Over the past several years, Arizona has developed a national reputation as a vanguard in a growing movement across the U.S. to prevent immigrants from entering this country and to curtail the rights of those who are already here. Since Arizona passed anti-immigrant law SB 1070 in 2010, several additional states, including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have taken Arizona’s lead in passing their own 1070-type laws. However, at least one state has made it a point to avoid harsh anti-immigrant legislation and is now instead making a name for itself as a protector of immigrants’ human rights.
On January 1, a bevy of new laws went into effect in California, which serve to promote the preservation of immigrants’ rights in the state. Benefiting undocumented students are several new laws that allow this population to seek out private financial aid to attend public colleges and universities in the state, that allow them to register to take the SAT test without needing to prove U.S. citizenship, and which allow them to register for public schools without needing to prove U.S. citizenship. In addition, another law that goes into effect this month in California makes it illegal for state agencies and local governments to force businesses to participate in the federal E-Verify program, a database used to determine if employees have legal authorization to work in the state.
California clearly sees immigrant labor as vital to the state’s economy. In addition to these newly enacted laws, the state is currently involved in a twenty-year effort to introduce new legislation decriminalizing undocumented farm workers and providing these individuals with various benefits. The plan titled AgVision 2030 is an effort to sustain the state’s farming industry by ensuring that the necessary labor will continue to be available. California is hoping to eventually make it so that undocumented individuals will be legally permitted to work in several industries in the state, and in doing so receive access to health care and education.
Recently, farm owners in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere have come forward to decry the lack of available labor at harvest time. A recent nationwide lettuce shortage was blamed by some on a lack of migrant laborers in Arizona. And some crops in Alabama allegedly went unpicked this year, as there were no farm workers available to pick them. As California continues to make itself more attractive to migrant workers in this country, it works to protect the state’s economy by ensuring an adequate well of labor. However, for other states, California’s gain is clearly their own loss.