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SANTA CRUZ ? A state bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get California drivers licenses may soon have the support of some local governments.
The county Board of Supervisors and the Watsonville City Council will consider resolutions of support for the bill today.
Backers of the bill say it is a matter of social justice, because it would help people working low-paying jobs ? such as farmworkers and those in service jobs ? and that the state?s roads would be safer because more drivers would be tested. They add that it would also help currently illegal motorists buy insurance.
Opponents, however, say allowing an illegal immigrant to get a driver?s license would reward someone for breaking the law. Existing law prohibits the state from issuing a driver?s license unless the applicant has a Social Security number.
Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat, would repeal that requirement and enable undocumented residents to get a license if they pass the state driver?s test and furnish a taxpayer identification number or other identification approved by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
That would recast the law to the way it was before 1994, when license requirements for immigrants were stiffened during Gov. Pete Wilson?s administration.
In a letter to their colleagues on the county Board of Supervisors, Supervisors Tony Campos and Mardi Wormhoudt wrote that being able to legally drive a car is crucial to an immigrant?s economic well-being as well as to the safety of others.
Campos said many of the immigrants who would benefit work picking fruit or cleaning hotels, tasks that are the backbone of the area?s tourist and agriculture economy.
"If we expect them to do the work nobody else wants to do, we should have the common decency to let them have a driver?s license," Campos said.
He added that uninsured drivers will sometimes leave the scene of accidents because they lack a license and insurance.
Watsonville City Councilman Ramon Gomez had a resolution of support placed on tonight?s meeting agenda. He could not be reached to comment Monday.
Supporters of the bill say loosening requirements would help an estimated 2 million immigrants in the state, and that the bill would improve safety by testing drivers, many of whom already are on the road.
An immigrant from Mexico, Lorenzo Jijon, is expected to speak to the Board of Supervisors today.
An agricultural engineer in Mexico, Lorenzo moved to this area after he lost his job. He now works to support his family in Mexico and is learning English.
"I am frustrated that I have not been able to get a California driver?s license so that I can drive to my work, meetings and classes and start my own business," he said in a written statement.
He bought a car last year, with the seller helping him to get insurance. But now he is unable to renew registration and is riding his bicycle to work.
Lorenzo is a member of the Watsonville group Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, comprised mostly of religious congregations, which is pushing local governments to support the bill and voice that backing to lawmakers.
"It?s an issue that affects us all on the Central Coast," said Barbara Meister of Power in Action.
The measure has the backing of an array of labor unions as well as the Personal Insurance Federation of California, which represents five auto-insurance companies.
The United Farm Workers union backs the bill and plans a series of marches around the state beginning this week to build support. One of the marches is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Beach and Main streets in Watsonville.
"(Drivers) have to risk it sometimes," said Efren Barajas of the UFW in Watsonville. "That?s a big problem not just for them, but for all of us."
Some law enforcement agencies also back the measure, including Santa Cruz County Sheriff Mark Tracy.
"By providing licenses to all residents, local law enforcement will be better able to identify individuals during routine stops and investigative interviews," Tracy wrote in a letter of support for the bill.
Critics say the bill facilitates and encourages illegal immigration and is a bad idea at a time when the state?s resources are strained. Easing immigration-related laws only burdens California?s finances and environment, said Edward Tabash, a board member of the Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization.
"We can?t continue to give inducements to people to violate our laws," Tabash said.
The bill is expected to be taken up by the Legislature after its members reconvene from a summer recess Monday.
Gov. Gray Davis vetoed similar legislation last year.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS! They aren't even here legally! How fucking stupid can our government be? If you are going to move to America, speak English first of all. I think it should be illegal to have a spanish channel, let alone wasting my time at an ATM asking me if I want English or spanish. Nothing in this country makes sense, everything contradicts itself...
-------------------- You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it. ~ Adrian Rogers