Controversial California Immigration Bill Criticized By Elon Musk Is Put On Hold

State Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer made the decision to remove a controversial immigration bill from the committee agenda this week. This move comes as a temporary relief for Democrats, as they are spared from having to take a stance on a highly debated political matter during a presidential election year.

The legislation would assist undocumented immigrants with major or violent criminal offenses in avoiding deportation by providing state-funded legal services—a provision that sparked outrage before Jones-Sawyer could fully prepare his argument.

In an interview Tuesday, the legislator said it was unclear whether he had the votes and said he would not bring it back until he did.

“Let me count my votes and see what I have,” he responded in response. “I don’t waste people’s time.”

California lawmakers have long taken pleasure in their support for undocumented immigrants, serving as a counterbalance to the Trump administration’s measures following the 2016 election and, most recently, giving health insurance to undocumented immigrants of all ages despite a massive financial deficit.

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However, immigration enforcement and criminal issues have grown politically volatile in recent months, owing to a large surge in migrants crossing into the United States, putting pressure on border towns and blue states alike. Democrats, from big-city mayors to President Joe Biden, are feeling the heat and being pressured to shift to the right.

Proponents of the latest recall campaign against Gov. Gavin Newsom have made California’s illegal immigrant health care expenditures a key unifying issue as they seek to raise funds and gather signatures to place their effort on the ballot.

Biden attempted to address a campaign vulnerability on immigration by negotiating a bipartisan agreement in Congress to strengthen border security. However, Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it, and some Democrats, notably California Sen. Alex Padilla, criticized it for failing to establish a road to residency for people brought to the United States as children. When asked if he would take unilateral action, Biden indicated Monday that he still hopes Congress will act.

The Biden administration also quietly opposed the University of California’s intentions to hire illegal students for campus positions, viewing it as a threat to federal law during an election year. UC has put the plan on hold.

The California legal assistance initiative is considered a long shot, but it might draw more attention to Newsom and Democrats, some of whom are reluctant to comment on the issue.

The groups behind it—tthe California Immigrant Policy Center, the Central American Resource Center, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and the Vera Institute of Justice—aargue that withholding legal assistance from undocumented immigrants because of their criminal records “unduly re-punishes them for convictions for which they have already served their time.”

Jones-Sawyer stated that he may still bring the measure back for a hearing and that he was seeking a sympathetic figure to assist in passing the law. Assembly Judiciary Chair Ash Kalra said he would support the measure if Jones-Sawyer decided to introduce it. (Jones-Sawyer stated that he removed it from Tuesday’s agenda at the last minute because his mother was undergoing emergency surgery.)

The Los Angeles senator built his political career on progressive criminal justice reforms and has stood firm against efforts to reverse some of the liberal triumphs of the last decade. He is leaving the Legislature this year and finished dead last in his run for Los Angeles City Council, despite support from criminal justice groups and labor leaders.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Republicans had seized on the bill and sparked outrage on social media, attracting the attention of conservative X accounts and Elon Musk, who posted a post on the law and asked, “When is enough?”

Jones-Sawyer said he wants to make sure he’s presenting a clear argument for the legislation, citing examples of Republicans being able to out-message Democrats with a stronger narrative.

“You get your ass whooped because somebody has a better slogan,” he went on to say.

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