Friday, August 17, 2012

Immigration muddle

Boston -- President Barack Obama has created what looks to be a 50-state muddle as local officials are left to grapple with the consequences of his unilateral rewriting of the nation’s immigration policy.

Now make no mistake, we’re with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and News Corp. [NWS] head Rupert Murdoch (the former owner of this paper) in their call for genuine immigration reform that will contribute to the country’s growth. The two men were in town Tuesday to make their pitch for just such a new and dispassionate look at the issue.

But Obama’s election year epiphany that he could implement his own version of the DREAM Act by executive order, granting at least a temporary amnesty to young illegal immigrants, has left states to sort out what exactly that will mean.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program yesterday began accepting applications from illegal immigrants under the age of 31 who were brought here prior to age 16, can prove they are either in school or have graduated or entered the military and have no serious criminal offenses on their record. In return for a $465 filing fee, those approved will get work permits and a Social Security number.

Now there is a school of thought that with a legal Social Security number there’s nothing to prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license or applying for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. This being Massachusetts — where the governor actually vetoed a provision in the state budget requiring drivers prove legal U.S. residency to obtain a motor vehicle registration — you can bet that will happen in a heartbeat (also by executive fiat no doubt). Other states are unlikely to be as generous.

So any guesses as to where young illegal immigrants are likely to gravitate? Arizona? Texas? Florida? Not real likely. How about the state where someone hands them a shiny new driver’s license and a bargain education?


Young illegal immigrants will be eligible for California driver's licenses

California will issue driver's licenses to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants once the Obama administration grants them work permits, the state Department of Motor Vehicles says.

The state's decision is the opposite from Arizona's, where Republican Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday afternoon signed an executive order outlawing driver's licenses for anyone who benefits from the new federal deportation relief.

The starkly different responses from neighboring states show that the benefits of the new federal directive could vary depending on where young immigrants live.

The Obama administration left it up to the states to decide if they will issue driver's licenses and other state services to the young people brought to the country illegally as children but now eligible for temporary work permits.

Arizona was the first to say no, and California -- home to more than 400,000 young immigrants expected to qualify -- the first to say yes.

A 1993 California law banning driver's licenses for illegal immigrants remains in place, but the DMV will treat as "temporary legal residents" anyone who qualifies for the federal deportation relief program, meaning the state ban no longer applies to them, DMV spokesman Mike Marando said Wednesday.

"California law is not changing. California is and remains a 'legal presence' state, however those applicants approved by (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) will become temporary legal residents," Marando said.

That did not sit well with Southern California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia.  "I think there's going to be a huge debate right here in California over that very issue," said Donnelly, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration. "The vast majority of Californians are adamantly opposed to giving driver's licenses to illegals."

The federal government will give qualifying applicants an employment permit and Social Security number that can be used to prove their legal residency at the DMV, Marando said.

Immigrant advocates celebrated California's move and denounced Arizona's.  "Not having access to driver's licenses gives them less opportunity to move around freely without fear," said Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the United Farm Workers Foundation. "It has a heavy impact."

Being able to drive is essential for many California and Arizona workers, she said, especially farm workers who travel long distances to follow the crops.

"In the Central Valley, there isn't much public transportation," she said. "They don't have access to the BART system. A lot of times, they end up driving in large vans where they get charged on a daily basis, sometimes exorbitant amounts of money."

Some states already allow illegal immigrants to drive and others have no formal policy, but California is among the majority outlawing licenses to people who cannot prove their legal residency.

Many illegal immigrants drive in California anyway, with no license, despite the risk of deportation, criminal charges, car impoundments and expensive penalty fees.

In 1993, California prohibited issuing driver's licenses to people who couldn't prove they were "a citizen or legal resident of the United States under federal law." Signed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, the driving ban was a precursor to 1994's voter-approved Prop. 187, which sought to exclude illegal immigrants from public schools and other services.

Judges overturned most of Prop. 187, but the driver ban has lasted nearly two decades despite some Democratic lawmakers' perennial attempts to overturn it.

A short-lived repeal of the 1993 license ban was one of the last bills signed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis before voters recalled him in 2003. Just weeks after he took office, incoming Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature reverted to the ban.

It should remain in place, said Donnelly, who added that he believed both the Obama administration and California officials were waving "a magic wand" to grant benefits.


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