Democrats push to extend health, legal rights to immigrants

SACRAMENTO - Democratic legislative leaders are proposing a package of 10 bills that would extend health care, legal rights and business protections to immigrants who are illegally living in California.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles will led a legislative push Tuesday to expand health coverage to all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.

"They deserve healthcare, they deserve education, they deserve the right to be full and participating members as Californians," Atkins said.

Atkins is hopeful California lawmakers will succeed where the federal government has fell short, and pass a comprehensive immigration reform package.

"It continues the progress that is within our power as a state and continues to put pressure on the federal government to take further action," Assem. Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said.

"This is an exciting moment of democracy in action, two years ago the state was not talking about this in a real way," said Annie Fox, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together or ACT. Her organization began to rally for immigration reform after realizing just how much the issue impacted their pews.

"Reaching out through the Catholic church, through the Baptist church, the Methodist church, family after family the kids could get healthcare and the parents couldn't," Fox said.

That is a struggle that Ruby Castanon understands. The 18 year old is the daughter of an undocumented immigrant.

"Because she is undocumented, she is not able to receive the proper treatment to minimize her pain," Castanon said. She hopes this legislative package will not only help her mother, but ease her fears of losing her family. "I have lost my father due to deportation. Losing both of my parents would be devastating."

The package goes beyond healthcare. It would bar business from discriminating against someone based on their immigration status. It would crackdown on fraud committed by businesses that provide immigration services like attorneys and consultants. One bill would give victims of a crime the ability to file for legal status. There is also a proposal to create an Office of New Americans at the Governor's office to ensure immigration integration.

Atkins said she is optimistic for bipartisan support.

"This isn't easy to pull together this support," she said. "Does it come with a cost, yes but, does it also solve problems that we are trying very hard everyday to resolve."

Assembly Republican Caucus spokesperson Amanda Fulkerson said in a statement:

"We look forward to reviewing the legislation. These bills, however, highlight why it is imperative that Congress and the President get to work and reform the immigration system in a way that works for Californians."

Fulkerson said Republican leaders are concerned about the cost of these ambitious package.

"The programs proposed [Tuesday] have big price tags and come on the same day that the Legislative Analyst warns California may face a $1.3 billion budget shortfall this year," she said. "We encourage the bill authors to identify how they would fund these programs and what other programs would suffer cutbacks as a result,"

News 10 reached out to Atkins' office to find out where the money to pay for these programs will come from, but did not hear back at the time of this post.