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LAPD chief, mayor favor driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

February 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is sticking with his position that undocumented immigrants should be able to get driver's licenses. While the chief's getting some high-profile support, an exclusive Eyewitness News poll shows many people do not agree.

"As chief of police, public safety is my number-one priority," said Beck. "I think that it would increase public safety in the state of California, if the state would consider doing what it once did prior to the mid-1999s: licensing undocumented aliens."

Chief Beck says granting undocumented immigrants provisional driver's licenses will mean they'll be obligated to carry insurance and valid identification, and register their vehicles in the name of the actual owner.

Beck adds the move will cut down on hit-and-run accidents because drivers who may have once fled the scene of minor accidents won't feel the need to run.

And Beck isn't alone on the issue. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca echoed support for the move Thursday, as did Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"Providing a license to drive just makes common sense," said Villaraigosa. "And I know it riles some, but it's one of those divisive issues that really has no place in public policy."

The issue is polarizing, and critics concerned about illegal immigration are speaking out.

"Exactly what does the little piece of plastic in your wallet prevent other than creating a de-facto amnesty? That's the desire. And I don't want the police chief of Los Angeles engaging in the conversation the amnesty," said Tony Katz, a local Tea Party activist and radio host.

"This is some sort of panacea that I think is simply pandering to a lobby that is in fact arguing for rights of illegal immigrants," said Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates Inc. "I think it's dangerous to have law enforcement engage in that."

According to Beck, the current law denying licenses to illegal immigrants, put in place in the mid-1990s, isn't helping to curb illegal immigration.

But persuading Southern Californians of that may be an uphill battle. In an exclusive Eyewitness News poll conducted by Survey USA, viewers were asked: "Should illegal immigrants be allowed to get a California's driver's license?" Thirty-five percent said "yes," while 61 percent said "no."

Beck is not the first LAPD chief to support the issue. Former chief Bill Bratton also voiced his support for the idea.