Driver's License To Illegal Immigrants

Senate Bill 1160. There are more than 2.2 undocumented illegal immigrant drivers in California (Bender 2004). They rallied with law enforcers, insurance companies and the religious sector in support of Senate Bill 1160 or the Immigrant Responsibility and Security Act. Signed into law, this bill would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license. The then existing driver's license law in California required legal residency. This led many motorists to take the risk and proceed to drive illegally. The bill, authored by Senator Gil Cedillo, would allow illegal immigrants to secure a license by presenting a valid passport or identification issued by the consulate of the immigrant's country of origin. They had to be fingerprinted so that federal and state criminal checks could be conducted on them. In addition, an American citizen with a valid driver's license would need to sponsor the immigrant license applicant. Advocates said the bill would increase public safety, enhance a sense of responsibility and citizenship, and intensify homeland security by requiring applicants to undergo criminal background check by the FBI against the terrorism watch list. According to surveys, 66% of non-Hispanic whites opposed the bill. Save Our State believed it would condone and encourage the violation of federal immigration law and induce and facilitate the commission of more crimes (Bender).

Deal or No Deal?

The bill was losing ground but supporters continued to lobby for it through rallies (Counts 2004). They said it was an issue of safety and security. They attested to needing the licenses for their work on a daily basis. They claimed to contribute to the economy of California and yet were deprived of this basic right to a driver's license. They said they worked hard and tried to get ahead. There were 12 million Latinos in California or a third of its total population. Yet only 13% of them were voters who could make the difference. The legal residency requirement was imposed only in 1994 in obtaining a driver's license. Then voters passed Proposition 187, which would deny public services from undocumented citizens. Critics viewed both measures as anti-immigrant moves. The bill was vetoed by former Governor Gray Davis and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for not containing the marker necessary as a security precaution (Drucker 2004). The Governor required it as an immediate indication that the owner was an illegal immigrant. Cedillo and his supporters from some parts of Los Angeles' Jewish community rejected the marker as similar to Nazi Germany's requirement imposed on Jewish citizens to put on a yellow Star of David (Drucker). Cedillo claimed that he had an agreement with the Governor that the latter would help pass a new law with additional security features, but that there would be no identifying markers for illegal immigrants. The Governor denied making any agreement with Cedillo. Instead, he maintained that markers were necessary for homeland security and to prevent terrorists from using a license to open a back account or enroll in flight schools. The license bill supporters argued that banks and airlines already accept consular identification cards. Many law enforcement leaders also claimed that a driver's license would enable them to track down illegal immigrants and that this would tend to result in fewer uninsured drivers and hit-and-run accidents. Conservative Republicans, however, countered that illegal immigrants had violated the law and must, therefore, be punished for it, not rewarded. They had begun taking steps towards a constitutional amendment, which would prohibit the grant of driver's licenses to illegal residents. They also worked for support for this initiative from voters in the March 2006 elections. Likewise, they accused the Governor of double dealing by requiring a marker but trying to keep the sympathy of Latinos (Counts).

Driver's License and the National Security

The issue of granting a driver's license to illegal immigrants specifically affected Florida and California (Elvin 2004). It later spread to other States, with millions of illegal immigrants driving throughout the country. The grant or denial of a driver's license is a safety measure against those who were disqualified or who had no insurance or had no knowledge of traffic laws. Advocates of licensing also stressed that illegal immigrants were those who managed to cross the border, entered the country unlawfully or whose visas have expired. They also included migratory workers and those who were still in the process of applying for or obtaining legal residence. Those who opposed licensing said that it was a de facto identify card, which carried with it certain benefits, privileges and opportunities. It would allow not only opening bank accounts and boarding an aircraft but also entry to any public building or establishment. Director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said that the grant of driver's licenses was critical to the nation's security and the security of those who are in the U.S. (Elvin).

Action and Inaction

The Assembly Appropriations Committee was known for its quick decisions with little need to discuss the issues or obtain a roll call vote (Garcia 2006). But it froze the bill, an action, which surprised everyone because it could only mean killing it. Seven times in 7 years, Senator Cedillo of Los Angeles tried to push a measure, which would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. This time, he sponsored a bill, which would provide for a special license to California's more than 2 million undocumented drivers. His previous bill was thwarted by Governors Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis. Now it was the Committee, which did. The consensus was that the member of the Committee felt it was too controversial to deal with for an election year. The majority of the members were Democrats. Republicans opposed the bill because it would reward violators of the immigration law. Governor Schwarzenegger said he would veto it while his Democrat opponent, Phil Angelides, favored the bill. This meant that illegal immigrants in California would not be able to apply for driver's license in the foreseeable future. A Field poll revealed that a little more than half of all Californian adults did not favor the grant of licenses to illegal immigrants. The national president of the Mexican-American Political Association deplored the decision to freeze the bill. Another group collected signatures to support the license bill. This group said that it would not give the effort up (Garcia).

32% of Them in California

Records showed that there were 7 to 10 million undocumented workers in the U.S., mostly jobless people from Mexico and other countries of weaker economies, crossing from the South (IGS 2005). Most of them settled in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to look for work. A major component of illegal immigration was the grant of driver's license to these undocumented workers. This was most critical in California, where almost 32% of them lived. In September, 2003, Governor Gay Davis signed a legislation, which allowed illegal immigrants to secure driver's licenses. The legislation was authored by Senator Cedillos. It was, however, only short-lived. Republic candidate Schwarzenegger promised that he would work for the overturn of the law if elected governor. After his win, the Legislature repealed the new legislation but it simply would not die. Senator introduced a new one but on the same topic. Schwarzenegger said he would sign it if it had sufficient security precautions and identity provisions. Sentiments against the grant continued to mount and develop into a key political topic in California. Those in favor argued that a driver's license would, in fact, do a lot of good things. It would provide more information on residents of a given place. It would help undocumented workers better understand traffic laws and rules of the road. It would help ward off bad drivers from the road. Overall, these would contribute to national security, rather than threaten it. Those who opposed said that it would tantamount to government approval of illegal immigration status. This would encourage further immigration in the future. They also felt that the grant of driver's licenses to illegal immigrant would pose a threat to national security (IGS).

Majority of Non-White Population in 2010

The problem of illegal immigration gained notice in the early 90s during a recession, following a period of prosperity in the 80s (IGS 2005). Californians were generally worried that they could lose their jobs to undocumented workers. Large groups of Latinos entered the State in the 70s and the 80s. Observers and critics felt that a change in demography indicated that California would have a majority population of non-whites. Hundreds of them crossed the California-Mexico border each day. The apprehension produced stricter illegal immigration legislations. Proposition 187 was voted with a 59% margin in November 1994. It denied welfare, health care and public education to undocumented immigrants. They could not be hired but they could obtain emergency and prenatal services. It was quickly challenged in court by Latino groups, such as the Mexican-American Legal Defense/Education Fund and the ACLU. Proposition 187 was never actually effective, although most Californians favored it. Public opinion on illegal…