About Me

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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Top California GOP Donors Press Their Party for Immigration Changes

Los Angeles Times
By Melanie Mason
July 30, 2013

With comprehensive immigration overhaul languishing in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, major Republican donors from California are prodding members of their party to pass a bill by the end of the year.

A group of 14 deep-pocketed contributors and donor groups sent a letter Tuesday to the state's Republican representatives in Washington, advocating for a bill that includes border security and a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country without legal status.

"Immigrants play key roles at every level of the American economy and to that of our own state – from high-skill workers to seasonal laborers, from Los Angeles neighborhoods to small town main streets, immigrants help drive our economic growth," the letter reads. "These are Republican issues. Republicans ought to be welcoming immigrants and be seen as doing so."

“If our great nation is to continue to grow and prosper, we need to reform and modernize the U.S. immigration system,” said Andrew Puzder in a statement.

Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns fast-food chains including Carl's Jr., gave at least $230,000 to Republican candidates, committees and outside groups in the 2012 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Other signatories to the letter are Ambassador Frank E. Baxter, James S. and Marilyn Brown, David Hanna, David Horowitz, Dick Long, Peter A. Magowan, Richard Reisman, Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle, Hispanic 100, Lincoln Club of Orange County, New Majority Orange County and New Majority San Diego. All of the donors and groups also signed on to a letter addressed to all Republican representatives in the House.

The Senate approved a sweeping immigration overhaul last month by a 68-32 vote, with 14 Republicans voting in favor along with all Senate Democrats.

But the bill's future is uncertain in the GOP-controlled House. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier this month that immigration was not his top priority, and a key bloc of the House Republican caucus opposes the path to citizenship that anchors the Senate plan.

Several constituencies typically aligned with Republicans, including business leaders and some faith groups, have been pressing for changes to the nation's immigration system.

The letters were paid for by Republicans for Immigration Reform, a group formed just weeks after November's presidential election. Its cofounder, Charlie Spies, had run a pro-Mitt Romney "super PAC" during the campaign, a role that offered ample opportunity to meet the party's most prolific donors.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Asians Urged to Apply for Ffamily Visas, in Case They're Done Away With

Los Angeles Times
By Cindy Chang
July 30, 2013

Asian American advocates are urging people who want to sponsor a family member for an immigration visa to apply now, in case Congress eliminates the preferences.

The massive immigration bill passed by the Senate in June would no longer allow United States citizens to get green cards for siblings or married adult children. In the House, which is taking a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, a bill has been introduced that would do away with sibling visas.

Under both proposals, spouses and unmarried children would still be eligible for green cards.

Asians are particularly reliant on family visas to come to the U.S. Nearly half of the more than 4 million people who have applied for family visas are from Asian countries, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The backlog of applications has resulted in long waits -- more than two decades in some cases.

"We're saying file now, if you're thinking about it," Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, said at a news conference Tuesday. "Then you'll be in line if a bill passes and diminishes the ability to file."

Asian Americans Advancing Justice, formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, will begin low-cost family visa clinics next week. For $100, staff members will assist with preparing documents and filling out applications. The clinics are open to those wishing to sponsor children, siblings or spouses to come to the U.S.

Married same-sex couples, who are now entitled to immigration benefits after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, may also attend.

The Senate bill is unlikely to be taken up by the House, but it has prompted a campaign from Asian American advocacy groups to preserve family visas.

Former state assemblyman Mike Eng is among those who fear that family visas could become a bargaining chip to be relinquished in exchange for more highly skilled worker visas or a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. The effect on local Asian American communities would be devastating, Eng said.

"This is the most far-reaching, invasive and detrimental proposal for immigration reform on the Asian American community in at least the last four to six decades," said Eng, who serves on the Los Angeles Community College board of trustees and is also an immigration attorney.

Asian American advocates are also lobbying for a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, more than 1 million of whom are thought to be from China, the Philippines, India, Korea or Vietnam.

The family visa clinics will be held on the first and third Tuesday of each month from noon to 2 p.m. Appointments can be made by email at profamily@advancingjustice-la.org. Phone numbers for hotlines in Asian languages are on the Asian Americans Advancing Justice website, and interpreters will be provided for clinic sessions.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Asians Step Up Participation in Immigration Debate

Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
July 30, 2013

UCLA senior Michelle Yoon was a high-school valedictorian and the first in her family to attend a four-year college. The daughter of South Koreans, she is also an illegal immigrant.

Ms. Yoon is one of the roughly 1.3 million undocumented Asian immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the second-largest group after Hispanics, at 8.3 million, to be in the country illegally.

Despite their relatively large numbers, undocumented Asians have traditionally kept a low profile in the debate over immigration policy. But as Congress considers creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Asians are becoming more vocal on the issue, much as their more conspicuous Hispanic counterparts have for years.

On Wednesday, a group of Asians said they would kick off a national tour to raise the "Asian collective voice" for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. During stops in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and six other cities, the immigrants will meet with community leaders and visit local congressional offices.

"Asians are not only more present, they are also playing an important role," said Gaby Pacheco, an activist and director of Bridge Project, a national undocumented-immigrant group.

Ms. Pacheco said a few vocal Asians have been instrumental in emboldening others to speak out. Jose Antonio Vargas, a member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team when he worked as a Washington Post reporter, was born in the Philippines. He was among the first to raise the issue, disclosing in 2011 that he himself was in the country illegally.

At University of California, Los Angeles, Mr. Vargas recently urged a gathering of undocumented students to speak out. "The community has to get rid of that shame," said Mr. Vargas, 32 years old, who was sent to California to live with his grandparents when he was 12 and realized he was in the U.S. illegally only when he applied for a driver's license four years later.

Undocumented Asian students face similar challenges to Latinos in the same situation. They often must forgo undergraduate studies at prestigious universities as they can't secure federal or state aid. They live in fear a parent could be deported if caught driving without a license or using a fake Social Security number.

"The myth of the model minority is that we Asians are high achievers, we shouldn't advertise we're undocumented," said Hong Mei Pang, 24, an activist born in Singapore and raised in Baltimore. "It's time to talk about it in the community and to increase our visibility," said Ms. Pang, who attended The New School in New York City.

Ms. Pang and other Asians in recent months have lobbied in New York and New Jersey legislatures for laws to allow undocumented youth to qualify for drivers licenses and student financial aid. They have gone to Washington, D.C., for national rallies, and met with California Democratic Congressman Mike Honda and aides to Democratic New York Senators Kristin Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, known for their interest in immigration.

After applying for deferred action, Luke Hwang joined a new undocumented-student group, Revolutionizing Asian Immigrant Stories on the East Coast. Mr. Hwang, who came to the U.S. from South Korea at age 12, figures he was probably the only undocumented student at his New Jersey high school. "I only told my closest friends that I didn't have papers," said the 22-year-old, who is about to start a Ph.D at the University of Chicago. Today, Mr. Hwang believes, "Asians have to be a part of the immigration discussion. It's not just a Hispanic issue."

While most Hispanic undocumented immigrants crossed the border illegally, Asians typically arrived by plane on a tourist visa that later expired. Ms. Yoon, 21, came to Los Angeles in 2001 from Argentina, where her parents settled and she was born. Her mother, the family's main breadwinner, is a store attendant. Ms. Yoon cobbled together private scholarships to enroll at UCLA, where she is active in an undocumented-students group called ASPIRE.

"My friends are all studying abroad while I'm stuck here," she said. She could be barred from re-entering the U.S. if she left. "I can't wait until I am a legal immigrant so that I can see the world."

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

White House Says Immigration Bill Would Boost Rural Communities

Los Angeles Times
By Kathleen Hennessy
July 29, 2013

Immigration legislation pending in Congress would create jobs in rural communities and increase exports of fruits, vegetables and other products, the Obama administration said Monday as it tried turn up the heat on Republican opponents of the bill.

In a White House report issued Monday, the administration made an economic case for the stalled immigration bill by emphasizing the legislation’s impact on farm towns, typically bastions of GOP support.

The bill would ease a shortage of U.S.-born farmworkers by expanding a temporary worker visa program and create a path to citizenship for farmworkers already in the country illegally, the report said.

Those changes would give growers a more stable workforce, add badly needed jobs in sparsely populated parts of the country and generate tax revenue, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“The lack of labor will today and will in the future, if it continues, result in a decrease in agricultural production, a decrease in agricultural outputs and exports, which obviously will cost farm income and jobs in the economy,” Vilsack told reporters in a conference call. “That’s why it’s important for Congress to finish its work this year on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

The expanded visa program would create roughly 48,000 new jobs over the next seven years, the report said, relying on figures from the nonpartisan research firm Regional Economic Models Inc. California would see about 20% of that growth, or roughly 9,500 jobs, the report said. The state's 80,000 farms and ranches employ more than 380,000 people, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The figures were intended to build some momentum for a bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support but has run into solid opposition in the Republican-led House. Lawmakers are expected to leave Washington for their summer recess this week without taking action, leaving any further steps on immigration to an already crowded fall agenda.

The White House says it will continue to try to win Republican support for the bill, in large part by appealing to traditional GOP constituencies to apply pressure. The report issued Monday noted support for the immigration overhaul from several big agriculture groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The White House said Monday that President Obama would speak on the issue in coming weeks, emphasizing the coalition forming around the bill.

“I think that momentum is only building. And we'll see how House Republicans respond to that pressure,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

White House Ties Immigration OVerhaul to Farms

New York Times
By Michael Shear
July 29, 2013

An immigration overhaul of the kind supported by President Obama would help ensure a stable, predictable work force for the nation’s agricultural industries, a new report released by the White House argues.

The 20-page document is the latest effort by Mr. Obama’s administration to try to document what it says are the benefits of providing a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants, some of whom toil in the fields across the country. Critics, however, argued that the industry’s problems could be addressed with smaller tweaks to existing law.

“Currently, the agriculture industry is hampered by a broken immigration system that fails to support a predictable and stable work force,” the report states. “It is time to act to fix the broken immigration system in a way that requires responsibility from everyone — both from workers here illegally and from those who hire them — and guarantees that everyone is playing by the same rules.”

Advocates for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws say the current system leaves the agriculture industry vulnerable to labor shortages when the government cracks down on businesses that employ illegal workers. Under new laws like the one passed by the Senate last month, the report argues, agricultural companies would be assured of a work force that is not threatened with deportation.

“Among its most important provisions, the bipartisan bill would provide an earned path to citizenship for unauthorized farmworkers who are vital to our nation’s agriculture industry, and a new temporary worker program negotiated by major grower associations and farmworker groups,” the report says.

One of those provisions would let undocumented agriculture workers gain legal status almost immediately after the law is passed. Assuming they meet other requirements and pass background checks, they would then be able to apply for a green card — giving them permanent status to work in the United States — after only five years, half the time it would take for other immigrants who had been in the country illegally.

The Senate legislation also proposes a new guest-worker program that would let hundreds of thousands of workers into the country legally to work in the agriculture industry temporarily. It would replace an existing program that many employers say is too cumbersome to be effective.

The White House report cites studies showing that without such changes in immigration law, a labor shortage for agricultural work could significantly affect the output and exports of the nation’s farms.

“In this scenario, after 15 years, three such sectors (fruit, vegetables, and nursery products) would experience a 2.0- to 5.4-percent decrease in output and a 2.5- to 9.3-percent decrease in exports, compared with the base forecast,” the report says.

Critics of the immigration overhaul question the need for sweeping changes to the nation’s laws. They argue that there have not been the kind of agriculture worker shortages that farmers claim. And they say that of all the workers in the United States illegally, only a small percentage work on farms.

“The question of agriculture is almost entirely irrelevant because it’s a tiny fraction,” said Steven Camarota, the director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes the Senate legislation.

Mr. Camarota said that relatively small changes to the existing guest worker programs for agriculture workers would be enough to satisfy most farmers. He dismissed the White House study as nothing more than a public relations gimmick.

“Agriculture is not at the center of this debate,” he said. “It’s only at the center of a public-relations campaign.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Menu for House GOP: Immigration à la Carte

By Seung Min Kim
July 29, 2013

The House is still fumbling around on how its members will tackle immigration reform.

But two key House committees have at least laid out a menu of some options for the full chamber to consider when it begins voting on immigration bills this fall. Reflecting GOP wishes for a piecemeal strategy, each bill passed one at a time and, except for one, no Democrats voted in favor of them.

The collection of bills touches on a wide array of immigration laws, from enforcement to agriculture, E-Verify to the high-skilled sector except the big elephant in the room: What’s the House going to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants?

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to those five bills, which passed when most of the focus was on the Senate Gang of Eight and its rewrite of immigration laws.

Border security

Of the five immigration bills that have cleared House committees, the border security legislation has the best chance of gaining broad bipartisan support.

The Border Security Results Act calls on the Department of Homeland Security to create a plan to make sure that within five years, at least 90 percent of all illegal border crossings along the southwestern U.S. border are apprehended. The bill also lays out several ways to measure how well security is improving along the border — such as the amount of illicit drugs seized by Border Patrol agents.

It’s a far cry from the border security plan in the Senate’s Gang of Eight bill, the final version of which would cost roughly $46 billion to double the amount of Border Patrol agents, direct the completion of the southwestern border fence and require other security measures. That plan, from and Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, doesn’t have many fans in the House.

“To throw money at the problem — which we’ve been doing for 20 years without success — it’s more of the same in the Senate bill,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), a chief sponsor of the House bill.

The border security bill passed McCaul’s committee in May and has won praise from border-state Democrats who have scoffed at the resources in the Corker-Hoeven proposal.

“It’s a good plan on a number of levels,” said Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a freshman lawmaker who represents El Paso. “It treats the border in a much more rational, humane and fiscally responsible way than the Senate bill does.”

Agricultural workers

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a key figure in immigration reform in the House, wrote legislation that would allow foreign agricultural workers to temporarily come to the United States.

The bill would allow immigrants to stay in the country for 18-36 months — depending on the position — to work in the industry. The cap is set at 500,000 visas, although that can be adjusted according to market needs.

Goodlatte, a former Agriculture Committee chairman, called his bill a “market-based approach that removes red tape, streamlines access to a reliable workforce and protects farmers from abusive lawsuits.”

But Republicans also set clear incentives for farm workers to leave the United States. For example, employers are required to withhold 10 percent of workers’ wages in a government trust fund, which they can retrieve only when they return to their home country.

And while the House bill allows current undocumented immigrants to join this new agricultural guest worker program, it lays out no pathway to a green card, and ultimately citizenship, like the Gang of Eight legislation does.

“I think it’s un-American,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) said of the bill Monday. “I think it’s creating second-class citizens who happen to be hardworking people.”

The bill passed the Judiciary Committee 20-16 on partisan lines. Goodlatte’s legislation did have a Democratic co-sponsor at one point — Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota — but he has since withdrawn his support.

Notably, there is no bill yet that creates a guest worker program for industries other than the agricultural sector. But Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho are working on legislation to provide visas for temporary workers, a Republican aide said Monday. The bill is expected to be introduced after the August recess.

High-skilled workers

Increasing the number of visas for high-skilled immigrants is an initiative that traditionally wins support from both Democrats and Republicans — and the Skills Visa Act is a core component of the House GOP’s immigration strategy. The bill is backed by a slew of industry groups, among them Compete America, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Consumer Electronics Association.

On its face, the House bill for high-skilled workers is pretty similar to the Gang of Eight’s bill.

Both bills would lift the current 65,000 cap on H-1B visas — the House to 155,000, with an additional 40,000 for immigrants who graduate from a U.S. university. In the Senate, the cap is set at 110,000 — it can go up to 180,000 — with 25,000 more visas set aside for foreigners who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.

And both the House and Senate would create a new visa for entrepreneurs, capped at 10,000 per year. The House’s legislation also doles at 55,000 green cards for immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields from U.S. schools.

Democrats, however, say the legislation falls short on several points. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), for instance, said that the bill doesn’t clear the current backlog of green cards.

Another source of irritation for some Democrats: Both the Senate’s comprehensive bill and the House Skills Visa Act seek to repeal the diversity visa program. To allay those concerns, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added a provision that directs additional visas to immigrants from certain African and Caribbean countries.

Interior enforcement

The House immigration bill that has stirred the most controversy is the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, which is one of the toughest attempts from Republicans to crack down on illegal immigration.

One major component is a provision that would allow state and local officials to carry out federal immigration law, and Republicans say the overall bill is needed to ensure immigration laws are being enforced — and in particular, to take away discretion from the Obama administration.

“Ensuring public safety and protecting national security must be the primary objective of immigration reform,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who chairs the House subcommittee on immigration, said when his bill passed the full committee on a party-line 20-15 vote.

Despite the bill being one of the most controversial, it could be among the first that the full chamber votes on when it returns from its August recess.

Democrats and immigration advocacy groups have protested the legislation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association calls the bill a “radical departure” from current immigration statutes because it would make being in the country illegally a crime. And Democrats have highlighted provisions that they say dramatically expand detention of undocumented immigrants and could trigger racial profiling.

“It would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said at the markup in June.


A mandatory employer verification system is another immigration proposal that generally wins all-around support from Congress. And underscoring the importance of a functioning E-Verify system, comprehensive bipartisan bills from both ends of the Capitol use it as a trigger.

The House’s stand-alone bill would expand the current voluntary E-Verify system nationwide, phasing in the requirement depending on the size of the employer.

The bill is the most stringent on employers that have more than 10,000 workers, which would have six months to begin using E-Verify for all new hires. Employers with 1 to 19 workers would have two years to comply.

Under the Gang of Eight bill, employers would have five years to begin using E-Verify.

The major difference is the trigger issue. The Senate bill says E-Verify must be in place nationwide before current undocumented immigrants can obtain green cards, which won’t happen for at least a decade. Meanwhile, a House bipartisan group lays down a tougher marker: E-Verify has to be in place within five years, or newly legalized immigrants will go back to an undocumented status.

The House’s standalone bill passed the committee 22-9 – again on party lines. But this bill does have some Democratic buy-in: A co-sponsor is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who does not sit on the Judiciary Committee.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Monday, July 29, 2013

Point Man in the Push for Immigrant Rights

Los Angeles Times
By Patrick McGreevy
July 27, 2013

The subject was illegal immigration, and Ricardo Lara, head of the Legislature's Latino Caucus, was livid.

Lara, then a Democratic Assemblyman from Bell Gardens, wanted to grant driver's licenses to some undocumented Californians. A Republican lawmaker was objecting.

Some of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists used driver's licenses to get through security checkpoints and board planes they later flew into the World Trade Center, said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks).

If people here illegally "can board an airplane, think of the damage they can do," said Donnelly, a former member of the volunteer border patrol group known as the Minutemen.

Lara rose from his seat when it was his turn to speak, steely-eyed and stiff, visibly trying to control his anger. His father had been smuggled across the border from Mexico nearly 50 years before, a broke 19-year-old in search of work.

"We've asked all our children in this country to work hard and you will succeed, and these kids are not any different," Lara told the hushed chamber. The proposal he co-sponsored "would simply allow these students to go to school, to get a license and to continue their dream of pursuing a better life for themselves and their families."

That was a year ago, a fight that Lara and his caucus ultimately won in the Democratic-dominated Legislature. The governor signed the license measure into law last fall, allowing those who qualify for President Obama's temporary amnesty program to drive legally in California.

Lara, now a state senator, has emerged in recent years as a key figure in the push for immigrant rights — the point man on the caucus' often controversial agenda. His out-front role frequently puts him at odds with those who oppose the use of taxpayer resources to benefit people in the country illegally.

He has helped pass college scholarships for undocumented students, more on-the-job protection for California farmworkers and a law preventing police from seizing undocumented drivers' cars, among other policy changes. That's a turnabout in a state where less than 20 years ago voters passed Proposition 187, containing some of the harshest treatment in the nation for those here illegally. The measure would have cut off government services to such immigrants but was voided by the courts.

"I can't help but think of my parents," Lara said, recalling the highly charged battle over the measure, "when I hear such hate from people who don't understand the price paid by immigrants."

His father, Venustiano Lara, had struggled to swim across a deep, frigid canal on the moonless night when he came to America, rushed along by a coyote as a fellow migrant disappeared beneath the surface. Soaked and afraid, with just a quarter in his pocket, he rode 500 miles to a farm near Fresno for a job picking cotton and tomatoes.

Eight years later, he met his future wife, Maria Dolores Tadeo. She had overstayed a U.S. visa, working as a housekeeper and seamstress without legal papers, often humiliated by her employers.

I knew that we were different from other families when my mom and dad would tell us: 'If we ever are missing, just go immediately to your aunt's house.' "
— Ricardo Lara

One of nine children, she too had fled an impoverished Mexican family. Her dinner some days had been whatever egg yolk she could sop up from the abandoned plates of the men in the family, who ate first.

The Laras raised their five children in a working-class neighborhood of East Los Angeles, where they still live. Ricardo Lara, now 38, grew up worrying that on any given day, his parents might not return from work. Would they be picked up and deported?

"I knew that we were different from other families when my mom and dad would tell us: 'If we ever are missing, just go immediately to your aunt's house,' " he said.

His father paid taxes but could not get many government services. He paid cash for the birth of each of his children. Then, after President Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty grant, the Laras became U.S. citizens.

"Their struggle emboldens me ... when I am legislating or advocating on behalf of an issue in Sacramento," Ricardo Lara said recently, sitting with his parents in their home, a 10-minute drive from his own.

Ricardo was the first in his family to earn a college degree, a bachelor's in journalism with a minor in Chicano studies from San Diego State. He found a passion for politics, organizing rallies against Proposition 187 — "a direct attack on people like my parents" — and was elected vice president of the student body.

After graduation, he dived into Los Angeles County politics, learning the ropes as a staffer for Democratic legislators with whom he shared a bond: At least one parent had come illegally from Mexico.

Lara helped draft a law that passed in 2001, allowing immigrants without legal status to attend California universities at in-state rates if they spent three years in a California high school. In 2010, he was elected to the Assembly, then made chairman of the 24-member Latino Caucus in his first term. Today he represents nearly a million people in the Senate.

Fellow Democrats admire his industriousness.

"Nothing was handed to Ricardo," said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who as a member of the lower house had put Lara on his staff. "He had to work very hard to get where he is."

One of Lara's early floor fights came with a bill he offered to allow migrants grants and fee waivers from California's public universities if they served in student government.

The proposal provoked a firestorm of protest from Republicans, whose upraised microphones signaled they wanted to speak. Donnelly weighed in against it. So did several others. As tensions boiled over, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) called Lara's proposal a "slap in the face" to legal immigrants.

The bill passed both houses and was signed into law. "I just hope," said Lara, "that one day we get to the point where we embrace our diversity, we embrace our differences."

Lara does not always win. One of his bills would have increased enforcement against schools charging pupils extra fees; another would have set educational requirements and ethics training for city council members across the state. But he doesn't dwell on the failures.

In December of last year, soon after his election to the Senate, he proposed another law, one that could create a state Office of New Americans. It would aid immigrants in obtaining government services and help smooth the path to citizenship.

An ombudsman could have helped his parents when they were trying to emerge from the shadow of illegality, said the senator.

Recently, Lara's father recalled the day his son took his first oath of office, sworn in by the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. It had been 46 years since the plunge into that cold canal near Mexicali.

Venustiano Lara had stood with Ricardo in the state Assembly, tears shining in his eyes.

"That day," the father said, "was one of the proudest moments of my life."

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com