High-profile immigrant advocates are unleashing a final surge of pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Sunday to act on two bills that would make life easier for California's undocumented immigrants.
One of them, AB 2189, would allow the state to grant driver's licenses to thousands of young Californians getting temporary work permits through a new Obama administration deportation relief policy.
The federal relief is for illegal immigrants who are no older than 30 and were brought to the country before they turned 16 and meet other requirements, such as a high school diploma and clean record.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, is confident Brown will sign the bill the lawmaker sponsored, his spokesman Conrado Terrazas said on Friday.
Less sure of a victory this weekend are proponents of AB 1081, the Trust Act, which would limit county and city jails from holding illegal immigrants for federal deportation proceedings unless they have a record of serious or violent felonies.
The driver license issue has been settled in some states, Texas, Virginia and Oregon among them, that have said they will allow driver's licenses for immigrants obtaining what the Obama administration calls "deferred action for childhood arrivals."
Arizona and Nebraska have pledged to deny driver's licenses to anyone who benefits from the federal relief.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 young immigrants have applied for the deferred
California's DMV originally said it would grant the licenses, since it already accepts federal work permits as a valid form of documentation, but later said the state would need to clarify its rules.
California voters oppose giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants on a 56 percent to 40 percent margin, but it is an important issue to Latino voters, 60 percent of whom support the licenses, according to a Field Poll released Friday. The poll did not specifically ask about Cedillo's bill, which affects a more limited population of youths who came to the country as children.
The same poll found 67 percent of California voters support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants if they meet certain requirements.
The Trust Act has a strong following. Its sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is rallying with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and hundreds of other activists, and the cause has won endorsements from celebrity advocates in the past week, from actor Martin Sheen to Los Angeles Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahoney.
The bill would lessen the high number of deportations that have come through the Secure Communities network, which sends the fingerprints of everyone arrested in the state to federal agents, who then request local law enforcement to detain suspected illegal immigrants after their local custody is completed. Brown, as attorney general, signed the state-federal partnership in 2009 and defended the program throughout his 2010 campaign for governor.
The Obama administration considers Secure Communities a centerpiece of its enforcement priorities to deport criminals from the country, but critics say the program deports far too many non-criminals and people picked up for traffic violations and other low-level offenses.
Signing the bill "would mark a turning point for California and the country away from the discrimination that's rampant in Arizona and toward the inclusion we value in California," said spokesman B. Loewe of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Most of the state's county sheriffs oppose the bill, saying it would interfere with their work and force them to defy federal enforcement prerogatives.