On Easter Sunday 2013, a middle-aged undocumented man made an illegal U-turn after he couldn’t find a space in a crowded parking lot at Irvine Park. He was pulled over and, lacking a driver’s license, arrested. The man ended up in detention for a month and eventually was deported.
The man is the uncle of Jessica and Daniel Bravo, a brother and sister who are among Orange County's most high-profile immigration activists.The family requested that his name not be published.
His arrest helped spur their advocacy for the Trust Act, which took effect Jan. 1. The state law prohibits local agencies from holding people who would normally be released after a minor offense and from referring them to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.
"My uncle’s arrest was always in the back of my mind. I just kept thinking about what had happened," said Daniel Bravo. "At that point I was the only person with a driver’s license out of all my family. It was really scary to know that many of us can be in the same situation.”
The Trust Act is one of a number of immigration-related laws that took effect in the new year. Other laws ease restrictions on immigrants seeking higher education and professional opportunities.
Sameer Ashar, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law, said that the Trust Act sends a message to police about their involvement in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
“The Trust Act makes it clear: That’s not the role of local agencies,” said Ashar, who represented an undocumented day laborer in Garden Grove last year.
The worker had completed an assignment, and then his boss refused to pay him and accused him of theft. Police later decided the charges were bogus, Ashar said, but not before the man was held in jail for a week so ICE officials could question and attempt to deport him.
Ashar said some police agencies maintain official liaisons to ICE while others may simply have police or staff who make a point of alerting ICE to people they suspect are undocumented. He noted that county jails can be reimbursed for holding suspects facing federal charges, including immigration violators.
Payment for detention of suspected undocumented people “results in income for the localities,” Ashar said. “They’re making money off it.” A recent report shows that Orange County accounts for 43 percent of the state’ total referrals of juveniles to ICE.
Local agencies originally began working more closely with ICE through a federal program called Secure Communities, which allows ICE to check the immigration status of people who have been arrested. But critics said Secure Communities was used against nonviolent suspects rather than serious or violent criminals.
The Trust Act would limit California’s participation in Secure Communities to suspects with violent pasts or serious offenses.
In addition to the Trust Act, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the following immigration legislation in late 2013:
- Senate Bill 666 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which provides for a suspension or revocation of an employer's business license for retaliation against employees and others on the basis of citizenship and immigration status and establishes a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation.
- Senate Bill 141 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, which requires that California Community Colleges and the California State University — and requests that the University of California — exempt from nonresident tuition United States citizens who reside in a foreign country and are in their first year as a matriculated student, if the student demonstrates financial need, has a parent or guardian who was deported or voluntarily departed from the U.S., lived in California immediately before moving abroad and attended a secondary school in California for at least three years.
- Assembly Bill 35 by Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, which provides that immigration consultants, attorneys, notaries public and organizations accredited by the United States Board of Immigration Appeals are the only individuals authorized to charge a fee for providing services associated with filing an application under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's deferred action program.
- Assembly Bill 524 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, which provides that a threat to report the immigration status or suspected immigration status of an individual or the individual's family may induce fear sufficient to constitute extortion.
- Assembly Bill 1024 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, which allows applicants who are not lawfully present in the United States to be admitted as an attorney at law.
- Assembly Bill 1159 by Gonzalez, which imposes various restrictions and obligations on people who offer services related to comprehensive immigration reform.
- Senate Bill 150 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which authorizes a community college district to exempt pupils attending community colleges as a special part-time student from paying nonresident tuition.
Another new law, which will allow undocumented people to get a driver’s license, takes effect in 2015. This law will also materially benefit the Bravo family.
Jessica and Daniel Bravo's father, Enrique Bravo, is an electrician who travels to various cities in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Daniel recalls that it was always hard to get to school because he could either ride a bus for up to two hours or risk deportation by driving to school.
“I can feel relief that soon my parents will have the chance to get their driver’s license so they don’t have to feel like they're risking everything every single day when they’re taking my younger brother to school or going to work,” Daniel said.
The Bravos are far from alone in their gratitude for the new laws.
Jose Roque, who is undocumented, works as an independent painter in Anaheim and travels around many cities. The laws affecting driving and deportation will have a tremendous impact on his life.
"It's a great thing that I no longer have to live in fear. I drive around a lot, and I am always worried a ‘reten’ will stop me and deport me." A reten is a checkpoint where police check for driver’s licenses, which can sometimes be the first step toward deportation. Many immigrants have come to fear retens.
"I feel more secure with the new law,” Roque said, referring to the Trust Act. "With all these new laws, California is finally recognizing the immigrant community. They now realize that we are not all delinquents. Some of us are trying to make a better living here."
In addition to new laws making it easier for immigrants to work, one law is expected to benefit immigrants studying at local community colleges, which will now offer resident tuition rates to longtime Californian students who had to leave the country when a parent was deported.
Peggy Card-Govela, scholarship program coordinator at Santa Ana College, said residents' tuition for a 12-credit semester is $500; the price is double for nonresidents and triple for international students.
Lack of official residency “has definitely affected students negatively,” she said. “It’s been a big barrier to students who would enroll and could not come up with tuition and then get F's or W's due to having to withdraw.”
Kenia Torres is a part of Voice of OC's youth media program and a UC Irvine student majoring in literary journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com. Amy DePaul contributed to this report.