No Drivers' Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants in California

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Sacramento ( - A hotly contested bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses in California was vetoed Monday by Gov. Gray Davis, who was concerned that the bill could compromise homeland security.

"The tragedy of Sept. 11 made it abundantly clear that the driver's license is more than just a license to drive; it is one of the primary documents we use to identify ourselves," the Democrat governor said in his veto message.

"Unfortunately, a driver's license was in the hands of terrorists who attacked America on that fateful day," Davis continued.

During months of negotiations with the bill's backers and law enforcement officials, Davis insisted that the bill contain adequate safeguards, including background checks for applicants, and that state officials cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal agency that oversees immigration maters.

In the end, though, supporters' concessions fell short of Davis' expectations.

In California, undocumented immigrants have not been able to get drivers' licenses since 1993, when the state Department of Motor Vehicles began requiring all drivers to have a Social Security number.

In Assembly Bill 60, Los Angeles Democrat Assemblyman Gil Cedillo sought to change that law so illegal immigrants in the process of legalizing their immigration status would be able to get a license.

Instead of requiring a Social Security number, his proposal would have allowed the use of a federal Taxpayer ID number, which can be obtained regardless of legal residency.

Cedillo estimated that if signed, his bill would have helped to as many as 1 million of the estimated 3 million illegal immigrants in California, allowing them to drive legally and get insurance.

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, a Republican, was among the state lawmakers who admonished the Legislature's Democratic majority for supporting the bill, especially since some of the Sept. 11 terrorists are known to have used fraudulently-obtained Virginia driver's licenses.

Mountjoy said the bill would wrongly confer quasi-citizenship to illegal aliens.

"People who enter this country illegally should be sent back to their country of origin, and should not be rewarded," he said.

Other critics argued that depending on Taxpayer ID numbers is unreliable and could open the DMV's databases up to fraud, thus complicating the efforts of law enforcement agencies that use the system to track down fugitives.

Two years ago, Davis vetoed a similar bill. And a proposal sent to him last year was tabled amid criticism after the Sept. 11 attacks, and amid news accounts that a group of undocumented aliens in the state had fraudulently obtained drivers' licenses to operate trucks and obtain permits to haul toxic materials.