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Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Legal Niceties of Being Illegal

The debate about California's 'quasi-illegal' immigrants continues. Clearly the political postures are fairly predictable. It may not be unreasonable to suggest, for eg, that Davis sees votes in this one. On the other hand the security argument seems spurious, since registering - even for DL purposes - those who are in the country but unregistered should help not hinder security. Here in Spain the practice of giving a free health card to all who apply, regardless of status, means that the government has near-perfect statistics on undocumented immigrants. Indeed all of this does lead to an incredibly stupid bureaucratic tangle. One Bulgarian I know in Valencia - a dentist who lives by picking peppers and oranges - has the health card and is on the municipal register. He has no work or residence permit. When stopped by the local Guardia Civil they showed no interest in these latter details, but were simply concerned with why, after evidently having been in the country for over six months he had not changed his driving licence. For their pains he received a 500 euro fine, which represents about a months salary for him. A salary, of course, which he officially doesn't have. (BTW Spain does find itself, as we say here, between the sword and the wall on all this. The employers are well able to maintain a lot of otherwise uncompetitive activities with cheap (illegal) labour, while the government needs them (and the employers) to start paying social security contributions to keep the pensions system afloat.

A bill giving an estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants the ability to drive legally is on its way to Gov. Gray Davis after two days of legislative debate that showed the deep political rifts over illegal immigration. Opponents of the bill, approved 23-15 by the Senate on Wednesday and 43-30 by the Assembly late Tuesday, alleged it would help terrorists, while supporters accused its critics of racism. Although he has twice vetoed earlier versions of the bill, Davis has said he intends to sign this one, which returns the state to its pre-1994 practice of giving drivers' licenses to California residents without verifying that they are in the country legally. Davis aides have said the governor wanted to sign the bill all along, and that state law enforcement officials have grown more comfortable with it.

Many among California's growing Hispanic population have embraced the bill, and some critics say Davis changed his mind to pander to Hispanic voters for their support in the Oct. 7 recall election. One state senator, Republican Dennis Hollingsworth, said the bill would increase the nation's security risks "for a crass political purpose, to save a failed governor." Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor turned Republican candidate for governor in the recall election, said in a statement that he opposes the bill. "The federal government has expressed security concerns over this measure, and in a time of heightened national security, we should not undermine our nation's immigration laws," said Schwarzenegger, an Austrian immigrant.
Source: Kansas City Star

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