Opinions are divided over driver’s licenses for illegals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Opinions are divided over driver’s licenses for illegals

Megan Michelson

KINGS BEACH – A Mexican immigrant living here without legal documentation has many burdens, including the inability to obtain a California driver’s license. If she wants to take her children to the doctor or make a trip to the grocery store, she must wait for public transportation, walk – or drive without a license.

According to a poll released last month, a majority of Californians think it is best to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license. The Field Poll, an independent, non-partisan opinion poll, showed that 62 percent of the Californians surveyed rejected the idea, while 35 percent supported it.

The issue is divided across party lines, with 86 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats opting to deny immigrants the chance to gain driver’s licenses. It is even more divided along ethnic lines. Three out of four white, non-Hispanics opposed the idea, whereas Latinos supported the issue two to one. Of those Californians of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, 77 percent rejected the idea.

The poll, which has a margin of error of around 4.1 percent, surveyed 506 California adults between Feb. 8 and Feb. 17.

A voter-approved proposition in 1994 prohibited illegal immigrants from applying for licenses, which they had been able to do before the passage of Prop. 187. Former Gov. Gray Davis overturned the law a month before the October 2003 recall election by signing a bill to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

As part of his campaign promise, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger convinced the state Legislature to undo Davis’ new licensure law. State Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, reintroduced his license bill this year, which Schwarzenegger vetoed last year because he said it didn’t include adequate security provisions.

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Schwarzenegger has suggested, however, that he would support a plan to issue a different kind of license that marked the driver as an illegal immigrant.

According to the recent poll, opinions are split down the middle – 49 percent say yes, 48 percent say no – about the plan to issue a license that would allow immigrants to drive but would identify them as not being legal citizens.

A new bill currently working through Congress would prohibit states, including California, from granting licenses to undocumented immigrants by requiring all states to verify that applicants for driver’s licenses are American citizens or living in the country legally. Of those surveyed, 59 percent said they would endorse that kind of bill.

Although some local agencies offer free shuttles for those without licenses to get to doctor’s appointments or to receive emergency medical attention, Truckee resident Monina Vazquez said there are still many people and families left unable to access transportation.

“These people need to go to work, they need to support their families,” she said. “It is a humanitarian thing.”

It is also a safety thing, according to Vazquez. Many undocumented immigrants are driving without licenses or insurance, making fake licenses or traveling outside of California to obtain licenses. For Truckee-Tahoe residents, that means going to a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles office.

“If nothing else, they should have a special permit that lets them drive but identifies them as illegal,” she added.

Those who are speaking out against the right to drive for undocumented immigrants say it is a matter of principle and security.

“If they are illegal, they shouldn’t be here. That’s the biggest issue,” said Mavis Bowes, member of the Truckee Tahoe Republican Women’s Federation, who added that illegal immigrants are costing legal citizens expenses in education, medical funding and welfare.

“I don’t mean to be mean,” she said. “But these immigrants are causing real problems in our country.”

At Republican Sen. Dave Cox’s Sacramento-area office, which serves Placer County, there is strong opposition to any legislation enabling illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses.

“There are a number of security concerns,” said Cox’s communications director Peter DeMarco. “If you’re an employer, you ask for a driver’s license to verify work eligibility. If illegal immigrants get driver’s license, there is no verification.”