Lawmakers in California finally approved legislation giving illegal immigrants the ability to obtain driver’s licenses after numerous failed attempts in recent years by proponents. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill.
Supporters of the controversial plan said providing undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses would make California roads safer, improve national security and allow immigrants to fully contribute to the state economy. The bill passed with overwhelming support, 28-8 in the state Senate and 55-19 in the Assembly.
Some of the state’s top law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, backed the plan, arguing that immigrants should not fear cooperating with police or endure harassment because of their immigration status.
Opponents of the bill disagreed that issuing licenses to illegal immigrants would make them safer drivers. They also said the new law would not guarantee that the new drivers would get insurance. In addition some objected to the legitimization of undocumented immigrants. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington said the plan amounted to a “quasi-amnesty.”
On the other hand, immigrant advocates objected to a provision that requires the licenses issued to undocumented workers to feature distinguishing marks that make it clear the licenses are for driving only and cannot be used for identification, saying it could lead to people being unfairly singled out people and deported. State Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said the special features were necessary to satisfy federal requirements and to protect against discrimination.
It is estimated that the change in law will result in at least one million residents receiving driver’s licenses.