Legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses has been reintroduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.
The Safe and Responsible Driver Act would allow undocumented immigrants to get driving permits as long as they pass a background check and obtain insurance.
"It's a benefit for people to be able to drive to work," Alejo said. "It would be a tremendous benefit for the economy."
The bill, AB60, is similar to one sponsored by former Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who pushed for its passage at least seven times since 1998. Cedillo was recently termed out of office. Alejo said Cedillo asked him to pick up the mantle.
"We think the governor should sign the legislation," Alejo said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure allowing young immigrants receiving federal authorization to work in the United States to get driver's licenses. The law, written by Cedillo, is expected to benefit 400,000 young people.
It would be a good time to extend the benefit to all undocumented drivers on California's roads, Alejo said. Like Cedillo, Alejo insists the bill would make the roads safer by making sure everyone knows the rules of the road.
"Instead of pretending they're not here, that they're not driving already, sound policy allows them to be able to study for the exam, learn the traffic laws, pass the exam and obtain insurance," he said.
Allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses is a controversial topic and is fiercely opposed by opponents of illegal immigration. They say granting licenses is akin to rewarding illegal behavior.
Immigrants could get driver's licenses in California regardless of legal status until 1993, when legislation required all applicants to present a valid Social Security number to obtain one. Only two states allow the practice now: Washington and New Mexico. Illinois could be the third under a proposal to be voted on Wednesday.
Cedillo was able to get his bills approved by the Legislature at least three times, but twice they were vetoed by then-Gov. Gray Davis. Davis signed one of Cedillo's bills into law in 2003, in the midst of his recall election. The bill was repealed by newly elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger soon after he took office.
In addition to AB60, Alejo is co-sponsoring the Trust Act, a measure that will prevent local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal agents in detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are involved in a serious or violent crime.
A similar measure was vetoed by Brown at the same time he approved the driver's licenses for young immigrants.
"Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been deported under Secure Communities," Alejo said, referring to the federal program that requires local agencies to share information about people arrested. As of August 2011, most people deported from Monterey County under this system had committed no violent crimes.
The Trust Act was opposed by major law enforcement organizations.
With a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature, Alejo believes it is a good time to pass laws that would allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows.
"We should bring them into the fold — they should not have to be fearful, not have their cars impounded," Alejo said. "They're paying taxes, contributing to the economy. Now they should be able to obtain driver's licenses and make it safer for everyone using our roads and freeways."
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or email@example.com.