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California State Immigration Laws

Welcome to FindLaw's coverage of California's immigration laws. Remember that any meaningful discussion of immigration must always follow a discussion of state and federal laws.

Below, you will find information on immigration checks by law enforcement in the state. You'll also find information about educational institutions' policies on migrants. You'll also encounter information about immigration-related issues in employment contexts. This article also covers issues related to E-Verify rules. It also addresses restrictions on public benefits based on a person's immigration status.

California 'Sanctuary State' Law

Senate Bill 54, California's "Sanctuary State" law, took effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The California Values Act builds on previous "sanctuary" policies. It builds on these policies as they relate to helping federal immigration efforts. The Bill requires non-cooperation between state and federal law enforcement authorities. It requires this when it comes to issues related to the enforcement of immigration laws.

Law Enforcement and Immigration in California

California prohibits state or local law enforcement agencies from the following actions:

  • Detaining a person on a hold request from the federal government unless there is a felony or a warrant
  • Transferring undocumented immigrants into federal custody unless convicted in the last 15 years of a crime mentioned within the California Trust Act. Or they are a registered sex offender.
  • Asking about a person's immigration status
  • This rule also applies to sharing any information with federal immigration authorities.

Employment Checks

Under federal law, employers must verify prospective employees' work authorization. Refer to the federal employment eligibility verification rules. Also, refer to the requirements for Form I-9.

In 2012, certain laws passed that made it easier for farm workers to join labor unions. This law made it easier for such workers to do so, regardless of whether they were undocumented. Advocating for workers' rights in the state became easier with these laws.

California E-Verify Law

Several other states require the use of E-Verify. But recent California legislation restricts the use of the system in the state.

California has prohibited cities and counties from running mandatory E-Verify ordinances, but this is only true for state employers. Private employers may still do so voluntarily.

Driver's License/ID Requirements

California requires that all applicants for a state ID card show verification of birth date and proof of legal residence. This also applies to driver's licenses. Such documents for proof include a Social Security card and visas. These policies about proof limit illegal immigrants' access to driver's licenses.

Public Benefits Restrictions

Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits. But they can receive emergency services. They are also allowed to get emergency health care services. They are also eligible for other programs "necessary to protect life and safety." California is unique in the wide range of medical services and public benefits it provides migrants. In the state, you need not be a documented person to receive benefits not otherwise available elsewhere.

Education and Immigrants in California

In many states, undocumented persons must pay out-of-state tuition. But in California, undocumented persons can pay in-state tuition. California's DREAM Act indicates that undocumented people can pay in-state tuition. This applies to public universities. Related laws entitle undocumented students to state-funded financial aid, as well.

In California, DACA recipients also get benefits otherwise unavailable to migrant youths. They are also eligible for them under the DREAM Act. Immigrant young people need not be as concerned about limited access to higher education in California.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It protects eligible young adults from deportation after their parents brought them to the United States as children. It also gives these young adults work authorization for limited periods. Those periods of work authorization are renewable. For more information about DACA, review FindLaw's What is DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? You can also learn more about DACA by reviewing USCIS's FAQ page on the program.

Voter ID Rules

Federal law sets baseline registration and ID requirements for elections involving federal offices. California election law mirrors these rules, requiring voters to provide ID at the polls in some cases.

New voters must provide identifying information on their registration form. Re-registering voters must do the same. This includes the last four digits of your SSN or driver's license number.

If a voter has neither information, they will have to establish proof of identity differently. They can do so with a state-issued ID. But there are acceptable forms of identification. A voter with none of these ID documents can still vote. But they can only do so on a provisional basis. They must engage in alternative identity verification within days of voting.

Housing Ordinances and Immigration

California does not prohibit the rental or provision of housing to illegal immigrants. Increasing efforts have been made nationwide to bar rentals to undocumented people. Such efforts have faced legal challenges. The results of those legal challenges have varied.

Confused About California Immigration Policy? Contact an Attorney Today

Federal law dictates many aspects of U.S. immigration policy. But certain California laws significantly impact immigrants living in the Golden State. For example, California is a "sanctuary state" for undocumented immigrants. California is such a state, although these state laws may conflict with federal policies. If you're struggling with an immigration-related matter, contact an immigration law attorney today. Knowing everything about immigrant rights is impossible, but immigration attorneys can help with all types of immigration cases.

If you're a low-income person, you could seek legal help from certain nonprofit legal organizations. These organizations provide free or low-cost legal services to migrants and their family members. They do so regardless of national origin. Review the California State Bar Association's website for more information about such organizations.

The California Immigrant Policy Center's website also offers other useful resources. CIPC advocates for more humane immigration policies for undocumented people and refugees. Consider reviewing the Immigrant Legal Resource Center's website, as well. ILRC also offers advocacy services for migrants. Service providers at these organizations can make the experience of being a migrant in the United States much easier. CIPC has offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Sacramento.

With proper legal representation and legal advice, any immigration process can be far easier. Contact an attorney today. Such immigration services are invaluable for noncitizens, lawful permanent residents, or U.S. citizens navigating the naturalization process. It's important to know your rights.

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