California Approves Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens

Via the Sacramento Bee:

In the waning hours of the 2013 legislative session, the Assembly on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.

The surprise 55-19 vote moved California a signature away from putting into law a measure that immigrant advocates have sought fruitlessly for years, with past attempts thwarted by legislative vote and gubernatorial veto.

“This is a moment, members,” sponsor Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said in closing remarks on the Assembly floor, “that years from now you’re going to look back on.”

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Brown signaled he will sign the bill.

“This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally,” Brown said in the statement. “Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.”

Earlier Thursday, the state Senate resuscitated the left-for-dead bill on a 28-8 vote and returned it to the Assembly, marking an apparent reversal: Alejo had said Wednesday that he would defer action on the measure until January.

But amid a late push from proponents – including members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles City Council member and former state lawmaker who perennially carried bills to offer undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses – legislators pushed Assembly Bill 60 across the finish line.

By extending licenses to undocumented immigrants, Alejo said, California would open a legal umbrella for everyone on the road to prevent situations in which immigrants face arrest, heavy fines and car impoundment when they are pulled over.

Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said late amendments to the bill included a recognizable feature on the front and back of the license to satisfy federal requirements – as well as various provisions to guard against discrimination. Some supporters said it was unfortunate that the licenses would need special markings, but said the tradeoff was worth it.

A staff analysis of the bill suggested that undocumented immigrants could apply for a driver’s license as long as they could provide some form of identification approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“This measure will ensure that all drivers on California highways are properly trained, properly licensed and properly insured,” de León said, adding that 10 other states allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. “We are actually quite behind.”

He said the measure would make California roads safer, improve national security and allow immigrants to fully contribute to the state economy.

Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, also said it was important that drivers are trained and insured.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but our economy will benefit,” he said.

Some critics of the bill have argued that issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants would not make them safer drivers and would not guarantee that they get insurance. Others continued to contend that distinguishing marks on driver’s licenses unfairly single out people and could help spur deportations.

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