Undocumented workers would pay state income taxes in exchange for the prospect of leniency on federal immigration laws under a ballot initiative proposed by a San Fernando Valley assemblyman.
If approved by a majority of voters, the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act would not guarantee protection from deportation.
Instead, it would merely authorize the governor of California to ask the president of the United States to make these undocumented workers their lowest priority when they enforce federal immigration laws.
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, estimates the ballot initiative would put $300 million to $325 million a year into the state's empty coffers.
Fuentes estimated there are currently about 1 million undocumented workers who pay state income taxes. He hopes the ballot initiative will encourage another million undocumented workers to sign up to pay taxes.
"What we're proposing is to create a five-year pilot program that essentially identifies a million undocumented workers eligible under a strict criteria," he said. "We know the federal government has taken a tiered approach on how they're going to enforce immigration laws, so we would be asking for pilot program participants to be in the lowest priority tier of enforcement."
The ballot initiative's other co-sponsor is John Cruz, a Republican former appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I don't know whether the federal government would accede to this request or not, but it would certainly be significant for any sitting president to summarily refuse such a request from the governor of California," Cruz said.
Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly opposed the proposal, saying it would turn California into a sanctuary state by giving some semblance of legal status to undocumented immigrants.
"Not only will the state give you free medical care and free K-12 education, heck, now with the Dream Act, we're giving away free college tuition," he said. "We're nuts!
"We don't want any more incentives for people to come here illegally."
Raymond Herrera, president and founder of We, the People, California's Crusader, called the ballot initiative "an outrage against the American worker and his American family because it displaces the American worker from his rightful place on American soil."
To be eligible for the pilot program, undocumented workers must have no felony convictions and not be suspected of terrorism.
They also must know or are learning English, must be willing to pay a processing fee and provide a photo, and must have been living in California since before 2008.
Angela Sanbrano, a leader of CARECEN, a support organization for Central American immigrants, said it was "extremely important to decriminalizes the work of undocumented immigrants."
"We have the opportunity to lead the way in setting a new approach for treating undocumented workers," she said.
Proponents hope to begin gathering signatures soon.