By Domenico Maceri
It's not difficult to visualize the situation. The more than 2 million undocumented workers in California have to deal with similar circumstances on a regular basis. Sometimes it's a question of life or death but other times it's a question of simpler but nevertheless serious matters.In September of 2003, former Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation which would have solved the predicament for undocumented workers. SB 60 would have allowed any resident of California to obtain a driver's license regardless of immigration status.With pressure from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new governor, the California legislature repealed the law. Gil Cedillo, its chief sponsor, also voted for the repeal but promised new legislation will be introduced which will have Schwarzenegger's support.Opponents of SB 60 believe that granting licenses to undocumented workers poses security risks and would legitimize individuals who have committed a crime by entering the country illegally. What crime have undocumented workers committed? They entered the country illegally seeking minimum wage jobs.
Of course, people should come to the U.S. through legal channels but our federal government is incapable of providing rules for the movement of people from one country to another and people break the law.Have you ever broken a law? Have you ever used an illegal drug? Have you driven faster than the legal speed limit? Have you ever cheated on your taxes? Have you ever done something illegal? Does it mean that once you break a law you cease to be a human being and deserve no rights whatsoever?The answer is of course negative. When Californians passed the infamous Proposition 187 denying benefits to undocumented workers and their children, the courts overturned it. In essence, the courts ruled that the crime undocumented workers committed did not warrant the "justice" California voters wanted to administer.And the "crime" undocumented workers committed would not have been possible if companies did not tacitly cooperate.Undocumented workers are here because companies hire them. We all benefit from their presence. A study by the Rand Corporation found that undocumented workers are a net gain to our economy.It's not difficult to see why. They do work that most Americans would not. Certainly not at the wages they are given.And companies benefit from having a docile workforce. They certainly don't like unions which fight for workers' rights. People don't complain if they are in a precarious immigration status. There is always a chance the company may call the INS and you'd end up back in your home country. That would mean another 2,000 dollars to pay a smuggler to get back to another minimum wage job in the U.S.Some people who object to giving undocumented workers licenses do so because they want to control our borders. They are right. We should control our borders but that's the federal government's job.States with undocumented workers deal with the issue the best way they can. And giving undocumented workers licenses helps all of us because we then know who is on our freeways.
Many law enforcement officers believe that undocumented workers should be allowed to drive legally because safety would increase for all of us. Knowing who is driving on our roads makes the job of local and state police easier. People don't flee from a routine traffic stop if they have papers. Nor do they flee if they get into an accident. In addition, having licenses means that people qualify for insurance. In essence, since people are inside our tent, it makes sense to know who they are and be sure they do not represent a danger.
Because of safety concerns, many states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia allow undocumented workers to apply for driver's licenses.
Although rules vary slightly with each state, the basic provisions are similar. Instead of requiring a social security number and proof of legal residency, the Department of Motor Vehicles asks for a taxpayer identification number and other documents to determine the identity of the applicants.
Allowing people to drive legally will not increase illegal immigration. However, it will make us all safer.
Other Articles by Domenico Maceri
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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
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