ICE immigration raid
ICE officers at the home of a suspected undocumented immigrant. Courtesy ICE

California lawmakers have a bevy of new bills this legislative session, perhaps none more important than Assembly Bill 1261 — also known as the Immigrant Rights Act.

The legislation, proposed by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon and State Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, is designed to protect undocumented immigrants from repercussions for reporting certain types of crime.

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Undocumented immigrants often hesitate to report crimes, fearing deportation or other repercussions. This ostracizing can lead to dangerous situations for both immigrants and the community at large. 

I view the bill as necessary and long overdue as it pertains to two vital and important areas: public safety and public trust. The first provides protection to undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime and encourages them to come forward and report the crime, thereby aiding law enforcement agencies in ensuring public safety. The second facilitates an understanding between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities, which is crucial for crime prevention and effective policing efforts.

Passage of the bill is not only necessary for ensuring public safety, but also demonstrates the state’s commitment to protecting the rights of all individuals, regardless of immigration status.

Particularly heinous offenses have long been ignored and underreported. Crimes such as extortion, domestic violence, rape and murder often go unsolved, as the victims fear persecution because of their immigrant status. Lawmakers tell Fox 11 in Los Angeles that 83% of undocumented crime victims do not report the crime for fear of detection and deportation.

By removing this fear and providing protection to undocumented immigrants, victims will feel empowered to come forward and report the crime to law enforcement agencies. Additionally, the law will help build trust between police and communities they serve. This increased trust is crucial for crime prevention efforts, as it encourages cooperation and communication between both parties throughout the state. 

Law enforcement agencies already behave with a certain amount of autonomy, and this can lead to a lack of transparency in some cases. This lack of transparency can be especially problematic in cases involving undocumented immigrants who have witnessed crimes and are fearful of providing information related to ongoing investigations.

If passed, the bill would help cops better classify, track and protect informants related to those ongoing cases. This sort of transparency and honesty is essential for all who want to see a safer and more prosperous state, while also demonstrating the government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all individuals, regardless of immigration status.

Currently, undocumented immigrants that are victims or witnesses to a crime have no choice but to apply for a U Visa — a certification that provides temporary status for those willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. Unfortunately, the process to get the certification is quite challenging despite its obvious benefits to our justice system.

When issued, the certificate can help mitigate fear of deportation and encourage cooperation. U Visas allow undocumented immigrants who have been victims of qualifying crimes to gain legal status in the United States, provided they cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies during the investigation and prosecution.

However, some law enforcement agencies may be hesitant to provide U Visa certifications due to concerns over the potential consequences of doing so. The Immigrant Rights Act aims to address these concerns by providing an extra layer of safety and cooperation for both law enforcement and the undocumented immigrant.

Lastly, passage of this legislation also aligns with California’s reputation as a leader in promoting fair treatment and equal protection for vulnerable populations. In conclusion, the Immigrant Rights Act is a crucial step towards ensuring public safety and promoting equality for all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.

Lawmakers would be wise to vote yes for the safety and trust of all who reside in the great state of California.

Felipe Alexandre is a founding partner at AG Immigration. He lives in Irvine, CA.