Illegal Aliens Battling for Drivers' Licenses in California

By Chris Rizo | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Sacramento ( - A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses in California may become law without Gov. Gray Davis' signature and despite the fact that the sponsor of the legislation now wants it changed in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Because the proposal by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo cleared both houses of the state Legislature and was not vetoed by the governor, it should automatically take effect Jan.1, says the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"It's very important that this law be enacted as soon as possible so people can apply for a driver's license, take the test and purchase car insurance," said MALDEF attorney, Hector Villagra. The organization plans to go to court, if necessary, to force the law into effect, MALDEF officials said.

Cedillo's proposal, backed by a throng of labor organizations, would allow undocumented aliens to use federally issued taxpayer ID numbers instead of the currently required Social Security numbers to get drivers' licenses.

Despite its passage in the both the Assembly and the state Senate, the measure was pulled off Davis' desk by E. Dotson Wilson,
the Assembly's parliamentarian, after Cedillo agreed to rework the bill.

Cedillo's original legislation drew intense criticism after the Sept. 11 attacks and amid news reports that undocumented aliens in
California had fraudulently obtained licenses to operate trucks and permits to haul toxic materials.

Opponents also charged that taxpayer ID numbers were unreliable and could open the Department of Motor Vehicle's system to fraud, thus complicating the efforts of law enforcement agencies, which use the department's database to help find fugitives.

Trying to ease those concerns, Davis and Cedillo agreed the legislation should be tabled until lawmakers could re-work the bill
in January, when the legislature reconvenes. Davis had vetoed a similar version of the bill last year.

Republicans in the state Senate have asked for an official legal opinion from the nonpartisan Legislative Council's office as to
whether the bill could have been legally yanked from the governor's desk after lawmakers recessed for the year. But state Senate
Republican Leader Jim Brulte also said the bill should not become law without the governor's signature.

Cedillo told the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this year that allowing undocumented residents to apply for drivers' licenses would improve safety on the state's roads and highways. Unlicensed drivers, he also pointed out, cannot obtain automotive insurance.

"All Californians should be allowed to make a living, care for their family, and contribute to California's economic prosperity," Cedillo said. "This is clearly an issue of public safety, simple economics and fairness."