Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

California mulls letting noncitizens serve on juries

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
A new California law would allow noncitizens to occupy the jury box.
A new California law would allow noncitizens to occupy the jury box.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A bill passed by Calif. assembly would let noncitizens serve on juries
  • Ruben Navarrette says it's a mistake to weaken the meaning of citizenship
  • If people want to integrate immigrants into community, help them become citizens, he says
  • Navarrette: California helps hunt down undocumented while also extending benefits

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

(CNN) -- Some in the pro-immigrant left are confused. They can't make up their minds about U.S. citizenship. Is it a necessity or a luxury?

Is it vitally important to living a full life or something one can live without? Should it be respected and treasured or rejected and trivialized?

Don't expect California to be of much help in sorting this out. In making public policy, especially on the tough issues, my home state can often be emotional, egotistical and erratic.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Just last week, the state Assembly approved AB 1401, a bill that would allow noncitizens to serve on juries if they are in the country legally. The vote, 45 to 26, wasn't even close.

All the "yes" votes came from Democrats. No surprise there. Getting noncitizens on juries is the first step toward what Democrats are really after -- getting more of them to vote, at least in non-federal elections. In November 2010, voters in San Francisco weighed in on a proposition that would have allowed all parents of children in the city's schools to vote in school board elections whether they were citizens or not; they voted it down but the shocking part is that it was even proposed.

Still, if the bill is approved by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would become the first state in the nation to dispense with the citizenship requirement to sit on a jury.

What's wrong with this picture? What happened to all the rhetoric we've heard in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform, about how advocates won't settle for the undocumented getting only legal status because "citizenship" is so wonderful and valuable? Just not essential to acts of civic participation like sitting on juries.

Bombing enflames immigration debate

Supporters say they want to increase the size of the available jury pool while helping immigrants integrate into U.S. society. They also claim that juries should reflect their communities as they exist, and this means including noncitizens in the mix.

Those are lovely sentiments. But if people want to help immigrants "integrate," they should help them become U.S. citizens. It's not that difficult. The hard part is going from "illegal immigrant" to "legal resident"; by comparison, transitioning from "legal resident" to "U.S. citizen" is a walk in the park.

In fact, often times, according to immigration attorneys and other experts in the field, the only reason that more people don't complete the process and become citizens is because they're reluctant to let go of their romantic attachment to their homeland.

Immigration is a complicated issue that has baffled the Golden State for more than 25 years. In effect, there are two signs on the California-Mexico border, about 10 miles south of San Diego: "No Trespassing" and "Help Wanted." Half the time, we're trying to get rid of immigrants; the other half, we're trying to get our hands on more.

Our elected officials only add to the confusion. With one hand, Brown signed legislation letting undocumented college students apply for state-sponsored financial aid. With the other, he vetoed a bill that would have scaled back the cooperation that local police give to U.S. immigration officials in rounding up immigrants who are here illegally.

So, in Brown's California, local cops can help hunt you down if you lack legal status. But, if you get by them, you can go to college on the taxpayer's dime?

We've seen this kind of inconsistency before. In 1986, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson helped push the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized more than 3 million illegal immigrants.

The Republican did it to please his benefactors in agriculture, who understand that they would be out of business without the undocumented. In 1994, Wilson -- who was by then California governor, and fighting for re-election -- turned himself inside out and hitched his wagon to Proposition 187, an insanely cruel ballot initiative that intended to deny illegal immigrants and their children access to public schools, welfare benefits and nonemergency health care.

It was that Republican-backed initiative, which was later struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional, that sent California into a political tailspin.

In a state that is more than 38% Latino, and where Latinos account for more than one in five voters, the GOP's war on immigrants turned out to be a suicide mission. Thanks in large part to support from Latino voters, Democrats now have "supermajorities" in both chambers of the state legislature. This means they get bills passed without a single Republican vote. Think about the consequences.

Noncitizens serving on juries. Who could have imagined?

Welcome to life on the Left Coast. This is how California rolls. It acts on impulse and out of a misplaced sense of social justice. It makes mistakes that take years to rectify. Its "can-do" spirit convinces it that it can do great things. But it never stops to ask whether it might instead do great harm.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT