Driver's License Bill Gains
Senate panel OKs bid to grant illegal immigrants the permits. Others fear
terrorists would benefit.LA Times, June 16, 2004
SACRAMENTO — The
renewed legislative push to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants has
prompted disagreement among law enforcement officials about whether the permits
would make it easier or harder for would-be terrorists to infiltrate
The license fight, which helped Arnold Schwarzenegger unseat
Gov. Gray Davis in last year's recall, has been resurrected in the Legislature,
where a Democratic-controlled Senate panel Tuesday voted 7 to 4 to approve a
bill that would grant licenses to immigrants who passed a criminal background
So far, the Schwarzenegger administration has balked at the
proposal, saying it would make it too easy for terrorists to use the documents
to create new identities.
Regarding immigrants from Mexico, aides said,
a particular concern is that in many cases the state would rely on the
matricula consular, an identification card issued by that country. The
FBI has declared that document unreliable because of the lack "of any means of
verifying the true identity of the cardholder."
Orange County Sheriff
Michael Carona also opposes granting licenses to undocumented
"There's no way to check out those people, to look into their
background, to determine who they are," a sheriff's spokesman said
But other law enforcement officials — most prominently Los
Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton — have dissented from the
administration's views. They believe that obtaining the fingerprints and
photographs of California license applicants would help them get a handle on
people already in the country illegally.
That, they say, would help them
track immigrants who were later sought for law enforcement reasons and would
make it less likely that immigrants driving without a license or insurance would
flee the scenes of accidents.
"We do not have significant concerns about
the issue of terrorism as it relates to this issue. I'm sorry, but we just
don't," Bratton told reporters earlier this month. "And it's a red herring in
many respects, quite frankly."
Miller, Bratton's senior antiterrorism advisor, told the Senate Transportation
Committee on Tuesday "that most of the major terrorists in California have not
been 'illegal aliens.' "
He noted that Ali Mohamed, an
Al Qaeda operations planner who pleaded guilty to the 1998 terrorist bombings of
U.S. embassies in Africa, was an American citizen and Santa Clara resident who
held a legitimate California driver's license.
Sacramento Police Chief
Albert Najera said he supported the general idea of licenses for illegal
"We have these folks here, and we have no information on who
they are or what they're doing or not even a particular name, because they can
use a different name every time they get stopped," he said. "With our
fingerprint technology, soon we'll be able to push a finger into a pad in the
control car and it will come back with any criminal record information we have.
That's not Buck Rogers stuff."
But Najera said he favored the concept
only if the licenses noted the driver's country of origin — something that Sen.
Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), the bill's author, finds "repugnant" for its
potential to foster discrimination.
The security provisions of the
measure are the most substantial differences from the law repealed last year,
making the views of law enforcement officials particularly important.
1160 would charge immigrants up to $146 for a license to pay for fingerprinting
and a background check. Cedillo said he designed those provisions to address the
concerns Schwarzenegger had during the recall campaign.
any worries about the matricula, saying that the Transportation Security
Administration recognized it as a valid form of identification for airline
passengers and that banks relied on it to open accounts.
negotiations with the governor's office over six months led to no
Schwarzenegger insisted Tuesday that he was still interested
in finding middle ground, telling reporters, "We are working very hard to make
No administration officials testified about Cedillo's bill
Tuesday, when the Senate committee approved it along party lines.
measure still needs approval from the full Senate and Assembly — both controlled
by Democrats — before it can be sent to Schwarzenegger.
harked back to last year's fight, quickly devolving into an argument about
whether licenses would reward immigrants for illegal behavior.
Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative club
based in Monrovia, told Cedillo that if the bill was signed into law, the group
would prepare another referendum like the one that drew 600,000 signatures last
year, before the Legislature repealed the bill on its own.
"This bill is
really worse than the last bill," testified former state Sen. Dick
Cedillo's effort at compromise also drew objections from
Francisco Estrada, director of public policy for the Mexican American Legal
Defense and Educational Fund.
He told lawmakers that "without appropriate
confidentiality provisions" to assure immigrants that the information would not
lead to their deportation, the bill "threatens or potentially dissuades
individuals from applying for the licenses."
But Cedillo was undeterred.
"If we're getting criticism from the left and the right, we've probably got a
pretty good bill in the middle," he said. "At the end of the day, I don't know
if there's some perfect system."