Public Figures Support Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

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Tex Wells, El Vaquero Staff Writer
April 4, 2012
Filed under Features, Online Exclusive

Two of Southern California’s big guns, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, have spoken out in favor of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

“My personal belief is that they should be able to” have licenses, Beck said in a Los Angeles Times story, published Feb. 22.

Baca, who advocated for driver’s licenses for immigrants in 2002, has taken the same position a decade later.

“As long as they have been in the state for a number of years and they haven’t been convicted of any major crimes, they should be allowed to have driver’s licenses,” Baca said in a Los Angeles Times story Feb. 23, the day after Beck announced his support for the licenses.

While both lawmen favor driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, each man wants those licenses to have some kind of icon or marking to indicate that the holders of them are not American citizens.

“California is trying to have an ideal illegal license like that. They want to have a little section that says the driver is undocumented. There is going to be a record of all people like that,” said Jose Hurtado, president of Voices Organizing Immigrant Communities for Educational Success, or VOICES

The primary reason that Beck favors such licenses has to do with safety.

“The number of hit-and-run accidents would decrease if illegal immigrants were licensed because they would not have to fear being caught without licenses at accidents,” Beck told a group of reporters and editors in the same meeting that led to the Feb. 22 story.

“Since illegal immigrants don’t have driver’s licenses, they know it is illegal right now so I think they’re scared most of the time and are afraid of going to jail,” said Karen Diaz, a political science major who is Hurtado’s administrative assistant.

“If they get licenses, they won’t have to look over their shoulders every five seconds,” said Hurtado. “They can focus on the road in front of them and cause fewer accidents.”

Presently, there are 11 states that provide illegal immigrants with driver’s licenses. The American Resistance website identifies them as Alaska, Connecticut. Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

Some of those states will have to modify their laws to conform to the REAL Act, which was introduced by the Sept. 11 commission which did an in-depth study of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

The federal REAL Act of 2005 established new regulations for the issuance of driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards, which are now enforced by the Department of Homeland Security.

Counterfeit driver’s licenses are not hard to come by in Los Angeles. They can be readily obtained on Alvarado Street, across from MacArthur Park, in central Los Angeles and on certain streets in Huntington Park. This is common knowledge to the people who visit or shop in these areas.

“I have four children in Oaxaca and my mother to feed,” said Mauricio Fernandez, 39, who lives in a downtown Los Angeles Skid Row hotel and works in a warehouse in South El Monte. “I have to get to work, man, and the bus won’t get me there. My boss knows I no have papers but I do my job good and he pays me good”

“I got my driver’s license in Huntington Park,” said Fernandez, who sends money home to his mother and children every payday.

People are going to drive with or without driver’s license, according to Beck. Others have said the same thing.

“There are a lot of people who are driving illegally because they are illegal and they can’t get driver’s licenses but they are going to continue to drive because they need to go to work and they need to drive their children to school,” said Hurtado.

Diaz echoed Hurtado’s conclusions.

“First of all, parents are going to have to be able to take their children to school and go to work,” she said.

Another reason people are going to drive with or without licenses is the insufficiency of public transportation. Bus and train service in Los Angeles and surrounding communities is not nearly as efficient as it is in San Francisco and a number other cities around the nation.

The most practical reason of all might be the economy.

Initially, the money aid for driver’s licenses would go into the state’s coffers. Also, there would be more cars sold, more insurance policies would be purchased, more gasoline would be purchased and the plethora of peripheral entities would get their pieces of the fiduciary pie.

That notwithstanding, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants has been a controversial and divisive issue in the nation for more than a decade. It is especially true in California because the state has the most people from other countries whose visas have expired or who were undocumented to begin with.

When he was mayor of New York in 2007, Eliot Spitzer said, in reference to illegal immigrants, “We’re not going to pretend that they do not exist.” He was speaking to a reporter from Newsday.

Licenses for illegal immigrants are still a hot button issue in California and across the rest of the nation.

There are those who claim that the undocumented make so little money that even if they could, somehow, pass the examinations to get the license and come up with the money to buy a used car, they wouldn’t have enough money left to buy insurance.

“Many undocumented people who have cars and are low-income for the lower costing insurance policies with low monthly payments,” said Hurtado, in refuting that claim.

Another push against driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants is the threat of terrorists obtaining driver’s licenses and going undetected. In support of that argument, they point out that all of the 9/11 terrorists with the exception of one had driver’s licenses and he had a state-issued identification card. Still, both Diaz and Hurtado dismissed that supposition as lacking validity.

“I think, in my own opinion, even if the terrorists don’t have driver’s licenses they are going to attack or bomb somewhere,” said Diaz. “It doesn’t matter if they get the driver’s license or not because they can still do damage.”

Among the 11 states that award driver’s licenses, Utah gives its illegal immigrants work permits along with classes in English and civics, according to Corruption Chronicle’s website. Those who work steadily, pay their taxes, obey all laws and remain accident free can continue to receive public benefits and tuition for the local colleges and universities.

There are some, however, who are not so compassionate.

Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico, wants to halt the issuance of licenses to foreign nationals and she would like to recall the 80,000 that have been issued because their holders were not required to prove their immigration status when they received the licenses.

“Letting them have driver’s licenses would reward them for sneaking into the country,” said Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff.

“You should not legitimize an act that is illegal,” said Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

Closer to home, B. A. Joharigian, a business major at GCC, said, “They should have to go to the DMV and take both of the tests and pay for them if they want a driver’s license. When we go down to their country, we have to obey all of their laws. They should have to obey all of our laws when they come here.”

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