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Op-Eds, Editorials Agree: California Driver's Licenses for Immigrants Highlights Need for Federal Immigration Reform

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drive testLast week, the California state legislature passed a bill that will finally allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally; Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign it.  The bill is a big step forward in California, having failed in numerous legislative sessions in previous years.  It will allow immigrants to drive without fear of being pulled over, make roads safer by ensuring that more drivers are tested and insured, potentially decrease premiums for all drivers by reducing the rate of automobile accidents, and hopefully end the controversy over impounded cars (where immigrant drivers have their cars taken away by police when they are found to be driving without a license, even when they have committed no other crime).

A flurry of op-eds and editorials today applauded California and its legislature for making the move, and wondered why the U.S. Congress can’t embrace the same principles of reasonableness and practicality to pass immigration reform on the national level.

Here’s Ted Hesson at ABC News / Univision talking about the practical benefits of driver’s licenses for immigrants:

It’s safer to have licensed drivers than unlicensed drivers. And most states don’t allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a license, as we pointed out in July.

Here are some of the stats we cited:

People who were driving with an invalid license, had no known license, or whose license status could not be determined, accounted for 20 percent of fatal crashes from 2001 to 2005, according to “Unlicensed to Kill,” a 2008 report by AAA.

That means as many as one out of five fatal crashes could have been related to unlicensed drivers.

Here’s an editorial from the Los Angeles Times:

Late on the last night of the legislative session, California lawmakers passed a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. If the bill is signed by the governor, it will be an important and long-overdue step forward that will enhance public safety.

California legislators deserve credit for passing this bill, which we hope Gov. Jerry Brown will sign. After that, we hope Congress will enact comprehensive immigration reform. By legalizing the status of most of the country’s undocumented immigrants, that would make the roads safer in all 50 states.

And the San Francisco Chronicle:

While Washington dithers on comprehensive immigration reform, California is quietly moving forward. During the session, the Legislature passed multiple bills that reflect how important undocumented immigrants have already become to our society – and how important it is to find ways to help them integrate smoothly.

Some of the new legislation is likely to be controversial in different communities and parts of the state. But as a whole, the bills show how far California has come on the question of illegal immigration – and how the majority of Californians understand that immigrants, no matter their status, deserve the opportunity to contribute.

And Marcus Breton at the Sacramento Bee has a fantastic op-ed about how driver’s licenses in California are great, but what is really needed is immigration reform at the federal level:

Undocumented immigrants will have driver’s licenses in California, and it’s about damn time.

If that statement makes you angry, please direct your wrath in the right direction. Call your congressional representative and demand national immigration reform.

Don’t get mad at the immigrant, the little guy at the bottom of the food chain who is here doing jobs that you won’t. Don’t hate the college kid who was brought here without documentation as a child and now can’t contribute fully to the only country he or she has ever known.

In truth, it’s absurd that it’s even come to this.

But in the absence of federal immigration reform conferring legal status on workers that California needs, granting driver’s licenses to the undocumented is a nod by California legislators toward economic reality and human decency…

GOP legislators know that immigrants are needed in California. They know – or should know – that there aren’t enough legal visas to satisfy the demand for California labor. They must know that all the rhetoric about how the undocumented should go “stand in line” somewhere before coming here legally is pure hogwash. In the real world, there is no line for undocumented workers to stand in so enough of them can perform the work required by California’s economy.

So the California Legislature acted. Gil Cedillo, the former state legislator from Los Angeles, deserves much credit for tirelessly pursuing this issue for years. So does Watsonville Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who sponsored the driver’s license bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg also played a huge role. “The whole purpose of this bill is to end insidious discrimination,” he said.

It’s a great sentiment, but Steinberg and his colleagues know it won’t be true until immigration reform is fixed once and for all.