Legislature OK's driver's licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After years of setbacks, Democratic lawmakers and Latino activists are on the verge of seeing immigrants who are in the country illegally granted the right to a driver's license in California.

The state Assembly approved the bill on a 55-19 vote late Thursday, hours after the Senate also voted to pass it. Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement indicating he would sign it into law.

The Democratic governor said it will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally. He added that he hoped it will send a message to Washington "that immigration reform is long past due."

The approval on the final day of this year's legislative session was a surprise.

The author of AB60, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville, was prepared to put his legislation on hold until next year because of opposition from immigrant-right groups. They had objected to a provision that calls for the licenses to look different from regular licenses by giving them a special designation.

Several other attempts had passed the Legislature only to be vetoed by previous governors.

The bill will allow undocumented immigrants to come to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch and get a special driver's license which would be good only for driving purposes. On the back, there will be a special marker that would indicate the driver is undocumented.

Former U.S. Attorney Pete Nunez said if the bill is signed by Brown, it would pit California law against federal law.

"Federal law says they should be located, arrested and deported," he said. "People who are here illegally should not get anything."

"It's important for everybody to be able to have a [driver's] license as long as they pass a test," said immigrant rights advocate Enrique Morones.

Morones calls the bill a step in the right direction, and added, "The part we're not too happy with is what we call the 'scarlet letter'; the fact there's going to be an identification marking either on the back or the front of the license."

Morones said the special marker on the back of the license may also read: "This card is not acceptable for federal purposes. It is acceptable for driving privileges only. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits."

"Because that lends itself to possible abuse by certain people," Morones said.

Those who support the bill believe it will make streets safer because it will require immigrants to take a driving test and get insurance.

However, Nunez said, "The best way to make us safer is to deport those same people."

Some San Diegans said driving is a privilege that shouldn't be granted to those who broke the law coming here.

San Diegan Louie Uribe said, "It doesn't make sense because you're letting immigrants drive and they're not even supposed to be here."

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