Dan Walters: California’s immigrant license bill sets up big conflict
09/18/2013 7:14 PM
09/18/2013 7:19 PM
On the final night of the 2013 legislative session last week, lawmakers passed a landmark bill to allow illegal immigrants – perhaps as many as 1.4 million – to obtain California driver’s licenses.
One provision of the bill almost blocked action.
Labor unions and some other groups objected to a requirement that the new licenses carry what a staff analysis calls “a recognizable feature on the front of the card, such as the letters ‘DP,’” that would differentiate them from licenses of drivers who are legal residents of the state.
The bill also says a license must declare that it cannot be used for official federal purposes, such as flying, and “does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration or public benefits.”
Critics of that provision said it could lead to discrimination against those who obtain the licenses, even though other language in the bill specifically says that the licenses cannot be used for criminal investigations and prohibits employers and others from discriminating against license holders.
Despite those objections, the bill was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who had indicated in advance that he would sign it. Thus, beginning in 2015, illegal immigrants who otherwise qualify by passing tests and providing proof of insurance can legally drive.
A day after the bill’s passage, the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article about a new federal crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is sending audit notices to about 1,000 businesses in states with large immigrant populations. Employers can be hit with stiff civil and legal fines if they’re found to have knowingly hired illegal immigrants.
This, then, is a potential scenario:
Someone applies for a job that requires driving, and the employer asks to see the applicant’s driver’s license. The “DP” and other information on the license reveal that the applicant is an illegal immigrant.
The new state law says that the employer cannot discriminate against the applicant for that reason and runs the risk of civil damages if the applicant is rejected.
Yet, if the employer hires the applicant in compliance with state law, the business then becomes an outlaw in the eyes of ICE for knowingly employing an illegal immigrant.
Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Brown said he was willing to sign the driver’s license bill to send a message to Congress about the need for immigration reform.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal crackdown on employers is aimed at ramping up heat from the business community on Congress to pass immigration reform.
Such reform is sorely needed. Meanwhile, however, state and federal politicians are using illegal immigrants and those who might employ them as political pawns.
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