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California must take first step in reform

Immigration reform is a contentious issue. In fact, it is so contentious that it seems the leaders in our federal government are not willing to do anything about it.

But while the federal government continues to sit on its hands, California is forced to subsidize the costs of illegal immigration, which is estimated to be as high as $11 billion every year. We cannot afford to continue to stand by and wait for Congress to come up with a solution. We must take action now.

Let us be clear, the issue of immigration and its enforcement is the exclusive purview and jurisdiction of the federal government. Based on Supreme Court rulings, California can do nothing to restrict or enforce laws on the subject of immigration. This area is preempted by federal jurisdiction alone. But we all know that as we sit idly by, the problem grows worse by the day with no real solution in sight.



That is why I have proposed Assembly Bill 735, the Employer Security and Accountability Act.

First of all, this bill does nothing to address the legal right of citizenship or residency in California. As I stated above, that is exclusively a federal issue. If the federal government decides to enforce the current law or pass legislation contrary to this bill, then this bill will sunset. And frankly, I hope they do.




Until then, AB 735 would require that all immigrant workers register in California for a California Work Permit. The cost of the program would be borne by the immigrants, and the Department of Justice would conduct thorough background checks to eliminate applicants with a criminal history. If someone were to commit a crime either before or after they are issued a work permit, they would be forever ineligible to work in California.

Under the current system, it is nearly impossible for employers to comply with immigration law. They are routinely offered forged documents, which take months to confirm through federal channels. And even when a social security number is verified, there is no way to prevent the same social security number from being used by several workers simultaneously.

In response to this problem, AB 735 would establish a permanent registry of immigrant workers. Employers could call a hotline to instantly verify the work permit of a potential employee. If approved, a unique confirmation number would be issued to the employer for their records. If the employee was to work full time, the record would reflect full-time employment so that one registry number could only be used for one full-time equivalent job, thus preventing multiple workers from using the same registry number, as is done with social security numbers. The permit verification hotline could also be used to turn in law breakers.

Employers would also be required to deduct 8 percent of the worker’s gross monthly pay as a fee to be deposited into the State’s General Fund to offset the costs to the State for services provided to the worker while residing here. Random employer audits would be conducted to assure compliance. Those hiring ineligible workers would be subject to a $10,000 fine per employee for the first offense and $20,000 per employee for every violation thereafter.

This bill would additionally set a limit on the number of California Work Permits issued to immigrants, based on State unemployment levels and demonstrated labor demand that cannot be met by California citizens. Once that limit has been reached, the State will not issue any more permits.

This bill sets a 3 year deadline for illegal immigrants to be on the path to U.S. citizenship or otherwise receive federal work authorization, or they will be ineligible to continue working in California.

We all know immigrants are an important part of our country’s history; they have always brought new ideas, culture, and ambition, making the U.S. what it is today. But it is important that immigrants become part of the fabric of our society as fully participating members. The underground economy that exists in this State is unfair to everyone. It is unfair to those employers and immigrants who obey the law and pay taxes, and it is unfair to California citizens who follow the rules.

Illegal immigration is one of the most important issues of our day. We can no longer afford to stand idly by while the federal government does nothing. We need to begin an earnest dialogue about developing some practical solutions at the state level. This is a first step. I hope others will join me in this effort.

Rick Keene is the State Assemblyman for District 3.


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