LA City Council: Let immigrants drive

LOS ANGELES – State legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses won the support of the Los Angeles City Council recently and passed through the state Senate Transportation Committee April 2. The latter is the first step in an effort to revive a bill that has become a litmus test for Governor Gray Davis (D) in the Latino community.

State Senator Gilbert Cedillo, who authored the legislation, has made the fight to pass this bill one of his top priorities. Cedillo sees SB-60 as a matter of justice for undocumented immigrants and safety for all Californians. His office estimates that over two million immigrants are driving in the state without a license or insurance.

“Given that 22 million people take to the highways every day, we’d all be safer as Californians if one out of 10 of them were allowed to get tested, get licensed and get insured,” Cedillo told the media.

Davis has vetoed similar bills twice, claiming that he is concerned about security in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He called for criminal background checks and other “security” measures. This affected the vote of the Latino community for the governor last November, which was lower for Davis than it had been in the past election.

Cedillo has won an even broader coalition of support for his bill than in the past, including the California Federation of Labor, which has made passage of the bill one of its top priorities.

Members of the Los Angeles City Council voted to support the bill by a vote of 11 to 0. Mayor James Hahn; Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese; and City Councilman Bernard Parks, former chief of police, have been solid supporters of the effort.

In 1994, the California State Legislature passed a law that would require California residents to provide a valid social security number and prove their legal status in the United States. Many organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), strongly criticize the measure saying those strict requirements have prevented thousands of immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses and obstructed the ability of working families to make a living, care for their families, and contribute economically to the state.

Cedillo’s bill would allow people to swear that they do not have a Social Security number and instead provide a federal taxpayer ID number. A broader range of immigrants has access to the latter.

While it is expected that the bill will be passed by the legislature, the big question is whether the Governor will sign the bill. While a handful of Republicans in the legislature voted for the bill in the last session, none have indicated support this year.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com