Batten Down the Hatches: Licenses for Aliens Debate Creating a National Storm

Published on September 12th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
August 22, 2012

During the last two decade, the question of whether California’s illegal immigrants should be issued driver’s licenses has divided the state. A ban against aliens operating motor vehicles has been in effect since 1993. Governor Jerry Brown, California’s Hispanic-dominated legislature (most notably Assemblyman Gil Cedillo) and other hard left Democrats including alien advocates like police chiefs and mayors want to lift the ban. Naturally, most illegal immigrants prefer to have a license than to drive without one as they currently do.

Everyone else is opposed. Most mainstream Californians consider giving illegal immigrants driving privileges is at best a mistake and at worst yet another alien entitlement while the state is waging a losing battle to avoid bankruptcy. The license fury brought down Governor Gray Davis. In 2003, two months before the special election to recall him, Davis publicly endorsed giving aliens licenses. Davis immediately plunged in the polls and lost in a landslide. His replacement, his successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed licensing legislation multiple times during his two terms.

Despite higher than national average unemployment (10.7 percent, the nation’s third worst), billions in shadow inventory that keeps the real estate market stagnant and home equity depressed, unaffordable university tuition, California is again geared up to debate whether 400,000 illegal immigrants should get licenses. Californians can blame President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Under Obama’s June 15 unilateral proclamation, illegal immigrants age 16-30 are being removed from the threat of deportation, given a two-year assurance that they can remain in the United States and have been granted work authorization.

In a statement earlier this week, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles acknowledged that it anticipates that DACAs will qualify for licenses. Still up in the air, however, is the administrative structure to make DACA licenses a reality.

The rub is how California might interpret federal law. Under DACA guidelines, qualifying applicants will receive a social security number and an employment permit that California could accept as evidence of “legal residency” which the state requires. But DACA doesn’t convert illegal immigrants into permanent legal residents. Their quasi-amnesty lasts only two years. Even the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that deferred action is “is only a temporary measure.”

Accordingly, DMV hedged its bets. In its statement which noted that “only certain types of federal immigration documents support the issuance of a California driver’s license,” DMV added that further state legislative or regulatory clarification may be needed if the DACA program generates new or different immigration documents that California has not previously recognized. Another showdown between California conservatives, frustrated citizens and the Latino Caucus is looming. Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly expressed outrage that Brown ignores the millions of Californians adamantly against licenses for aliens. Donnelly promised that the contentious subject would be debated hotly for weeks to come.

In the meantime, proponents will advance the same ridiculous arguments they’ve made for years—that having licensed aliens on the highways somehow makes roads safer and that without licenses aliens can’t drive to the jobs Americans supposedly won’t do like working in kitchens or in hotels.

Not every state is as alien friendly as California. Arizona, Texas and Nebraska’s governors, with more waiting in the wings to follow their examples, have flatly stated that they would not give licenses or any other public benefits to illegal immigrants regardless of whatever documentation they may present.

The nation can’t afford to waste time over a distracting argument about whether aliens are entitled to licenses. But that’s the slippery slope pandering to illegal immigrants leads to. For them, no concession is enough. The illogical demand for more entitlements always drowns out the rational reasoning that aliens don’t belong in the United States to begin with.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]

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