SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday he favors issuing California driver's licenses to about 2 million undocumented immigrants but suggested the licenses should be used only for work-related purposes.
"I believe we can fashion a bill which gives people who have been here for a while and are contributing to our economy the right to drive to work, and does not compromise public security," Davis said.
He declined to elaborate on his thinking about limiting driving privileges. Currently, immigrants who cannot demonstrate that they are legally in this country are not qualified for a permanent driver's license.
The governor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), representatives of law enforcement and immigrant-rights advocates have been trying since last summer to craft a compromise bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get a driver's license, provided they are seeking citizenship, have obtained a federal taxpayer identification number and have made California their home.
Davis supported such a bill last year, Cedillo's AB 60, but the proposal evaporated in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it was learned that some of the hijackers had obtained fake driver's licenses in this country.
Davis, who vetoed a similar bill in 2000, has refused to support anything that might be perceived as relaxing California laws against terrorism. But he has agreed now to seek a compromise that both enables the immigrants to get a permanent driver's license and does not jeopardize public safety.
At an appearance Wednesday, Davis was asked about negotiations on the driver's license bill. He said there has been progress toward a compromise but repeated several times that qualified immigrants should be given the "right to drive to work."
Asked if the driving privilege would be extended to other circumstances such as going to a medical appointment or taking children to school, Davis indicated again he favors restricting a license to work situations.
But the governor's words caught fellow Democrat Cedillo by surprise. "We haven't seen that proposal," he said.
Cedillo said Californians want assurance that travel on the highways is safe, that drivers are properly tested and insured and that licensees are who they say they are and not criminals.
"I don't think people care whether a man is driving to work, taking his family to church or to a medical appointment," Cedillo said.