Many of us have long recognized that immigrants not only help build California’s economy and enliven its culture, but they also move civic change. Immigrants get involved in organizations to improve our communities. It is time they are included to serve on California’s diverse local and state, boards and commissions, so that their perspectives and voices are heard.
Very often, when we discuss immigrants, we assume they are only interested in immigration reform. The truth is they are members of our communities. They go to our schools, they work with us and live in our neighborhoods. Like the rest of us, they care about what happens in those spaces, and the decisions that are made.
They care about climate change, quality education, clean water and safe food. They care that our libraries stay updated on the latest technology tools, so students don’t fall behind through lack of educational resources. They care about access to health care.
Senate Bill 225, the California Inclusion Act, gives resident immigrants, regardless of status, a new opportunity to be heard on these issues by allowing them to be appointed to state boards and commissions, such as the Before/After School Program Advisory Committee, the California Library Services Board, the Landscape Architects Technical Committee and the Air Resources Board.
In the past, the California Legislature has been wise enough to approve laws that protect immigrants no matter what their status; that has helped integrate them into our society.
For example, Assembly Bill 540, passed in 2001, let undocumented students pay in-state tuition, allowing them to achieve their career goals so they can more fully contribute to California’s economy. Ten years later, Assembly Bills 130-131, together known as the California Dream Act, allowed undocumented students to qualify for state financial aid when they attend college.
Assembly Bill 60, passed in 2013 and enacted two years later, allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive drivers’ licenses, ensuring that more California drivers could have proper insurance.
Senate Bill 1159, approved in 2014, allowed undocumented Californians to obtain licenses in more that 40 professions, including the medical, legal, and educational fields. Many of these professions have state oversight boards.
Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, approved in October 2017, limited cooperation between local police and immigration agents, so law enforcers could concentrate on solving crimes.
If SB 225 becomes law, anyone who lives in California and meets the requirements, regardless of legal status, may be appointed to serve on boards and commissions, thus expanding the pool of those who can contribute their life and educational experiences to these regulatory bodies. We tend to think that only certain type of professionals care about things that these boards regulate, like the quality of our air or the content of our library databases.
Communities of color, including those where immigrants live, are the ones with the industrial waste dump down the street. Children’s asthma corridors run right through them. Those are the neighborhoods that are most often labeled food deserts because they are overrun with fast-food restaurants and convenience stores hawking junk food — but have no grocery stores.
And yet, I have often seen immigrant parents participating with vigor at school board meetings. I’ve seen immigrants overcome language barriers to attend political forums and night meetings of oversight commissions. Their civic spirit never waivers, because getting involved to find an equitable solution is, for them, a matter of survival. If you think about it, SB 225 is a bill that doesn’t just benefit immigrants.
When immigrants, regardless of status, are appointed to boards and commissions examining common problems, they can bring real perspective and a knowledge of where things go wrong. They are uniquely acquainted with the ways in which oversight can fail or where the system has gaps. If the point is to arrive at workable answers, that expertise is crucial. When immigrants participate in California boards and commissions, we all win.
Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles represents state Senate District 24. She is the primary author of SB 225.