EDITORIAL: Giving driver’s licenses to the undocumented keeps us safe

In Editorials, Opinion

The state legislature’s move to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is long overdue.

For more than a decade, attempts at such action have been thwarted by the fallacious argument that giving driving privileges to undocumented immigrants would be rewarding them for illegal behavior.

This line of thinking does nothing to address the fact that unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash.

The state legislature was simply responding to a report by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which recommends that the state take all measures necessary to reduce the number of unlicensed drivers on California’s roads.

Believing that the absence of this privilege will have a deterring effect on illegal immigration is not only outdated, but flawed.

Undocumented immigrants have been driving in the state regardless of their legal right to a driver’s license.

Allowing them the ability to obtain a license will give them the chance to purchase standard auto insurance, decreasing the chance of hit and run accidents and the number of unregulated drivers.

Assembly Bill 60 would allow the DMV to issue driver’s licenses to individuals who are not able to prove their legal presence in the United States on the condition that they satisfy all other qualifications for a license and provide alternative evidence of identification and state residency.

This is not to say that AB 60 is perfect.

The final legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown included a provision that would label driver’s licenses issued to the undocumented differently than regular driver’s licenses.

Instead of the letters “DL,” which is written before the driver’s license number, the letters “DP” will be written instead, signifying driving privilege.

Currently, 10 states issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. New Mexico and Washington are the only two of the 10 states that do not differentiate between a regular and undocumented licenses.

As Ruben Navarette from CNN points out, the special designation on undocumented licenses could amount to a “scarlet letter,” subjecting drivers to unwarranted scrutiny if they were pulled over, especially in a state like Arizona.

Still, civil rights groups like the National Council of La Raza, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and the California Immigrant Policy Center have expressed their support for the legislation, believing that the compromise was better than having no driving privileges, leaving to chance the possibility that an unlucky driver might have his or her car impounded and face arrest.

Though the legislation addresses an issue that has been plaguing the state, it draws attention to the problems that the state is forced to deal with as a result of federal inaction on immigration.

As Cal State Fullerton is a commuter school in Southern California, students and faculty are more likely to come across an undocumented driver on the road than their counterparts at universities in other parts of the country.

The Titan community cannot afford to wait any longer for Congress to take action. A provision at the state level to keep us safer should be emphatically welcomed and applauded.

The special designation on the licenses is disconcerting, but should serve as a reminder to all Californians that the work on immigration policy is still unfinished.

The governor has until Oct. 13 to sign the bill. He is expected to sign it today.

With AB 60 on the books, students can now rest assured when driving to school or back home, knowing that the trip will be safer now than it was yesterday.

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