Column: Let Them Have Licenses

Tex Wells, El Vaquero Staff Writer

Let’s cut to the chase: Illegal immigrants should be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses in California.

Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck announced his support of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants during an interview with a group of Los Angeles Times reporters and editors on Feb. 22.

Beck said he favors driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants for reasons related to public safety.

“The number of hit-and-run accidents would decrease if illegal immigrants were licensed because they would not have to fear being caught without licenses at accidents,” said Beck.

No direct connection has been established between hit-and-run accidents and unlicensed drivers. Beck may have statistics to support his suspicion.

Fear is a factor in hit-and-run accidents as well as accidents in general in which at least one driver is an illegal immigrant.

“If they get licenses, they won’t have to look over their shoulders every five seconds,” said JoseHurtado, president of Voices Organizing Immigrant Communities for Educational Success (V.O.I.C.E.S.). “They can focus on the road in front of them and cause fewer accidents.”

V.O.I.C.E.S. is a Glendale Community College club, one of whose mission is raising funds forscholarships for low-income immigrant students.

The debate over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants has gone back and forth for more than a decade.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called for driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in 2002. Rebuffed, he spoke out again 10 years later when, on Feb. 23, 2012, he announced his continuing support for driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

“As long as they have been in the state for a number of years and they haven’t been convicted of any major crimes, they should be allowed to have driver’s licenses,” said Baca.

The thinking of these two, top law enforcement professionals seems to go hand-in-hand with that of some GCC students who recognize the needs of these would-be citizens.

“First of all, parents are going to have to be able to take their children to school and then go to work,” said Karen Diaz, co-president of V.O.I.C.E.S.

Almost as important as getting the children to school or to day care is being able to get to work on time.

Illegal immigrants, for the most part, have come to California seeking work or to find better paying jobs.

They have to go to work so many of them will just drive without licenses to get there. Others will purchase fake driver’s licenses from one of the two hot spots in Southern California where both driver’s licenses and identification cards are a cottage industry.

Fake state identification cards can be had for about $25 and the going price for fake driver’s licenses is $50.

“I got my driver’s license in Huntington Park,” says Mauricio Hernandez, a warehouseman who lives in a downtown Los Angeles skid row hotel and works in South El Monte.

Hernandez, who drives a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro, says the only ticket he has ever gotten was for an expired parking meter.

“I have four children and my mother in Oaxaca,” said Hernandez. “I have to get to work and the bus won’t get me there. My boss knows I no have papers but I do my job good and he pays me good.”

Hernandez is a dedicated family man who sends money to his mother every payday.

Beck says, correctly, that people are going to drive with or without a driver’s license. As long as they’re going to do it anyway, they might as well pay. And they will pay.

Legalizing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants could well be one of the economic shots in the arm that the California budget needs. They could be given the same deal that international students get.

Suppose they paid only $250 for the initial license and $100 to renew it annually.

According to numbers compiled by the United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Emigration Statistics, there are 2,600,000 illegal immigrants in California. If only half of them obtained driver’s licenses, that would make a big dent in the budget deficit.

Do the math.