Calif. moves to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants
Supporters of the bill say it is about public safety, while others voiced concerns
By Matt O'Brien
San Jose Mercury News
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After a late-night debate Thursday, the Legislature is handing to Gov. Jerry Brown a bill to grant driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants granted temporary work permits by the federal government.
The Assembly on Thursday night passed AB 2189 in a 55-21 vote after the Senate approved the bill in a 25-7 vote Wednesday, adding to the more than 230 bills that at mid-day Friday were on the governor's desk on the Legislature's final day of its yearly session.
The passage marked a partial victory for outgoing Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who has sought for years to grant driver licenses to all California drivers regardless of their immigration status.
Also being debated Friday was a measure that would have the state ask federal authorities not to deport law-abiding, tax-paying illegal immigrants.
The current driver license bill, originally sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is more limited than Cedillo's earlier attempts, granting the licenses to immigrants 30 years or younger brought to the United States illegally as children who are obtaining 2-year work permits and protection from deportation from a new Obama administration relief program that began Aug. 15. The requirements for the federal "deferred action" include graduating from high school or being in school and having a record free of serious crimes.
"It really is about public safety," Cedillo said Thursday night, arguing that everyone driving on California roads should be licensed and insured.
Democrats easily passed the bill with a few Republican supporters in each house, but were angered when Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, alluded to the 9/11 hijackers in his floor speech and said some of the driver's licenses could be used as "gateway identification" for nefarious purposes.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 people in California are expected to be eligible for the federal relief.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles originally said it could grant all of them driver's licenses, but later backtracked and said the state might need "clarifying" legislation specifically defining the federal work permits as one of the documents that can be used to obtain a license.
Also being debated in the Legislature's final hours was a last-minute bill, SB 901, to request federal not deport illegal immigrants in California's if they come forward to the state, pay income taxes, know English, have no felony convictions and have lived in the state since at least 2008.
One immigration law expert said the bill written by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, if passed, could have consequences its Democratic proponents didn't intend.
"I like the theory, but I worry that if individuals are asked to divulge their status to (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the discretion might be denied," said Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco. "It might expose someone to deportation."
The Assembly voted 42-29 to pass it on Friday afternoon and the state Senate was expected to vote on Friday night before the midnight deadline.
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