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No Driver's Licenses for Calif. Illegal Immigrants

By Kimberly Edds
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 24, 2004; Page A04

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) late Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have given as many as 2 million illegal immigrants California driver's licenses, saying the measure failed to provide sufficient security provisions at a time of heightened terrorism fears.

"This bill does not adequately address the security concerns that my Department of Homeland Security and I have, and I cannot support it," Schwarzenegger said in a brief veto message.

Ten states allow illegal immigrants to apply for licenses, and the issue has long been important to Latino lawmakers here. They accused Schwarzenegger of backing out of a deal to work together to reach a mutually acceptable bill.

"He chose to veto the best driver's license bill proposal in the nation -- one that strengthens national security and public safety while holding immigrants to the highest level of responsibility in the nation," said state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who sponsored the bill and three previous versions. Supporters say that illegal immigrants contribute to the state's economy and that the bill would have improved road safety by forcing them to take driving tests and get insurance.

But opponents argued the measure would reward people who are in the country illegally and could make it easier for terrorists to assimilate. Polls show a majority of California voters are against allowing undocumented immigrants licenses.

"Illegal immigrants are in direct violation of our federal immigration laws. These laws require them to be deported, not accommodated," Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock said.

In an effort to emphasize the added safety measures, the bill had been renamed the Immigrant and Security Act. Illegal immigrants would have to pay for extensive background checks and be fingerprinted. The cost would have been $141, compared with $24 for a standard license.

The legislature approved a similar proposal last year which then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed into law. Davis had long opposed the measure but changed his stance amid his tough, and eventually unsuccessful, effort to stave off being recalled.

Schwarzenegger opposed the measure. After his election last year, legislators repealed the law.

Some lawmakers said they voted for the repeal only after being told Schwarzenegger was committed to a new proposal with increased security measures. But negotiations on the proposal stalled when Schwarzenegger insisted there be an identifying mark on the license to distinguish the holder as a noncitizen -- a requirement rejected by Latino lawmakers as discriminatory.

Schwarzenegger pledged to veto the measure when legislators approved it Aug. 27 without the mark provision.

More than 20 states, including Virginia, prohibit illegal immigrants from getting licenses.

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