. § 1362 (providing that noncitizens can be represented in removal proceedings “at no expense to the Government”).
 Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 147 (1945) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).
 Ingrid V. Eagly and Steven Shafer, “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 164 (2015): 1.
 See, for example, Kevin R. Johnson, “An Immigration Gideon for Lawful Permanent Residents,” Yale Law Journal 122 (2013): 2394; Mark Nofieri, “Cascading Constitutional Deprivation: The Right to Be Appointed Counsel for Mandatorily Detained Immigrants Pending Removal Proceedings,” Michigan Journal of Race and Law 18 (2012): 63
 Jennifer M. Chacón, “Privatized Immigration Enforcement,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 52 (2017): 1, 6 (noting that “some states and localities with large numbers of noncitizen residents have begun to provide funding for immigrant representation”).
 Katy Murphy, “California Budget Deal Includes Deportation Defense Fund for Undocumented Immigrants,” San Jose Mercury, 16 June 2017, http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/16/california-budget-deal-includes-deportation-defense-for-undocumented-immigrants/.
 Kevin R. Johnson, “New UC Center Serves a Most Vulnerable Student Population: A New Trend in Higher Education?” Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, 14 December 2015, p. 24.
 For a discussion of the creation of the clinic and its pedagogical and social justice goals, see Kevin R. Johnson and Amagda Pérez, “Clinical Legal Education and the U.C. Davis Immigration Law Clinic: Putting Theory into Practice and Practice into Theory,” SMU Law Review 51(1998): 1423.
 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), available at https://www.usic.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca.
 Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012).
Kevin R. Johnson is Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest, Law and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Davis School of Law. Quoted regularly by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other national and international news outlets, he studied at Harvard Law School where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. His book, Immigration Law and the US-Mexico Border (2011), received the Latino Literacy Now’s International Latino Book Awards award for Best Reference Book, and he blogs at ImmigrationProf and as a regular contributor on immigration on SCOTUSblog.
Copyright: © 2017 Kevin R. Johnson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/