Gov. Davis Signs Bill Granting Licenses to Undocumented Residents

California Governor Gray Davis has signed into law the bill passed by the state legislature granting drivers' licenses to undocumented residents. The bill allows state residents to apply for a driver's license using a state-issued identification number rather than a Social Security number. This will allow the thousands of undocumented California residents to obtain licenses. Gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante supports the law. Arnold opposes it, as do the other major Republican contenders for Governor. It is estimated that there are up to 2 million undocumented persons in California.

To obtain a license, an applicant must show a federal taxpayer identification number (but not a Social Security number, which requires lawful residence and permission to work) and other documents, such as a foreign passport, foreign driver's license or an identification card issued by foreign consulates, such as the matricula identification cards issued by the Mexican government.

We wrote about this earlier today and it provoked a lot of comments, many asking what benefits the bill would provide.

The American Immigration Lawyers' Associaton (AILA) says:

• Licensing noncitizens enriches our domestic intelligence by allowing law enforcement authorities to verify and obtain the identities, residences, and addresses of millions of foreign nationals. Restrictive licensing will deprive authorities of this information.

• The proliferation of fraudulent documents that will result from restrictive licensing will impede law enforcement efforts by contaminating intelligence regarding who is present in the United States.

This excellent position paper by the National Council of La Raza argues that law will improve public safety by helping ensure that all drivers pass a driving exam and have insurance. They say that contrary to arguments that the bill will pose a security threat, the law will assist law enforcement by enabling it to identify undocumented residents.

The Rhode Island ACLU points out:

“The new policy will only make our roads unsafe for the community as a whole. Drivers’ licenses promote safe driving. Undocumented immigrants who are unable to obtain a driver’s license, but who still need to drive, will simply drive without having passed the required exams, and without carrying auto insurance. Accidents involving uninsured drivers increase the cost of auto insurance for all drivers.

“To the extent the state’s focus on undocumented immigrants is meant as a post 9-11 security measure, it is worth noting that only a few of the 19 September 11th hijackers were in the country illegally and therefore would not have been able to obtain a driver’s license. Ironically, then, this bill will simply make it harder for law enforcement officials to find undocumented immigrants living here, thereby impeding crime prevention and investigation. As long as there is a substantial population of undocumented immigrants in the state, it makes little sense to deprive them of a license solely because of their immigrant status.

“In sum, the DMV should not be in the inappropriate role of serving as INS agents. Whether a person should get a drivers’ license should be based solely on whether they are qualified as drivers and are residents of the state . Indeed, determining whether a person is in the country illegally is no simple task. There are over 40 different statuses of persons who are lawfully in the country but do not have a ‘green card.’ In addition, there are many people whose status has not been determined by INS. Not all these people will have documents to verify their status.

Additional cogent arguments in support of the law can be found here.

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