US POLITICS

California squares up to Trump with new legislation to protect immigrants

State Assembly calls on incoming president to abandon deportation plans for migrants

San Francisco - 06 dic 2016 - 14:37 UTC

On their first day back at work after Donald Trump’s surprise win, lawmakers in Democrat-controlled California have begun preparations to fight the President-elect’s conservative populist agenda. On Monday, leaders of both houses of the legislature introduced measures to protect undocumented immigrants in the state from efforts by a Trump administration to deport them once the billionaire businessman takes office on January 20.

Legislators in the California Assembly on Monday.
Legislators in the California Assembly on Monday.AP

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“We are here because the president-elect said immigration would be one of his first targets," Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. "There is still a lot of uncertainty about what the administration will actually do. But again, we have all heard the insults, and we have all heard the lies. We have also all heard the threats."

“Immigrants are a part of California’s history, our culture, and our society,” added the Democrat from Los Angeles, responding to Trump’s election pledge to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the US border with Mexico.

“We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.”

The legislature passed resolutions urging Trump to abandon his deportation promise, and introduced two bills aimed at protecting immigrants. One measure would set up a fund to pay for lawyers for immigrants facing deportation. Another would train criminal defense attorneys in immigration law.

Trump has said he intends to immediately deport two to three million immigrants

As things stand, 68% of undocumented migrants being held in prison are not represented by a lawyer, neither do a third of those not being held but still facing deportation.

Trump has said he will focus on deporting criminals, but has also said he intends to immediately deport two million to three million immigrants. About 820,000 undocumented immigrants have been convicted of crimes, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

The bills followed closely on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s nomination of US Representative Xavier Becerra as attorney general, a high-ranking Latino Democrat who challenged the incoming administration to “come at us” on such issues as climate change, immigration and worker protections.

At a news conference on Monday, Brown and Becerra avoided antagonistic language about Trump. But both men promised to protect the state's interests. “I don't think California is out there to pick fights,” Becerra said. “But we certainly will stand up for the rights that we do have.”

California, which voted decisively for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election, has been readying for a battle with the White House over the coming four years. The Democratic Party has a two thirds majority in both houses, and its members hold most senior post in the state.

We are telling the next Administration: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, and every statewide office. The most populous US state, California has more than 2.7 million undocumented immigrants - about 7% of its 39 million population.

Brown’s nomination of Becerra last week positions the state to fight back against efforts to weaken progressive policies with a reliably progressive attorney general steeped in the ways of Washington.

Latinos make up 39% of the population of California, and has around 4 million undocumented migrants, the largest number in any state, the majority of them Mexican.

Senate President Kevin De León said leaders were looking to work with federal officials and find common ground.

“We are not looking for a fight,” he said. But as “elected officials of the most diverse state, the greatest mosaic of hues on this planet, it is our moral responsibility, it is our political responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of this state.”

English version by Nick Lyne.

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