Catholic, Buddhist Leaders Hail New Driver License Law

Catholic, Buddhist Leaders Hail New Driver License Law

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Catholic and Buddhist leaders in Los Angeles hailed the landmark measure granting California driver's licenses to people in the country illegally as an important commitment to immigrants and called on Washington to expedite the passing of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S.

"Driving is one of the basic necessities of life," said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez at a rally held on the day of the signing at Los Angeles City Hall. "So this new law is going to make a big difference for millions of people in their everyday lives. It will make it easier for them to get to work, to go to school, to go the store, to get to church. This bill will make our families, our communities and our economy stronger."

The law which was signed into law October 3 by Governor Jerry Brown goes into effect no later than January 1, 2015, and authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver's licenses to those in the country illegally provided they can prove California residency and pass the driving tests.

Bhante Ambalantota Kolitha, Chief Abbot of the Sarathchandra Meditation Center, North Hollywood, praised the measure as a “compassionate and wise decision by the Governor.”

“It will help a lot of undocumented immigrants drive around safely and without fear, especially in Los Angeles where a car is a basic necessity. Undocumented immigrants play an important role in the economy and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said the Buddhist leader whose congregation includes a mix of Sri Lankan and Hispanic immigrants.

He called the legislation a turning point, adding: “I hope the lawmakers in Washington will pass an immigration bill quickly to help millions of people who are waiting anxiously for a decision about their future."

The bill sponsored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Wastonville was approved Sept. 12 by votes of 28-8 in the California Senate and 55-19 in the Assembly. The licenses would have the initials "DP" (for driver's privilege), rather than "DL" (driver's license), and would state that the document "does not establish eligibility for employment or public benefit."

Driver's licenses issued under this law cannot be used as evidence of the holder's citizenship or immigration status or used as a basis for a criminal investigation, arrest or detention.

While thanking Governor Brown and Assemblyman Alejo for their "leadership and commitment to our poor and working poor, especially our immigrants," Archbishop Gomez called the legislation “still only a half-measure.”

"Our nation's immigration system is totally broken," he said. "Sacramento (California's capital) can't fix that problem. Only Washington can. We need immigration reform that keeps families together, that gives rights to workers, and that provides a generous path to citizenship.

Hassina Leelarathna is Editor of LA Beez.