California Assembly Passes Bill Giving Drivers' Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

The California Assembly has passed a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses, an issue that has worked its way into the debate surrounding the attempt to recall Gov. Gray Davis (search).

The measure would allow undocumented immigrants to submit a federal taxpayer identification number or some other state-approved form of identification to the Department of Motor Vehicles instead of a Social Security number.

Democrats who backed the bill said the measure would improve public safety by helping ensure that all drivers pass a driving exam and have insurance. They argued that as many as 2 million illegal immigrants are driving without proper licenses and that fake licenses are readily available.

Davis has vetoed two similar bills since he became governor, citing law enforcement concerns, but he has said he will sign this one.

After he vetoed the measure last year, the Legislature's Latino caucus refused to endorse him for re-election.

The governor's aides say Davis wanted to sign the bill all along and that a number of law enforcement officials are now comfortable with the legislation.

Republicans accuse Davis of agreeing to sign the bill to try to win Hispanic votes to defeat the recall and say it raises raise security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Republican Assemblyman Doug La Malfa (search) called the bill "an invitation for voter fraud."

But Democratic Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (search) said the bill would actually help law enforcement by giving them a way to identify illegal immigrants, by providing "a database on persons who currently cannot otherwise be tracked."

After Tuesday's 44-30 vote in the Assembly, the measure goes back to the Senate for consideration of amendments.