Super Tuesday: The Safe and Responsible Driver Act

Opinion by James Stephens
Sept. 22, 2015, 1:11 a.m.

California Assembly Bill 60 (AB 60), passed in 2013 with the purpose of providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, has been in effect since Jan. 1 2015. AB 60 promotes a substantive argument as well as a quantitative argument.

Undocumented immigrants should not be given driver’s licenses. Giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses makes the statement that people who illegally immigrated to the United States can be given the same privileges as tax-paying citizens, which is based on a flawed process of thought. The main argument for AB 60 is that the bill allows undocumented immigrants to be able to acquire a driver’s license and then car insurance, which in turn would dissuade drivers, licensed and insured, from fleeing the scene of an accident. Also, the process of attaining the driver’s license would force drivers to receive vital education on road regulations and signage. However undocumented immigrants can easily drop their insurance once they receive a licence, to cut costs to their household. Also, they can just as easily learn how to drive in America on their own — access to that information is free online and at every DMV. Furthermore, having car insurance will not deter undocumented immigrants from leaving the scene of an accident because they have so much to lose once the police are contacted to file a report, which is a standard practice whenever there is an accident.

The quantitative argument for AB 60 is spurious as well. There is no significant correlation between the number of driver’s licenses administered to undocumented immigrants and the number of hit and run accidents, according to California DMV data and analysis from ongoing research from Stanford professors Laitin and Hainmeuller. So the very purpose for this iconic legislation is not even being fulfilled. The issue of immigration is far deeper ingrained than the band-aid type of legislation like AB 60 can fix. There should be a greater focus on research and funding into the issue of securing the state’s border, improving the immigration process and offering services to helping undocumented immigrants, who follow the law, find a pathway to citizenship.

To agree with my opponent’s point, offering driver’s licenses will not increase illegal immigration, as he has shown the two are not correlated. Also, I do not see offering driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants as a major national security issue. Undocumented immigrants could use the driver’s license for an I-9 form for employment and could potentially have a smoother path to getting into a position where they could plan some sort of terrorist attack, but that is a stretch for me to see as a premise against AB 60 and is extremely circumstantial. The main takeaway in opposing this type of legislation is in opposing rewarding people with the privilege of driving on roads paid for by taxpayers who have entered the United States illegally.

On a side note, the California DMV has had to open five new DMV locations as well as hire hundreds of new employees, increasing the dreaded bureaucracy of the DMV that tends to strike fear in the hearts and minds of many across the country.

Living in Salinas, California, picking in the strawberry fields and interning in California 30th District Assemblymember Luis Alejo’s office while AB 60 was in the process of being passed, I am lucky to have personal experience and relationships with families that will benefit from this bill. I understand the value in allowing families that are seeking a better, more prosperous life an opportunity to get to work and to get their children to school. But the state finding a way, when Congress will not, isn’t worth the price of the precedent that people can immigrate to California illegally and enjoy the privileges of living in the U.S. without earning them. Opponents of this legislation are not anti-immigration; they just disagree with the principles of developing more bureaucracy and providing immigrants, who did not go through the proper channels, with licensed driving privileges on publicly funded roads.

Contact James Stephens at james214 ‘at’

California Assembly Bill 60 (AB 60), titled The Safe and Responsible Driver Act, which took effect this year, gives any California resident, regardless of immigration status, the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license. Allowing undocumented immigrants to take driver’s education — to learn to drive our streets legally and safely — is an excellent public safety measure and a practical, humane piece of legislation.

California is home to two and a half million undocumented immigrants. On a given day these individuals might take to the roads to drive their children to school. Over 13 percent of California schoolchildren have at least one parent who is undocumented. They might drive to work, as a whopping one in ten workers in California’s labor force are undocumented. Many will drive to manual labor jobs  in agriculture or service; some, aspiring lawyers, will drive to take the bar exam, since all 40 licensing boards in California are now required to consider applicants regardless of immigration status.

Some, it can be argued, may take to the roads to traffic drugs or otherwise harm the populace. But the evidence suggests that the damage done by this kind of crime pales in comparison to the damage done by all these undocumented immigrants, unlicensed, driving on California’s roads. Here’s how.

There is strong evidence that unlicensed drivers, many of whom are undocumented, get in more accidents, and more fatal accidents. In part due to lack of proper driver’s education, unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash, according to a 2012 DMV study. Furthermore, one in five fatal crashes involves an unlicensed driver, according to a 2011 AAA Foundation study.

Already since AB 60 took effect at the start of this year, the DMV has received over half a million driver’s license applications from undocumented residents, who must now take a proper driver’s training course. A large portion of these applicants would otherwise have continued driving without proper training, resulting in the potential for thousands of fatal accidents. The number of non-fatal traffic accidents would likely decrease as well, saving Californians hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in costs related to property damage, medical expenses, accident-related congestion and loss of economic productivity.

Unlicensed drivers pose another problem: they’re far more likely to flee the scene of an accident, especially if they fear deportation. AB 60 seeks to reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents by filling the roads with more licensed drivers, who are far less likely to flee. Furthermore, it seems that AB 60 drivers, who are seeking licenses legally, are more likely to register their cars legally. To legally register your car, you need proof of insurance, which means AB 60 will also reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road — probably by the hundreds of thousands.

Driver’s licenses for the undocumented makes sense from a law enforcement perspective as well. As Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in support of AB 60, “Why wouldn’t [police officers] want to better identify people who are going to be here?”

The counter to Beck’s argument, in the style of Donald Trump, is: If a cop sees an unlicensed driver, he’ll soon discover that that driver is an illegal immigrant, at which point that individual can be deported. In a world of unlimited resources, that argument might work. However, California has neither the resources nor the political will to deport 2.5 million residents. Law enforcement must discriminate, so the question becomes: Would we rather deport the unlicensed driver caught speeding on the way to pick up her daughter from school, or would we rather deport serious criminals?

Simply put, The Safe and Responsible Driver Act allows law enforcement and our courts to focus resources on more serious crimes. This point is best summed up by the author of AB 60 himself, Assemblyman Luis Alejo: “If Congress isn’t going to act [by funding millions of deportations], this state will find its own way.”

Some anti-immigration groups have argued that AB 60 sends the wrong message, and that its leniency encourages more immigrants to enter California illegally. This is unlikely, as immigration trends in California have never correlated with driver’s license policy. Immigration into California surged in the years after undocumented residents were banned from driving in 1994, but since AB 60 passed in 2013, immigration into California has declined. Illegal immigration responds strongly to US economic conditions, so whether California takes a hard line against undocumented drivers seems to be irrelevant to immigration trends.

These critiques of AB 60 look petty when compared to the benefits of the law, in terms of economic savings and lives enriched and saved.

Contact Cory Herro at cherro ‘at’

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