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License Bill Gets Early Brushoff

Revised measure to benefit illegal immigrants is to be introduced today. Despite a background-check provision, the governor remains opposed.

June 02, 2004|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Six months after state lawmakers repealed newly won driving privileges for California's illegal immigrants, the volatile topic returned to the Legislature with a proposal to grant licenses to those immigrants who pass a criminal background check and are endorsed by a citizen.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Senate's Republican leader said they were not mollified by several concessions that Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) included in his revised bill, which was to be formally released today.

Their summary rebuff signaled another partisan divide over the issue, which played a significant role in last year's gubernatorial recall campaign and led the Legislature to repeal the law just three months after it was approved.

Unlike that law, the revised version of SB 1160 would charge illegal immigrants up to $146 for a driver's' license, more than six times the cost of a license for citizens. Much of the money would be used to pay for fingerprinting of applicants and federal and state background checks. Cedillo said the background checks would be similar to those that many types of professionals -- including lawyers, pilots and teachers -- undergo for employment.

In addition, immigrants would be required to have a current California driver sponsor their application on a written form. Sponsors could be family members, clergy, employers or other citizens.

In an effort to douse some of the passion incited by the subject of illegal immigration, the bill would require immigrants to pledge that they would apply for legal residency. Five dollars of the license charges would go to underwrite the state's naturalization programs.

"Immigrants are going to have a higher burden and a greater responsibility," Cedillo told reporters.

The bill also would require state agencies to filter out illegal immigrants from the lists of motorists eligible to serve on juries and obtain guns.

The bill includes several protections desired by immigrant groups. The licenses would in no way visibly identify the holder as an illegal immigrant, Cedillo said.

State agencies would not be permitted to turn any of the information over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which Cedillo said was essential to allay fears that getting a license could spur deportation investigations.

Cedillo had suggested the outlines of the bill in private discussions with aides to the governor in April. But those negotiations, which have been going on since the start of the year, failed to produce any compromise, prompting Cedillo to introduce the new bill.

The swift reaction indicated that Cedillo's efforts had not changed the minds of Republicans or talk radio hosts who elevated the issue during the recall.

Although Cedillo said the Legislature's Latino caucus would not delay passage of a state budget until this issue was resolved, Eric Hogue, a radio host on KTKZ-AM (1380) in Sacramento, said: "I really think it's nothing more than window dressing from the caucus to hold up the budget."

Margita Thompson, the governor's press secretary, said he does not support the measure because he is not convinced it will prevent people from obtaining licenses to create false identities. "The concepts that are included don't adequately address the governor's concerns about security," she said.

Dick Ackerman of Irvine, the Senate Republican leader, said that background checks done by U.S. authorities would not catch criminal records in Mexico and other countries.

"I'm not an expert in Mexican law, but that has not been as high a priority with their government as it has with our government," he said. "Our initial analysis is it is still very weak, assuming you adopt the initial premise that you should award illegal behavior with a California driver's license, which is still the No. 1 form of ID in the United States."

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