Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) proposed legislation on Tuesday, in an unprecedented turn of events, that would allow undocumented workers to obtain driver’s licenses.
Gallegly drew up Senate Bill 411, the Keep Your Car Law, in response to a recent influx of calls from local farmers and factory owners, saying DUI checkpoints were entrapping their workers who were driving without licenses because they were “illegal immigrants.” Many local businesses were feeling the pain as many of their workers lost their cars at the checkpoints, having them impounded and being unable to get to work on time. Because living close to such factories and farms is either too costly, or housing is unavailable, workers’ only efficient mode of transportation is the car.
“While I staunchly believe that illegal immigrants cause more harm than good in this country, I can’t deny the fact they are living and working here, and that they aren’t going to be shipped out any time soon,” Gallegly said at a press conference. “Until we can figure out a proper way to deport them, I will do my due diligence to enable our local businesses to grow and prosper.”
Because the California Office of Traffic Safety (COTS) declared that 2010 would be the “year of the checkpoint,” local law enforcement agencies receiving yearly grants from COTS that specifically fund DUI arrest programs are conducting more checkpoints than in prior years. Ventura checkpoints have resulted in impounding 59 cars this year, more than three times the number of cars impounded for all of last year. In Oxnard, for the last fiscal year, 359 cars were impounded.
David Keith, spokesman for the Oxnard Police Department, says the legislation will help migrant workers keep their jobs and make the roads safer.
“We know there is a big problem here in Oxnard with drivers not having their licenses,” he said. “We also know 20 percent of all fatal crashes involve drivers who either don’t have their licenses or are driving with suspended licenses.
This new law would help decrease that statistic.”
Keith said that if the law passes, undocumented workers would not have their cars impounded as long as they have licenses and proof of insurance. Otherwise, anyone without a license would still be susceptible to having his or her car impounded.
Rosa Fernandez, 22, who works on the assembly line at a make-up factory in Oxnard, says she is excited about what the passage of this law could mean for her and her family.
“My parents came here 20 years ago from Mexico, when I was just a toddler,” Fernandez said. “My family and I having been living under the radar for two decades, teetering on the brink of deportation as we live so far away from work.”
Fernandez just recently got a job at the makeup factory, but because she lives in Santa Paula, getting to work by public transportation takes her about four hours, each way. Her mother also has a similar problem. Her mother works at a textile factory on the outskirts of Camarillo while her father works in the lemon orchards in Santa Paula.
Fernandez, who doesn’t have a license, drives her mother to work first, and then she goes to work at the makeup factory.
“Every day, I live in fear that our car will be taken away,” Fernandez says. “And now, with so many checkpoints, I don’t know how our family will survive if our car is impounded. We are grateful Gallegly has had such a change of heart.”
Tom, a local strawberry farmer who asked that his last name not be revealed, said this new law could drastically change his way of doing business and would be a great thing for the community.
“I lose about 10 workers a week, thanks to the checkpoints,” he said. “If they could legally drive to work, production would go up and we could focus on expanding.”
Tom, who pays his workers minimum wage, revealed that he doesn’t like employing illegal immigrants, but they are the only people who are willing to work labor-intense jobs for so little.
“I follow the laws, all except I know most of my workers came to this country illegally,” he said. “They are all on my payroll paying taxes that Americans get to keep because so many of them use fake social security numbers.”
The proposed legislation will go before Congress next week.
This story is one of many in our April Fool’s Day package this week.