With only days left before the California Legislature adjourns for the year, lawmakers are breathing new life into a failed initiative campaign calling for creation of a five-year program to allow undocumented workers to live and work openly in the state.
Senate Bill 901 was gutted and amended this week by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, to propose the "safe harbor" plan for up to 2 million undocumented immigrants.
The bill's contents previously set guidelines for a program that pays owners of high-polluting vehicles to retire them.
The immigrant "safe harbor" measure needs approval by both houses before the Legislature adjourns Aug. 31, after which Gov. Jerry Brown would decide its fate by vetoing it or signing it into law.
"It shows that we're a compassionate state, a state that's willing to take the lead on a difficult issue, immigration, which Washington has failed to address for nearly a quarter century," Ben Golombek, Fuentes' spokesman, said of SB 901.
The safe harbor program would not be a pathway to amnesty, citizenship, voting rights, a driver's license or any other benefits, Golombek said.
But Barbara Coe, founder of the nonprofit California Coalition for Immigration Reform, said that providing worker rights to undocumented immigrants is a "slap in the face" to native-born Americans and to legal immigrants.
"Of course it offends me," Coe said of the new bill.
"Federal immigration law mandates immediate deportation of illegal aliens -- end of subject," she said. "Enforce the law."
Fuentes' bill is meant to assist California residents who are not documented immigrants but have lived in the state since 2008, have not been convicted of a felony, are not members of a terrorist organization, and are willing to undergo a background check and to pay a fee for administration of the safe harbor program.
SB 901 could generate $325 million in new California income taxes by giving participants the green light to seek employment, Golombek said.
The program could not be implemented unless the federal government agrees not to spend time or money apprehending, detaining or deporting its participants, SB 901 would require the governor to seek such concessions from the president and federal immigration officials.
Fuentes and other supporters launched a petition drive last December to place the safe harbor program before voters, but they failed to obtain the 504,760 voter signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot.
Fuentes received the final word only a few weeks ago that the safe harbor program could be created through legislation, without a statewide vote, which prompted the gut-and-amend of SB 901 so late in the legislative year, Golombek said.