Office of Immigrant Assistance
California is home to more immigrants than any other state. The vast majority come from Latin America and Asia, most are working-age adults and most are naturalized U.S. citizens or possess some other form of legal status. Protecting California's immigrant communities through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws, consumer protections, pro-bono services for vulnerable, undocumented youth, and other programs is a major priority for Attorney General Harris.
Statistics show that California's immigrants are frequent targets of crime. Once victimized, many immigrants are reluctant to report crimes and hesitate to seek assistance from law enforcement agencies, often fearing deportation or other reprisals against them or their families. As a result, immigrants frequently fail to enjoy the important protections and benefits California's justice system is designed to provide.
The Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance is dedicated to educating immigrant communities about the state legal system and breaking down barriers that discourage immigrants from reporting violations of civil and criminal law. Housed within the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Enforcement Section, the Office also directs complaints to appropriate law enforcement agencies and helps immigrants use the legal system to seek redress.
Since taking office in 2011, Attorney General Harris has used the courts, consumer alerts, partnerships with other agencies, and a variety of other tools to ensure California's immigrants enjoy full protection under the law.
One key challenge for law enforcement is protecting immigrants from fraud and other crimes perpetrated by unlicensed immigration consultants. Scam artists posing as experienced consultants can cost immigrants thousands of dollars and cause often irreparable harm to their immigration status. The Attorney General has brought legal action against dozens of phony consultants who preyed upon immigrant clients by illegally posing as lawyers, engaging in false advertising and violating state laws regulating such activity.
Counsel for Unaccompanied Minors
The number of children fleeing violence in their home countries and arriving unaccompanied in the United States is on the rise, creating a humanitarian crisis. In mid-2014 Attorney General Harris mobilized the legal community to provide pro bono representation for such minors, ensuring they receive due process under immigration law. She also championed a $3-million legislative package, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, that funded legal services to unaccompanied minors.
Opposing Anti-Immigrant Laws
Attorney General Harris has been a strong opponent of anti-immigration laws, which she describes as “bad policy and the worst kind of politics.” She filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing against Arizona’s illegal immigration legislation, portions of which were later declared unconstitutional by the high court.
The Attorney General also has been a vigorous champion of President Obama's November 2014 executive actions on immigration, which include an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. In February 2015, Texas and 25 other states obtained a preliminary injunction enjoining the start of these executive actions on immigration. The federal government appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and California joined a multi-state brief supporting the appeal.
The states' brief argues that the plaintiffs failed to show the irreparable injury required to support a preliminary injunction, and that suspending deportation and providing work authorization will substantially benefit families and state economies; that the directives will not require states to increase spending on public safety, healthcare, or other state benefits; and that the public interest will be furthered by allowing eligible undocumented immigrants to work legally and by allowing eligible family members to remain together and continue contributing to their communities.
On November 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit, in 2-1 decision, affirmed the preliminary injunction blocking the President’s executive actions. The federal government has announced that it plans to ask for a review of that decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Attorney General routinely uses consumer alerts and brochures to inform immigrants about their legal rights and warn Californians about scams and other potential threats. Bulletins from the office have included advisories about driver license scams targeting immigrants, alerts about new rights after the launch of President Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and news about an investigation into a foreclosure Ponzi scam targeting Latinos. Her 2014 consumer alert in the wake of President Obama’s immigration accountability actions served as a model alert for other agencies and was relied on heavily by Spanish-language media in combatting notario fraud.
Key informational brochures include "Immigration Services Fraud: Know Your Rights" in English, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, and Vietnamese, as well as "Preventing Hate Crime: What We Can Do!" in English, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Raising Public Awareness
In the summer of 2015, the Attorney General's Office hosted a series of statewide public forums in partnership with Univision Los Angeles, Service Employees International Union of California, and iAmerica to inform Californians about the impact of President Obama's immigration executive actions. The forums were hosted in eight California counties: Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus. The forums covered topics ranging from eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. Other sessions focused on helping immigrants avoid becoming victims of immigrant consultant fraud.
Law Enforcement and U Visas
On October 28, 2015, Attorney General Harris issued an information bulletin to California law enforcement agencies detailing new responsibilities under state law to assist immigrant crime victims in applying for U visas, a form of immigration relief specifically for victims of crime who lack authorized immigration status. The new law (Penal Code Section 679.10) mandates that certain state and local law enforcement agencies and other specified officials complete U visa certifications, upon request, for immigrant crime victims who have been helpful, are being helpful or are likely to be helpful in the detection, investigation or prosecution of specified qualifying crimes. The new law also requires certifying entities to complete the certification within 90 days of the request, except in cases where the applicant is in immigration removal proceedings, in which case the certification must be completed within 14 days of the request.