Politics & Policy

Alien Resurrection

California activists rant over illegal-license repeal.

If you believe the press releases, there’s a holy war being waged in California today.

It’s not the one you’re liable to think of, though: This “war” is over illegal immigrants and drivers’ licenses in the Golden State, one of the lightening-rod issues from the recall election earlier this year.

Last Wednesday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger followed through on a campaign promise and repealed the state’s illegal-immigrant driver’s-license law (SB60). A desperate Gray Davis had signed the legislation to court Hispanic voters–a move that ultimately failed. Schwarzenegger’s repeal was much more welcome: Two-thirds of Californians thought the license law was “bad public policy.”

But not Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). Lopez and MAPA are leading an “economic strike” today to protest SB60’s revocation. So outraged are they by this infringement on illegal immigrants’ perceived right to a license, they are encouraging “the Latino community to not go to work, not shop in the stores, and not send their children to school. In other words, [to] not participate economically… [to] use [their] individual and family economy as an instrument of social struggle for the well-being of [their] family.”

According to Julie Rodriguez, an organizer with the Cesar Chavez Foundation, this is more than just a political issue. Regarding a similar protest last Sunday, she told a reporter: “It’s a pilgrimage to make the statement that, look, immigrants are the backbone of our labor, the backbone of our society and, with that, immigrants are demanding certain basic human rights.” Like drivers’ licenses…for illegal immigrants?

For the pro-illegal-immigrant activists, there is no separating the possession of a driver’s license from the most fundamental civil-rights struggles. Oppose the now-repealed law and you are, to quote the activist website SaveSB60.com, “evil” and “anti-immigrant.” Speak against it, and you spew “hate and venom.” In a press statement, Lopez even tries to link the Latinos’ plight with American slavery.

The reality is a lot less colorful, of course. Denying illegal immigrants drivers’ licenses is no racist, right-wing plot. Lopez himself admits that “a considerable percentage of Latinos indicate disfavor with a law to give a driver’s license to persons who are not legal residents of the U.S.” And though SaveSB60.com claims “the conservative and right-wing drumbeats have been blaring to repeal SB60″ ever since the recall, they should drop rhetoric for basic math. For example, in the state senate, the bill to repeal the license law passed 33-0, with no debate. The senate has 25 Democratic senators and 15 Republicans; six Democrats did not vote, and one Republican was absent. This means that 19 Democrats voted to repeal SB60, while only 14 Republicans were behind its revocation: It looks like the Left is the real villain here.

Moreover, Lopez and Co. ignore the issue at the heart of the license debate: Illegal immigrants are, by definition, criminals–they are not law-abiding immigrants who respect the U.S. and her rules and regulations. The activists do California’s more than 200,000 yearly legal immigrants a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

The organizers of Friday’s “economic strike” also seem not to realize that the issue of drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens carries implications that reach much farther than Sacramento, and are much more serious than work stoppages. We are in the midst of a war on terror, after all; as an effective I.D. card within the U.S., a driver’s license gives potential terrorists state-sponsored mobility. Representative Christopher Cox (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has called SB60 “a giant leap backward in the war on terrorism.”

But don’t tell that to the pro-SB60 types. From the “Talking Points” section of SaveSB60.com: “Security has never been an issue related to a driver’s license prior to 9/11/01. This is now being used as a pretext to deny undocumented immigrants a driver’s license.”

Clearly September 11 is not a date of great importance for supporters of the “economic strike.” But to Lopez at least, December 12 is: “We have chosen December 12th to launch our first economic strike because of the symbolism represented for all Mexicans and Latinos–a day of special reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mother, our banner and protector in this struggle to defend SB60 and our families against the new attacks.”

That’s the real danger in this crusade: the infidels who think that criminals shouldn’t be rewarded with driver’s licenses.

Meghan Clyne is an NR associate editor. Until recently, she had a California driver’s license. She is not an illegal immigrant.


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