California–home to the largest number of Latinos, immigrants, and minorities in the nation–is taking a couple of significant steps forward for immigrants and immigration reform this week. And, as we’ve noted many, many times, California should serve as a wake-up call to the Republican Party.
First, Governor Jerry Brown has indicated that he will sign a bill allowing undocumented immigrants in California to drive legally, a reversal of an earlier position in which he threatened to veto such legislation. As he wrote in an email to reporters late last night:
This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally. Hopefully it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.
Today, CHIRLA–which has been fighting for such legislation since 1993–released a statement encouraging Governor brown to sign the bill immediately.
“And when he does,” the statement continued, “the Governor will hear the sighs and applause from millions of families all across the Golden State who have waited for nearly two decades to emerge from the shadows and traverse our state’s roads without fear or trepidation.”
Though more and more states have recently begun allowing immigrants to drive, similar legislation has been getting spiked in California for years, by either lawmakers or governors. This year’s bill was almost withdrawn yesterday, before Assemblyman Luis Alejo–its sponsor–made last-minute changes in the planned appearance of the immigrant driver’s licenses to satisfy Brown’s concerns. A number of Republicans then joined Democrats in both houses of the state legislature, passing the bill 28-8 in the Senate and 55-19 in the Assembly.
The legislative action last night took place after fifteen Republican state legislators joined a chorus of business interests yesterday to push Republican Representatives from California to pass immigration reform in the House.
In a letter, the Republican state legislators wrote:
There is no policy debate more important to the future of California and America than passing comprehensive immigration reform. By providing legal clarity to the status of millions of people in California, we can spur an economic renaissance, solidify families, and create an entirely new population of full taxpayers, many of whom who have strong entrepreneurial and work ethics.
While several Republican members of California’s Congressional delegation (notably Reps. Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Devin Nunes) have come out in favor of immigration reform and citizenship, many others (Gary Miller, Howard McKeon, and most notably GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy) have stayed silent.
Which is too bad–for them–because California Republicans of all people should understand the power of the Latino vote and its tremendous capacity to help or hurt. As we’ve written about many times, California Republicans are a famously rare breed precisely because of Republican actions from 1994, when then-Governor Pete Wilson (a Republican) helped pass the incredibly anti-immigrant Prop 187 into law–after which his party promptly lost the Latino vote and became a permanent minority in the state. Elections have consequences, especially when you insist on pissing off one of the fastest-growing bloc of voters.
That’s why Republican state lawmakers are pushing their Congressional counterparts to take action on immigration reform–and quickly. As a Republican Assemblyman, Jeff Gorell, told the Los Angeles Times:
[The letter] shows there’s a growing solidarity among Republicans to support action on immigration reform and to put this issue behind us as a state and as a nation once and for all. And to do so this year.
This solidarity, we’re hopeful, will give them the extra support that they need and are looking for to take action and take action now.