One major argument supporters of granting specially marked driver’s licenses to immigrants living in California unlawfully is the need for these individuals to use cars to get to jobs. However, there is a disconnect between this rationale for the driver’s license bill and the reality of federal law.
Assembly speaker John Perez supported AB 60, the driver’s license bill, “so they can drive to work.” Governor Jerry Brown threw his weight behind the bill saying in a statement that it would “enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally.”
Yet, Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that the federal government is conducting a “New Hunt for Illegal Workers,” according to the headline of the story.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is conducting so-called “silent raids” by auditing businesses in the restaurant, food processing, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture and other industries. They review employees’ documents to determine if workers are lawfully in the country.
While California’s new driver’s license law may allow workers to drive, the feds are more interested in documents such as social security numbers. If they find fake IDs workers must quit if they cannot produce legitimate papers and employers are fined.
This can wreck havoc with many companies not to mention the workers who are out of jobs. Merely having a California driver’s license will not change the immigration status of workers as far as the federal government is concerned. If the feds enforce the reported audits there will be no jobs for the workers so the argument that people need the licenses to get to work has a huge hole in it.
But, that’s the point of the legislation, says Gov. Brown.
He accuses the federal government of “foot-dragging” on immigration reform and suggests California’s move to issue driver’s licenses will help move Congress toward adopting reforms.
Even some observers of the new federal action to disclose illegal workers argue it is a strategic move by the Obama administration to convince the business community, especially those businesses and industries affected by the “silent raids,” to come down on the side of immigration reform.
Others view it differently. A former ICE official told the Wall Street Journal, “The latest audit push demonstrates that the government is not suspending its enforcement efforts even during the debate on immigration.”
Some California Republicans in the legislature have already pitched their tents with members of the business community urging “undocumented residents to earn their way to full citizenship” according to a letter fifteen Republican legislators sent to the California Republican congressional delegation.
Far fewer voted for the driver’s license bill, although it did pick up a couple of votes from the GOP side of the aisle.
The question is will this vote by the California legislature spur the action the governor and others are looking for or create a backlash in Congress to stand more firmly against immigration reform?