- Richard Garcia
(Sacramento) – Today, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 617, the Representation, Equity, and Protections (REP) for All Immigrants Act. This Act will enhance and expand access to inter-connected immigration services provided across California for immigrants – regardless of the ability to pay, geographic location, language, or history with the criminal legal system.
In 2015, the One California (One CA) program became a first-in-the-nation, state-based program to dedicate public investments to indigent immigrants. Because of its success and impact, the program has since grown into an annual investment, providing ongoing funds to support immigration services.
Organizations that receive One CA grants from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) are able to provide critical education, outreach, and legal services. Services provided include representation for immigrants facing deportation and services to assist with applications for DACA, asylum, and other immigration remedies.
Although the One CA program has provided crucial access to legal services for California’s immigrant population, the program has failed to match California’s commitment to racial equity, as the program prohibits funds from being used to assist certain individuals who have a criminal history. Further, CDSS has limited the types of eligible services, preventing funds from being used for interpreters, medical examinations, and litigation costs. As such, updates to the program are necessary to ensure service providers can more adequately serve all of California’s immigrant communities.
“As the Chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee, I have worked to ensure people are given a second chance, and have championed efforts to prevent individuals from being treated as second class,” said Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer. “The REP for All Immigrants Act ensures racial justice and true equitable access to crucial immigration services for all – not some.”
AB 617 will improve the One CA program by removing outdated exclusions to representation and access for all immigrant Californians, regardless of past interaction with the criminal legal system; broadening eligibility for qualified nonprofit organizations that can apply for funding and provide services; clarifying and expanding the definition of immigration services to include social services, interpretation, and litigation costs; revising data collection and reporting requirements; and, creating an advisory committee to provide recommendations and strengthen California’s immigration legal infrastructure and services.
“As a One CA grantee organization, AJSOCAL has seen firsthand how these exclusions prevent us from helping API community members most in need. The improvements that #REP4All offers are long overdue and necessary to build out One California to its full potential and provide legal help to all.” Christina Tsao, Staff Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL), co-sponsor for AB 617.
“Communities thrive when families and community members can remain together. CIPC is a proud co-sponsor of the REP4All bill because legal services can make the difference between a person remaining in California with their loved ones or being permanently separated from their communities and the place they call home.” Shiu-Ming Cheer, Deputy Director of Programs & Campaigns at the California Immigrant Policy Center, co-sponsor for AB 617.
“We firmly believe in the protection of human rights, civil rights, and racial justice for all immigrants. The REP4All bill is crucial to making sure immigrants are protected from deportation, have access to legal representation, and aims to end racist exclusions in California. For any community to thrive, due process must be guaranteed for all.” - Camila Alvarez, Legal Director at Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) – Los Angeles, co-sponsor of AB 617.
“Having access to an attorney is a fundamental due process right which is often the difference between a family being able to stay in the country and obtain immigration status or being deported. #Rep4All will keep immigrant families together and stabilize communities, by ensuring that all immigrants in California have an equal chance to obtain legal representation.” - Krsna Avila, Staff Attorney at Immigrant Legal Resource Center, co-sponsor of AB 617.
“As the movement for universal representation grows across the country, California must remain a leader in protecting its immigrant communities. The criminal exclusion currently in California’s program for removal defense further exacerbates the systemic racism perpetuated throughout the criminal legal and immigration systems. The Vera Institute of Justice is proud to co-sponsor the California REP For All Act to advance legal representation for all Californians facing deportation.” - Annie Chen, director of the Advancing Universal Representation initiative Vera Institute of Justice, co-sponsor of AB 617.
As evidence of the life-altering services the One CA program provides, co-sponsor CARECEN shared the following client story, “In Mexico, Ms. A. was attacked by her ex-boyfriend, who strangled her and slit her throat. As a result of the attack, Ms. A. became disabled and is in a wheelchair with numerous medical complications, including brain damage. In addition, the attack left her unable to speak. Ms. A. came to the U.S. seeking protection. Through One California removal defense funding, CARECEN was able to represent her in her removal proceedings. A. was granted asylum in 2022.” It is crucial that California builds on this important work by expanding and enhancing the program – thus ensuring access for all immigrants.
AB 617, the REP for All Immigrants Act, now awaits referral by the Assembly Rules Committee to policy committee.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer represents downtown Los Angeles, including Skid Row, Exposition Park-USC, and portions of South Los Angeles. Jones-Sawyer is the Chair of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee and also serves as a member of the California Reparations Task Force. For more information about Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer, Sr., please visit https://a57.asmdc.org/.