The California State Assembly approved a last-minute bill allowing illegal immigrants to receive drivers’ licenses, a bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signaled he will sign into law, the Sacremento Bee reports.
“This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally,” Brown said. “Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration is long past due.”
“This is a moment, members, that years from now you’re going to look back on,” sponsor Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo said in his closing remarks.
Alejo hopes to prevent illegal immigrants from getting arrested and having their cars impounded when police pull them over and discover they are both unlicensed and undocumented.
A 2012 study conducted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, however, found that unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash than licensed drivers, and that impounding vehicles is the most effective means of preventing future deaths and costly accidents. A similar AAA study conducted in 2011 found that unlicensed drivers were five times more likely to cause a fatal accident, and more likely to flee the scene of the crash.
The DMV study particularly found that the higher risks associated with unlicensed drivers had not been affected by a 1994 law prohibiting issuance of licenses to illegal immigrants — suggesting the risks are behavioral and would not be solved merely by licensing the unlicensed.
The DMV study noted that “unlicensed drivers who are ineligible to become licensed under this law are just as hazardous as drivers who are unlicensed for other reasons. If they were truly safer drivers, it would be expected that their increasing representation among unlicensed drivers after the law took effect would be associated with a concurrent reduction in the fatal crash overinvolvement rate for unlicensed drivers as an overall group, which isn’t supported by the study findings.”
California law does, in fact, stipulate that police impound cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days if drivers could not produce a form of I.D., proof of insurance and vehicle registration. But because illegal immigrants were more likely to drive while unlicensed than U.S. citizens were, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to ignore the law in the spirit of fairness.
“It’s about fairness. It’s about equal application of the law,” LAPD police chief Charlie Beck told a Los Angeles TV station in May.
One resident of Los Angeles County, Don Rosenberg, balked at the LAPD’s decision. An unlicensed driver, who had been allowed to retrieve his car after being pulled over, killed Rosenberg’s son in a 2010 car wreck and tried to evade arrest.
“It’s more important that people who are in the country illegally get to drive than it is that people who are here get to live,” he told Fox News.
The licenses provided to illegal immigrants will feature distinguishing markings, which lawmakers say will at once prevent discrimination and satisfy unnamed federal requirements. California holds the largest population of illegal immigrants in the country and its budget deficit is a projected $16 billion.