Santa Clara County, inextricably defined by its immigrant population, has long been touted as one of the best places for foreign-born to become successful, engaged members of society. So, as the country tackles comprehensive immigration reform for the first time in decades, the county has a lot to add to the national conversation.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will discuss the local impact of proposed immigration policies and come up with a platform to submit to the county’s Congressional delegation as the House and Senate introduce reform bills.
A 2011 overview of Silicon Valley found that 64 percent of college-educated workers here were born abroad; the national average is 26 percent. Of the county’s 1.8 million residents, 668,000 are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. More than half are naturalized U.S. citizens, and about 180,000 are undocumented, according to a 2011 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.
The county has the largest immigrant population of any county in the state, with the largest groups coming from Mexico, Vietnam, China, India and the Philippines.
Nationally, the number of immigrants tops 40 million—13 percent of the total population. About 17.5 million are naturalized, and the remaining 56 percent include permanent residents, undocumented immigrants and students or workers on temporary visas.
Though immigration policies come from federal lawmakers, the effects resonate on a local, personal level. County agencies provide healthcare, welfare and other public services to residents regardless of immigration status. Refugees receive job training and English language instruction through CalWORKS, funded by the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services offers support like childcare and connects to other social services without reporting anyone’s illegal immigration status. The annual Citizenship Day naturalizes hundreds of immigrants at a time and a host of other programs help them with legal services, plug them into civic life and bring their children to U.S. soil. That’s only to name a few of dozens of programs, which is why the county says it’s vital to secure enough federal funding to sustain and improve those services.
The county expects four main issues to shape the debate over federal reform: Immigration workforce needs, integration and citizenship, borders and domestic enforcement and state and local responsibilities.
Existing law favors immigrants with some family connection to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, those with needed job skills, refugees or anyone from countries that don’t see a lot of U.S.-bound immigration. The nation currently allows no more than 675,000 legal immigrants in a year based on those categories; this figure hasn’t been updated in two decades. The president decides how many refugees to allow in; 80,000 were granted asylum in 2011.
“It has become so out of line with today’s realities that some immigrants must wait a decade or more to reunite with close family members,” reads a memo signed by all five supervisors. “At the same time, the number of skilled workers that can enter the country and work is set at an arbitrary number and many businesses have argued for a higher cap.”
Raising the cap makes sense for Silicon Valley’s global corporations, many of which rely heavily on immigrant talent to staff local workforce, supervisors say. Immigrants founded a quarter of the nation’s biggest companies between 1990 and 2005, including Silicon Valley giants Google, Yahoo and eBay, according to a report from the White House Friends and American Service Committee.
Also key: Figuring out how to legalize millions of undocumented people already living here, contributing to the economy and supporting their families. The memo says lawmakers are expected to suggest requiring undocumented residents to undergo criminal background checks, learn English and pay taxes and penalties before applying for citizenship.
Other key issues central to the debate include, the memo continues: border security, internal enforcement and how to get employers to reliably and accurately figure out their workers’ immigration status.
“At the same time, the fact that some employers deliberately hire and exploit undocumented workers will be discussed and an effort to increase enforcement activities to hold these businesses accountable for their actions is likely to be made,” the memo says.
Finally, though immigration law has historically been a federal responsibility, local agencies have long held a prominent role of enforcing those policies. That gets pretty pricey.
“States and local agencies do not have the resources to perform federal duties or functions,” supervisors say. “Also, a transfer of this responsibility may cause immigrant communities to distrust local police and be hesitant to report crimes or being the victim of a crime for fear of being detained or deported.”
The president and a bipartisan group of senators have each introduced reform proposals, though legislative language is still in the works. The two proposals have lots of similarities, including stricter legal enforcement, increased employment opportunities and a path to earned citizenship. The president’s plan, however, gives equal legal protection to same-sex couples.
Congressional Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) is part of the bipartisan group of House members working on their own set of reform measures, which haven’t been released yet.
• The quarterly P-card expense reports are out for review. They show that returning Supervisor Joseph Simitian refused to get one while supervisor David Cortese and termed-out Liz Kniss canceled their cards.
Supervisor Mike Wasserman spent $160 in December and $170 in January on a CRM software called SalesOptima. Shirakawa’s policy aide Kim Rocha spent about $360 on a promotional pen company and $15 on filtered water. Ken Yeager spent about $1,000 on hotels and about $50 for subscriptions to the national edition of the New York Times. Kniss refunded $1,275 in purchases, including some to online instructors of currency trading and marketing.
As for Shirakawa himself: nada this time.
• Supervisors will review a plan to overhaul the county’s child welfare and juvenile detention programs. The document runs hundreds of pages, and there are some some interesting insights about the state of the juvenile justice system and ways to improve it. Right now there’s a general lack of regular assessments on children in the system, insufficient translation services, prevention efforts and ways to get fathers to support their troubled kids as well as a disproportionate number of Latino and African-American teens in the system.
• The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is seeking approval to spend $1.5 million on a web-based procurement system.
• San Jose is asking for $280,000 in county money for its adult community centers and another $189,000 for mental health services.
• The county will accept a $15,000 grant from the California Mental Health Services Authority for a suicide prevention campaign and speakers bureau that aims to reduce stigma surrounding severe depression and educate people about how to get help. The state set a goal to reduce the number of suicide deaths by more than 50 percent among children and 40 percent in adults and seniors by 2021. Every 15 minutes, someone takes their own life, the state says.
• A $60.8 million agreement through 2022 will pay for the county’s public hospital health information software, provided by the privately held and awesomely named Epic Corporation.
• The Affordable Care Act becomes law next year and the county wants to draw $100,000 from its $7.6 million reserves to pay Margolin Group consultants to help prepare for it.
• A new air-conditioning system and updated data storage at the County Communications Center will cost $275,000.
• A 7-acre property at 455 Silicon Valley Blvd., in San Jose, is up for lease after the county deemed it a surplus property. The county bought it in 2000 to house a nonprofit mental health treatment center, but it has sat vacant for the past four years. The county is now accepting bids from community groups or affordable housing organizations interested in leasing it. The site houses a 50,000-square-foo building with 119 parking spaces, an outdoor pool and sports facilities.
WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meet
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose