In October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 9 immigration bills into law. This stands in marked contrast to the U.S. House of Representatives which has yet to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill since the Senate passed one on a bipartisan basis last June.

One bill that Governor Brown signed will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses. This legislation was strongly supported by the law enforcement community. At present, many of the undocumented fear that if they are involved in a traffic accident or if they are pulled over for a moving violation, they will be turned over to ICE and deported. Starting on January 1, 2015, they will be able to apply for Drivers Licenses. Law enforcement officials predict the number of hit and run accidents will decline, and that more of the undocumented will be able to purchase insurance.

Governor Brown stated: “When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice. No longer are undocumented people in the shadows.”

It should be noted that the new driver licenses will contain markings indicating that the holder is undocumented. Thus, they cannot be used to qualify for governmental benefits. However, undocumented drivers will no longer have to worry about their cars being impounded or being turned over to ICE for minor traffic offenses.

A number of other states have also enacted similar law this year.

In addition, Governor Brown signed the Trust Act which prohibits local enforcement officials from turning people arrested for minor violations over to the Federal Government for deportation. Many states have balked at the so-called Secure Communities program which is supposed to allow ICE to place immigration holds on those convicted of serious offenses. Unfortunately, many persons charged with minor offenses have been turned over to ICE and deported, even though the charges against them were dropped. Interesting enough, former DHS Security Janet Napolitano urged the Governor to sign this legislation.

It is time to recognize that most of the people that we call the “undocumented” are good people who have come to the United States to find work and support their families. Most of our agricultural industry as well as our hotels, restaurants and many other businesses would close down immediately if the government suddenly deported all of those lacking the proper paperwork. The current administration has deported more people during the past 5 years than were deported in the previous 50 years, but an enforcement-only approach will not solve the problem.

Throughout most of U.S. history, there were no quotas of the number of people who could immigrate to our country. These days, the number of people on waiting lists to legalize their status number in the millions, and many of them live and work in the U.S.

I am a former INS prosecutor, and am certainly not an advocate of “open borders”, but the present situation calls for immediate action. Deport those who are security risks or have serious criminal records. Let the rest pay fines, file income tax returns, learn English and wait in line for green cards. Provide a pathway to citizenship. It’s time to be realistic and I am proud that California is leading the way.

As Governor Brown stated when he signed the new drivers license bill into law, “Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.”


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