Licenses for Undocumented Workers: Schwarzenegger to the Rescue?
By Domenico Maceri
When Gil Cedillo voted to repeal SB 60, the law which had granted undocumented workers the opportunity to apply for California driver's licenses at the beginning of 2004, he did so because Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to help with a new bill that would eliminate security concerns and do it the "right way." More than six months have gone by and Cedillo must be wondering if Schwarzenegger is ever going to keep his word.Cedillo recently unveiled his latest version of the bill which removes excuses for Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, the governor's response has not been enthusiastic.The new bill addresses security concerns by requiring multiple forms of identification. They include a birth certificate, a passport or official ID issued by the applicants' native countries, and proof of California residency. Applicants would also have to provide a photo, be fingerprinted, and pay $146.00 to cover the cost of criminal background checks by state and federal officials. The background checks would be similar to those of professionals such as lawyers, pilots, and teachers. In addition, applicants would have to find a sponsor who is a US citizen holding a California driver's license.
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To become law, the new bill would have to be approved by the California legislature by August 31 and signed by the governor by September 30. Backers of the bill say that it will make California roads safer for all. Taking the license tests will ensure people know the rules of the road and at the same time they'll qualify for insurance.Supporters of the bill include Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-Los Angeles, who heads the Legislature 24-member Latino Caucus. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton also favors the bill.Of course, California Republican legislators oppose it, as they did SB 60. Senate Republican leader Richard Ackerman said he is very close to saying "no way, no how." For the GOP, giving driver's licenses to undocumented workers would reward criminal behavior. In addition, they think terrorists could use a driver's license to blend into the state.Chief Bratton stated that the terrorist threat is nonexistent. Citizens of countries such as Cuba, Libya, and North Korea that sponsor terrorism, according to the US State Department, do not qualify for licenses in Cedillo's bill.
Although California Democratic legislators voted for Cedillo's previous bill, which was signed into law by then governor Gray Davis, they may not be willing to put up much of a fight for the new one. They know that a significant majority of Californians do not support the idea of driver's licenses for undocumented workers. Like most Americans, Californians are stuck on undocumented workers having committed an illegal act and therefore deserve nothing. It's a one-strike-law philosophy which fails to see undocumented workers as human beings who made one mistake out of desperation. The fact that the undocumented workers' crime would not have been possible without companies hiring them, resulting in significant economic benefits to the state and the nation, does not seem to enter many people's minds.So it looks like the 2 million undocumented workers in California will continue to drive without licenses, making us all less safe and forcing us to pay higher insurance rates to cover the cost of uninsured drivers.Unless of course, Schwarzenegger decides to make good on his promise and sell the idea to Californians. It would not be that difficult for a master politician such as Schwarzenegger.He could point out, for example, that Jeb Bush, the Republican Governor of Florida has come out in support of driver's licenses for undocumented workers in Florida.
Schwarzenegger could also explain that by allowing undocumented workers to apply for licenses, California would join Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia which let undocumented workers to apply for driver's licenses.Schwarzenegger could stress not only the practical benefits but the moral ones as well. By allowing undocumented workers to care for our elderly, act as nannies, mow our lawns, pick our fruits and vegetable we are acknowledging their need as well as their humanity.Schwarzenegger has demonstrated himself a master politicians who can sell just about anything. How about selling something good for a change, Governor?
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Flora Gov. Jeb Bush (in blue shirt fourth from right) cheers on the players of the White House Tee Ball Game along with his family members. From right US President George Bush, and first lady Laura Bush, and his father, George Bush senior, the former US President.
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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.