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California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law eight bills Saturday aimed at expanding the rights of undocumented immigrants, saying he was tired of waiting for the U.S. Congress to act over long-awaited reforms.
One law would allow undocumented immigrants to practice law in the state. The California Supreme Court, which finalizes requests of applicants to be licensed as a lawyer in California, is now authorized to approve qualified applicants regardless of their immigration status.
Other bills prohibit law enforcement officials from detaining immigrants based on federal government instructions except in cases of serious crimes or convictions, and make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers on the basis of their citizenship.
The signing of the bills coincided with a series of rallies across the U.S. in which protesters called on lawmakers in Congress to pass immigration reform.
"While Washington waffles on immigration, California's forging ahead," Brown said in a statement. "I'm not waiting."
On Thursday, Brown also signed a law making undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for drivers licenses. California, which will join at least nine other states when the law takes effect in 2015, expects 1.4 million people to apply for licenses over three years.
About 38 percent of California's population of 38 million is of Hispanic descent. A study by the University of Southern California has found that more than 2.6 million people, most of them Latinos, lack legal status in the state.
Brown and other politicians said that California is doing what it can at the state level in the absence of immigration reform by the U.S. Congress.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate approved a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is thought unlikely to follow suit.
The California law that allows illegal immigrants to practice law grew out of a case of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the United States as a baby and later graduated from a California law school. He has received the support of the State Bar of California and the state attorney general.
Critics of Garcia's bid to gain admission to the California bar included the U.S. Justice Department, which opposed it in a brief filed with the state's Supreme Court last year.
Two other Mexican immigrants -- one in New York and another in Florida -- are pursuing similar cases.
Al Jazeera and Reuters
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