Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Committee Approves Measure to Give Drivers’ Licenses to Illegal Immigrants
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (Capitol)—The Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation yesterday to grant drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants who live in California.
The committee’s action came on the same day that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, answering questions about the proposal, said he is “working very hard to make this happen.”
The committee’s 7-4 vote on legislation by Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Gil Cedillo came over the opposition of all the Republicans on the panel.
“A legal immigrant is already entitled to a drivers’ license,” Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, said. “So what we are talking about is illegal immigrants.”
McClintock said those who are in the country illegally have the right to drive in their countries of origin, and should be returned there under federal immigration laws.
Cedillo cited surveys indicating the majority of gardeners, house cleaners, restaurant workers and in-home caregivers are illegal immigrants, and said California should accommodate these people rather than enforcing the immigration laws.
“That is a reality we must accept,” Cedillo said.
The senator said his SB 1160 “strengthens national security, improves and strengthens highway and community safety” and encourages illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship.
Under Cedillo’s bill, an illegal immigrant could apply for a driver’s license by providing proof of residence in California, a passport from a country that isn’t on the federal government’s list of terrorist sponsors, a fingerprint for a criminal background check, a federal tax identification number and a document from a sponsor who is a legal resident of California.
Applicants would be required to sign a statement indicating the intention to apply for citizenship, as well as a statement acknowledging that it is illegal for non-citizens to serve on juries, vote in U.S. elections, collect public benefits or work legally in this country.
The costs of the changes would be paid by applicants, Cedillo said, through a fee of up to $65.
Former Republican Sen. Richard Mountjoy testified against the bill and said the fee on illegal immigrants would likely be overturned by the courts, resulting in costs going up for all Californians.
“The Ninth [U.S.] Circuit [Court of Appeals] will knock that out almost immediately and we all know that,” Mountjoy said of the fee. “That would be the first thing that MALDEF would sue on, and probably would win.”
MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, supports the concept of giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants but opposes Cedillo’s current bill because of the background checks and other restrictions.
“We share the goal of drivers’ licenses for all,” MALDEF spokesman Francisco Estrada told the committee, but without provisions which require some applicants to divulge more personal information than others.
SB 1160 contains many more qualifications than did Cedillo’s previous bill on the subject, SB 60, which was signed by Gov. Gray Davis and then repealed after Davis was recalled in October. At the time of the repeal, Cedillo said Schwarzenegger had given his word that he would approve a new version of the measure this year with provisions to address the governor’s security concerns.
Recent public statements from Cedillo and the governor’s staff indicate that one of the sticking points may be whether licenses issued to illegal immigrants should carry a special mark—an idea which Cedillo called “repugnant” at Tues***day’s hearing.
“To place a mark on this, to invite discrimination...outweighs the value that the card with the mark would have,” Cedillo said.
Schwarzenegger, speaking at a Capitol press conference called to discuss the Legislature’s failure to meet the deadline for approving a state budget bill, would not discuss specifics about the bill.
“We are still working with Senator Cedillo and the Latino Caucus and other legislators,” the governor said. “We are working very hard to make this happen, [but] right now we are focusing just on the budget.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company