How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

LA City Council backs CA bill that would let unauthorized immigrants drive legally

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The Los Angeles City Council has adopted a resolution supporting a state bill that would allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, citing public safety. The bill has passed the state Assembly and moved on to the Senate.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to express its support for a California bill that would let unauthorized immigrants apply for driver's licenses. 

It's unclear whether the resolution will improve the bill's prospects. The legislation,  AB 60, cleared the state assembly in late May, and has moved on to the state senate. Its ultimate fate remains uncertain; the effort to permit unauthorized immigrants to get driver's licenses has a long and tortured history -- more on that later. 

AB 60  would allow people who don't qualify for a Social Security number to apply for a driver's license, allowing them to use alternatives such as a birth certificate along with proof of residence. The plan would allow many more unauthorized immigrants to obtain licenses; right now, only those with temporary legal status under the federal deferred action program may apply for licenses under a new law that kicked in last January.

California is one of several states to weigh driver's license measures lately. Some have recently adopted laws that would allow immigrants in the U.S. illegally to obtain them, Colorado and Nevada being the latest to do so. Other states have taken the opposite approach; for example, Arizona has moved to deny licenses even to those who qualify for deferred action.

Now to that history: In California, attempts to pass legislation that would let unauthorized immigrants obtain licenses go back nearly two decades. In 1993, a state law signed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson required driver's license applicants to provide a Social Security number and proof that their presence in the state was "authorized under federal law," which essentially barred people who were in the country illegally from obtaining a license.

Not long afterward, former state legislator (and current City Councilmember) Gil Cedillo began introducing bills to allow licenses for these immigrants. After some initial vetoes, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis signed Cedillo's SB 60 into law in 2003. But following the recall of Davis and the election of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the controversial law was repealed.

Subsequent attempts by Cedillo also failed to make it past the governor's office. Last year, however, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a limited bill from Cedillo that prohibits the state from denying licenses to people who obtain temporary legal status through deferred action, a federal program benefiting young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16.

The L.A. city resolution was sponsored by Councilmember José Huizar. It was approved unanimously, according to his staff.

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