Essential California: Biden’s big immigration bill

Activists holding a sign that reads "here to stay" on the steps of the Supreme Court.
DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the Supreme Court on June 18, 2020, in Washington.
(Getty Images)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 19, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On his first day in office, President Biden announced a far-reaching proposal for reforming the country’s long-broken immigration system.

On Thursday, Democratic lawmakers introduced the immigration reform legislation that Biden sent to Capitol Hill on Inauguration Day.

As my immigration reporter colleagues Molly O’Toole and Andrea Castillo explain in their story, introduction of the ambitious bill marks an aggressive opening salvo from the Biden immigration. But administration officials signaled Wednesday that they view the legislation more as an opening bid, and don’t necessarily expect it to pass with the needed Republican support in its current form.


[Read the story: “Democrats unveil broad immigration reform bill with citizenship path for 11 million” in the Los Angeles Times]

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Whittier), a 10-term Southern California congresswoman and former chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill’s other chief sponsor, introduced the bill in the Senate.

In a less-than-surprising detail given that California is home to more immigrants than any other state, California legislators accounted for more than two-thirds of the bill’s House co-sponsors. The list of House co-sponsors— an all-female team that Sánchez has referred to as “the Closers” — includes Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

What the bill includes

The bill would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States without legal status. It would prioritize three categories of people to immediately receive green cards: farmworkers, those with temporary protected status and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. My colleagues report that, if approved, the bill could dramatically increase job security and significantly raise living standards in California and other states with vast immigrant-labor populations.

Among other provisions, the bill would triple the number of available U visas, which are given to victims of crime or those who aid law enforcement. Those visas were previously targeted by then-President Trump.


Officials said the legislation would also seek to counter Trump’s targeting of asylum seekers by ending the one-year limit on filing asylum claims; increasing funding for Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce a backlog that’s reached a record 1.3 million cases; providing for more immigration judges and support staff; and increasing access to legal counsel, particularly for children and other vulnerable groups. Deep within the proposal there is also a directive to replace the word “alien” with “noncitizen” in U.S. code — a small but symbolic shift.

The bill notably does not include the kind of border enforcement measures often tacked onto immigration reform efforts to garner Republican votes.

But again, this is just the opening salvo, and the path to law will be far from easy. Democrats have a tenuous hold on both chambers of Congress, and at least 10 Republican votes are needed to pass the legislation under standing Senate rules.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday criticized a $6.6-billion legislative proposal to begin opening more elementary campuses in April, a plan he said fell short as negotiations between him and lawmakers have so far failed to result in a compromise. The legislative proposal would require county health departments to make COVID-19 vaccinations available to school employees who will work on campus, but does not explicitly say doses would be offered to staff before in-person learning resumes — a sequence pushed by the California Teachers Assn. Los Angeles Times

The stream of COVID-19 vaccine is swelling slightly in California but remains a trickle for those trying to get their first dose, according to officials. Forecasts discussed Wednesday showed California should receive 1.28 million vaccine doses next week and 1.31 million the week after. Both those figures are up from the state’s last shipment, which was about 1.08 million. Los Angeles Times


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Thousands of L.A. COVID-19 vaccine appointments scheduled for Friday were postponed as winter weather delays shipments. About 12,500 people will have their appointments delayed, and those affected should be notified by text, email or phone. Los Angeles Times

The issue of winter weather vaccine delays has unfortunately been far from limited to L.A. Locations up and down the state have also been affected, including those in Fresno, Orange County and San Diego.

The New York Times has discovered Erewhon: “In the early aughts, Hollywood stars partied all night. ... Today, many young people eat organic stews, work out and meditate, posting their regimens to social media in hopes of going viral. Excess is out and moderation is in — at least outwardly so.” New York Times

Grant High School wins the L.A. Unified Academic Decathlon in a year of firsts. This was more than a big win for the high school, which serves a diverse and primarily working-class student body from the Van Nuys and North Hollywood area. For team members, it was a lifeline that helped them fend off the isolation of distance learning. Los Angeles Times

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California GOP delegates seek to censure Rep. David Valadao for voting to impeach former President Trump: The Central Valley representative is the latest Republican elected official to draw criticism from a state party over disloyalty to the former president. Los Angeles Times

San Jose’s mayor launches a nebulously defined new advocacy organization, drawing critiques from those who call the move “disingenuous” and “an attempt to further the agenda of his corporate backers.” Mayor Sam Liccardo’s new 501c4 organization “doesn’t yet have a website or a board or any staff members. How it will operate, who else is behind it and its relationship to San Jose City Hall remains vague at this point.” Mercury News


A San Gabriel Valley businessman who was one of America’s top fundraisers for both Democrats and Republicans was sentenced to 12 years in prison for schemes to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns and skim millions of dollars for himself. Los Angeles Times


It all started with pho. The rest is his story. Los Angeles Times

A chef putting meat in a giant vat
Viet Nguyen got his first job at a pho restaurant in Van Nuys shortly after he emigrated to U.S. to live with relatives at 16. Now 34, the chef leads a thriving restaurant group.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The Zoom equivalent of a hot mic moment: Unaware that their meeting was already being broadcast, members of an East Bay school board complained that parents pushing for school reopenings just “want their babysitters back” and joked that parents couldn’t smoke weed during the day when their kids were home. SF Gate


A poem to start your Friday: “I Am Offering This Poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 72. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: light morning rain, 55. San Jose: gray, 63. Fresno: partly sunny, 66. Sacramento: light morning rain, 59.


Today’s California memory comes from Peggy Whiteman:

We immigrated from Holland and flew from Amsterdam to New York and then took the train to San Francisco in 1957. I was 7 years old. There were eight of us (mom, dad and six kids) and my mother was six months pregnant. My most vivid memory of when we first arrived is the cab ride to the Cable Car Motel on California Street. My teenage sisters and my mother were screaming at the top of their lungs as we went up and down the hills. Holland is completely flat and they were just terrified.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.