Skip to comments.Effort to let illegals drive in California gets boost - House votes to allow license-like document
Posted on 05/06/2005 6:39:36 AM PDT by calcowgirl
SACRAMENTO In an ironic twist, a move by Congress to make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get driver licenses nationwide has given new life to legislation allowing them to drive legally in California.
In Washington, the House voted yesterday to establish national standards for driver licenses to make it harder for terrorists to get documents that would effectively prohibit illegal immigrants from getting licenses.
The Senate is expected to follow suit next week.
But the congressional measure would allow a separate driving document that could not be used, as licenses are, for such things as boarding a plane, entering a federal building or opening a bank account.
Under the federal legislation, obtaining a driver license would require proof of legal residency, but the driving certificate would not.
All that seems fine with state Sen. Gil Cedillo.
For seven years, the Los Angeles Democrat has sought to give illegal immigrants access to California driver licenses. During that time, he had resisted suggestions that he pursue driving certificates, fearing that the different-colored documents would make people second-class citizens or open the door to discrimination.
With the congressional action, Cedillo yesterday said he now embraces establishing an alternative document.
"Mission accomplished," he said, reacting to the federal licensing provision addressing illegal immigrants. "The result is: Not only will California have a way for people to drive legally, a way that is more secure, the whole nation will."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has reservations about illegal immigrants applying for driver licenses. In the 2003 campaign, Schwarzenegger pledged to repeal a measure that allowed illegal immigrants to receive licenses. The Legislature complied.
But when he vetoed a subsequent Cedillo bill in September, he suggested he would support a driving document that was visually distinct from a license.
"If there is a marker on it, I will sign it. If there's no marker on it, I will not sign it," Schwarzenegger said at the time.
He backed off, pointing to uncertainty about what the federal government would do. His spokeswoman yesterday suggested he is in no hurry to address the issue.
"It would be premature to develop any state legislation until these regulations are in place, because federal law could pre-empt any state law," press secretary Margita Thompson said.
Meanwhile, the governor has toughened his rhetoric on illegal immigration in recent weeks. He suggested a couple of weeks ago that California's borders should be "closed," though he quickly backtracked to explain that he meant the borders need to be "secured." He then praised the Minuteman Project, comparing the volunteer border patrol to a Neighborhood Watch group.
In addition to standardizing driver licenses, the legislation passed by the House also toughens asylum laws and allows the homeland security secretary to bypass laws to build border barriers, including the remainder of a fence along an environmentally sensitive area of the U.S.-Mexico border near the San Diego coast.
Those provisions are attached to an $82 billion spending bill, largely for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has said he will sign the measure.
Thus, the Republican-controlled Congress could pave the way for more than 2 million illegal immigrants to legally drive in California, as well as millions more across the country.
Foes of licenses for illegal immigrants contend that terrorists can use the documents to create phony identities, open bank accounts and board airplanes. However, about 40 states, including California, already have residency requirements for licenses.
But supporters say a more lenient policy would increase public safety by testing all drivers and giving those in the country illegally the ability to obtain insurance. Many need cars to get to work or go to school.
California insurers won't issue motorists a policy without a license. However, car dealers can sell a vehicle to those who don't have one.
Cedillo said he will roll out his legislation as soon as Bush signs the bill.
"We will do all we can to comply with the spirit of the law, but in a way that doesn't invite discrimination," he said.
With strong Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the odds are that Cedillo's bill will reach the governor's desk.
But Cedillo said he still has misgivings about a different-looking driving document because it could pose problems for businesses. Though widely ignored, the law prohibits businesses from hiring illegal immigrants.
"Businesses don't want to be put in the position of being Border Patrol agents," Cedillo said.
Cedillo said he is sympathetic to concerns expressed by Latino activists and some religious groups who raise civil rights concerns about a separate driving certificate.
"A different license raises the potential for discrimination, for abuse, for exploitation," Francisco Estrada, policy director for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said yesterday.
"What we need to think about is whether the driving privilege is worth that risk," Estrada said. "I honestly don't know that answer at this point."
Mike Spence, a leader of efforts to block driver licenses and other public services to illegal immigrants, said he remains opposed to any kind of document that he says would reward those who cross the border illegally.
"We should not give away a drive-around-California-free card," Spence said. "The law should be enforced."
Assembly Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said GOP lawmakers are likely to side with Spence.
"It gives them legitimacy," McCarthy said. "People will use it for other purposes. I want greater protections."
Tennessee, led by a Democratic governor, and Utah, led by a Republican governor, already have approved separate documents for those in the country illegally. Neither document can be used for boarding planes or receiving other services.
"It was the dual concern for security and for people who are using our roads," said Melissa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety.
Tennessee issued 22,000 "certificates for driving" in the 10 months they were available. Officials expect the pace to pick up as licenses expire because of the federal legislation.
"Driver's licenses were really never meant to become the main identification," McDonald said. "It's just something that has evolved."
Some states say the federal standards could cause bureaucratic problems and make it difficult for legal residents to get and renew licenses.
The identification rules for a standard license, which haven't been detailed in the legislation, will likely force motorists to personally visit the Department of Motor Vehicles when it's time for renewal, some state officials warn. Many renewals are done by mail or online.
Already cash-strapped, license bureaus across the country will be required to do more verification, but without additional funding, said Ann Morse, who monitors immigration policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"There is zero money in this bill. . . . It's a black hole that's not going to serve its purpose," she predicted.
Jason King, a spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, agreed. "Twenty-first century technology requires 21st-century funding," he said.
Steve Haskins, a spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which has issued 22 million licenses, was more cautious. "We're waiting for everything to shake out," he said.
Our Gubamint hard at work for the uninsured poor grass-cutting veggie-picking illegal..
Yup, got to set our priorities, yaknow. Pathetic.
Protect our borders and coastlines from all foreign invaders!
Be Ever Vigilant!
Minutemen Patriots ~ Bump!
You are right. Cedillo has declared victory even though he lost. Arnold has said all along the illegals license's have to look different than citizen's licenses. The Senator has wanted everyone's licenses to be the same. Typical liberal.
my sentiments exactly
Illegal aliens don't seem to hesitate to whip out their Matricula Consular cards, which basically identifies them as being illegal aliens, in order to apply for services. Why would having an illegal alien show a driving document or certificate raise the potential for discrimination, abuse, or exploitation?
( This, of course, applies to legal aliens... )