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Get real on Real ID

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Gil Cedillo should stop playing political games with legislation that would make the highways safer for Californians.

June 06, 2009

It's time for some real talk about Real ID. That's the perennial legislation from state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) to permit illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. The latest version, SB 60, was approved by the Senate this week and now heads to the Assembly, where it is almost certain to pass. Then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto it, and Cedillo will be hurt and surprised. He will note that the bill meets every objection previously raised by the governor and that it meets or exceeds minimum security standards set by the Department of Homeland Security.

For example, the licenses would be for driving only, distinct in design from those that authorize air travel and access to federal buildings. Applicants from among California's estimated 2 million illegal immigrant adults would have to undergo fingerprinting, background checks and other security measures. Federal Real ID legislation allows states to issue two types of licenses -- a Real ID driver's license that can be used for identification purposes, and a driving-only license for those unable or unwilling to meet identification requirements -- and Cedillo's bill is in lock step with national policy.

Although the senator is in the right and the governor is in the wrong -- the state's roads would be safer if all drivers were required to pass a test and get a license -- both deserve a measure of opprobrium. This tiresome legislative minuet mainly serves two purposes: Cedillo, who represents a largely Latino district, gets to be a hometown hero to his constituents; Schwarzenegger avoids political suicide. But this isn't leadership.

In the past, we have called on the governor to sign this legislation -- not because we see it as a "perk" or "favor" for illegal immigrants. We understand the cognitive dissonance created by arguing for state authorization of an activity for people who are not in the state legally. It is not the state's role to solve the nation's immigration conundrum, but the responsibility to provide for the safety and security of California's residents does devolve to state officials. And California has a serious problem: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it leads the nation in hit-and-run fatalities. Not all of these accidents are caused by illegal immigrants, of course, but anecdotal evidence from law enforcement experts suggests substantial involvement.

We'd like to see Cedillo do more to make his case for Real ID to California. Leadership is convincing a broad cross section of the public that the interests of a minority are also the interests of the majority. Being right isn't enough -- he needs to be persuasive. As for the governor, we ask him to stop looking for reasons to oppose Cedillo's legislation. Californians need the governor to explain that the sole purpose of Real ID is driver safety, and then to sign this bill -- even if it is unpopular -- because it's the right thing to do.

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