Yesterday, Arizona’s controversial immigration legislature was signed into law.  This piece of legislation makes illegal immigration not longer a federal crime but a state crime.  It requires police as opposed to federal agents to make arrests and check the immigration status of individuals that look suspicious to them.   The law requires immigrants to carry alien registration documents on them at all times.  Citizens who think their cops are not vilgent enough are encouraged to sue their cities and or counties, and no city or county may remain a sanctuary where the law is not enforced.  It essentially turns Arizona into a police state.  It is clear that the issue on hand is no longer one of just driving but a broken immigration system.  The passing of this legislature is making national headlines and has civil rights groups in an outcry declaring it racial profiling.  Arizona argues that illegal is not race but a crime.

Lawmakers in Washington and California are backed into a corner with this volatile issue.  Democrats and Republicans alike are doing a delicate dance to not anger their electoral or individual base.  Yesterday, “7 members of the LA City Council signed a proposal for a boycott, calling for the city to ‘refrain conducting business or participating in conventions in Arizona.” ( LA Times)  Proponents of the legislation argue that the state was forced into action by Washington’s failure to secure the US borders and solve the nation’s thorny illegal immigration problem.

This is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever passed.  It has the potential of setting a precedent nationally on illegal immigration, as well as spurring an uprising and bloodshed.  Again, what is the solution? Paul Rodriguez suggests the implementation of a program similar to that of the WWII Bracero program.  The Bracero program simply provided diplomatic notes to contract workers from Mexico to do manual and agricultural labor.  Rodriguez contends that we do not need to give citizenship but simply a work permit of sorts; it is the only way to prevent bloodshed in the future.  This is an extremely volatile situation coming to a head now.

In regards to my initial concern, driving, with better enforcement of vehicle codes and stricter regulations we can keep our roadways safe. I encourage Governor Schwarzenegger to pass legislation which keeps past offenders of the roadways.  The greater problem of our broken immigration problem is one that I do not know the right solution for. I agree with Rodriguez that if we do not find a solution soon this situation is doomed for an explosion.

The upcoming Republican primary In November 2010 stirs up the issue of illegal immigration between candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman. Both candidates take a tough stance on illegal immigration as with Republican Party lines but attack the issue in different ways.

Steve Poizner is currently the California Insurance Commissioner and began his career as an entrepreneur of technology companies is Silicon Valley for 20 years.  So far the Poizner campaign has two illegal immigration themed ads that connect the dots between illegal immigration and the state’s budget crisis.  The television spot released on March 23, 2010 shows Poizner standing next a car on an unbalanced embankment, “We all know California is about to head right over the cliff,” says Poizner in the advertisement.   He then states, “Take illegal immigration, politicians have been afraid to tackle the problem.  As Governor, I will stop taxpayer benefits for illegal immigrants.  If necessary I’ll bring it you as a ballot initiative.”  Poizner has a tough no tolerance policy on illegal immigration, but the issue is not this black and white.  Where is the line between saving the budget and denial of basic means for survival, do individuals residing here illegally even have rights?  There are a couple of the tough questions we must answer.   What is clear is that driving is not inclusive in social services and no matter what they should NOT be on the road.   My opinion on the extension of social services is more lax, I don’t want to want people living below the poverty level but on the other hand, do not want to encourage illegal behavior. Where is the line?

Meg Whitman, former Ebay CEO and Poizner’s running mate counters him and address her stance on illegal immigration. She states Poizner “talks tough but actually praised George Bush’s plan to give illegal immigrants Amnesty. “  Poizner contends that Whitman is really the one who is “Pro-Amnesty,” which she denies but in really she is seen as the weaker candidate on the issue.  In an interview Whitman says that she would have voted against Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative banning the extension of social services, including healthcare and education to illegal immigrants.  The measure passed with 54% of the vote but was declared unconstitutional in federal court.

Whitman contradicts herself by bringing on board former Republican Governor Pete Wilson as her campaign chair.  Wilson is regarded as the face of Proposition 187, he supported this measure as Governor.  He was appointed to the Whitman campaign despite the outcry from the Hispanic community, who views Wilson as public enemy number one.  By having Wilson join her campaign, Whitman is expected to lose any support from Hispanic groups.  The fact that she is willing to risk the Hispanic vote to win on illegal immigration is the clearest indicator of the issues power. So what will happen in November? The outcome is up to us and who we think can better tackle this difficult problem.

In earlier posts I have dissected the issue of not only illegal aliens driving but also the problem at large.  It is important to get an over view on current California politics regarding this because many of these issues are governmental policy. By understanding the current mentality on illegal immigration we can take the temperature for the upcoming primary election In November 2010.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s stance on illegal immigration has significantly vacillated during his tenure.  He began by winning the Gray Davis’ recall election by overturning Senator Cedillo’s 2003 bill extending drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.  Schwarzenegger has since vetoed the same bill in 2006 and 2009, again present by Cedillo.  As mentioned earlier, in regards to the latest version of the bill in 2009 he stated that he would be open to signing the legislation if there were adequate security precautions.  The Hispanic special interests groups are increasingly powerful and percentagewise the largest sector of the population in California.  It is rumored that when his term as Governor expires in November, Schwarzenegger is interested in running for the US Senate on behalf of California, with this is mind it is extremely important for him to keep the Hispanic vote.

Although Schwarzenegger stated himself that illegal immigration has contributed at least $4 billion to the state’s $24 billion budget deficit, in the interview below he does not take a clear position on illegal immigration.  This interview was conducted in February 2010 by Greta Van Susteren, Fox News Host. This is an excerpt specifically addressing illegal immigration:

VAN SUSTEREN:  You talk about construction here in the state of California. What I read, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that there’s a large number of undocumented people who make up the construction industry here in California. I also read that California has an enormous illegal immigration problem. To what extent does is that — first of all, is that true? Secondly, to what extent does that create an additional burden on California and its chances for recovery?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, as you know, we have strict laws that you can’t hire anyone that is here undocumented in the state…

VAN SUSTEREN: You can or cannot?

SCHWARZENEGGER: You cannot.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there’s…

VAN SUSTEREN: … certification? Do you have to certify?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, there are some people that really are very closely watching that, and others are not. So I’m sure there’s people that break the law, and all those kind of things. But the fact of the matter is, yes, it does have — create an extra burden on our economy and also on our budget situation.

But at the same time, that is not the reason why we have an economic downturn, you know, worldwide. I mean, there just was a crash that happened worldwide. It had an affected on the different countries all over the world. And now the key thing for us is to slowly rebuild, but it’s not going to be the comeback as we have seen in the last recession. This has been the biggest recession in history, I mean, since the Great Depression, literally. And I think that that — to pull out of that will take some time. I would say that at least in the next two, three years, we will be struggling getting back where we were.

Also, in January 2010, Schwarzenegger suggested building cheaper prisons in Mexico to house illegal immigrant prisoners now incarcerated in California as one way to help the state’s struggling economy.   He states that the annual cost for incarceration of illegal immigrants in California is roughly $880 million.  It is clear that Schwarzenegger’s politics are all over the map. He takes a tough stance on illegal immigration but must maintain the Hispanic vote.  I guess this is what politics are all about, trying to make everyone happy not necessarily feasible solutions.  We will continue to see this issue make headlines with the upcoming November election between Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman.

Beyond the issue of not only driving without licenses, illegal immigrants are notorious for driving under the influence.  The crux of the problem is rooted in cultural differences and individuals who have not assimilated American social norms on drinking and driving.  The most frightening part is that many of these intoxicated illegal drivers are habitual offenders who either flee the scene or give different names for each incident until they’re finally caught.  In 2007 nearly 400 illegal immigrants were convicted of driving while impaired and of course without a license.  Many of these offenders had extensive contact with the judicial system and managed to elude immigration officials until a fatality occurs. Dozens of innocent children and adults are killed annually by drunk illegal immigrant drivers and something must be done.

Let’s take a look at the deeper cultural phenomenon that precipitates driving under the influence in Latinos.  Several years ago I spent a month in Mexico visiting a friend in Puerto Escondito, a small surfing town on the Pacific Coast. I was extremely shocked to see that not only were people there driving after drinking, they would crack open a Tecate while driving.  This is unimaginable in the United States but there it’s a part of life. Latin American culture has a much more liberal view on this than American, it is a culture based around social drinking.

Generally speaking illegal aliens are unassimilated Hispanics and only know their own cultural norms, hence, many times, indifferent to drinking and driving.   The repercussions of this is seen in data showing that Hispanics are arrested for drunk driving in numbers far exceeding their percentage of the population.  These facts determine that not only are illegal immigrants not conforming to US standards but often times they celebrate the cultural norms they came across the border with.   For example, In Stockton, CA a report shows 54% of all arrests for drunk driving were Hispanic men even though they only make up 35% of the population.

So what is the solution? In 2008 proposed legislation “Sara’s Law” sought to require law enforcement agencies throughout the state of California to notify Immigration and Customs enforcement when a person who gets arrested for driving under the influence causes bodily injury or property damage exceeding $600 and cannot provide valid documentation of their legal status.  This bill was named after Sara Cold, a mother of four, who was struck by a drunken illegal immigrant as she loaded her son’s bikes into the car.  The severe blow crushed her legs, leaving her partially paralyzed.  The illegal immigrant who hit her had a previous intoxicated driving conviction, no license, and a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit. Unfortunately this bill was defeated by the California Assembly leaving repeat illegal alien drunk driving offenders on the road as opposed to deported.  I am in full support of resubmitting this bill and believe it is necessary to ensure the safety of our roads.

California State Senator Gilbert Cedillo is the driving force behind legislation giving illegal aliens’ drivers’ licenses.   Cedillo has attempted to pass this legislation 9 times since 1998.  In 2003 his bill was actually passed into law by former Governor Gray Davis.  This was Davis’ last attempt to save his job through keeping the Hispanic vote.  Instead, it backfired and during the recall campaign Schwarzenegger repeatedly promised that if elected he would press the Legislature to overturn the law and ban drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, which he followed through on.  Davis became the first Governor in state history to be booted from office.

Despite overwhelming opposition of this legislation by California voters, it continues to reappear authored by Senator Cedillo.  He contends that by extending the benefit of drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens it will help alleviate safety concerns.  These safety concerns are that if you do not have a license then you cannot have insurance, by providing the ability to get a license it would educate a deter liability.  Licenses would also provide more information about who is living in any given community, help undocumented residents better understand driving laws and road rules thus keeping bad drivers off the road.  Cedillo has a lot of support on this rationale, but as with the strong majority of the California voters, my opinion differs.

In reality what Cedillo is doing is continuously fighting for benefits to which criminals are not entitled.  Entering the United States illegally is a felony offense.  By giving illegal immigrants’ drivers’ licenses is offering governmental approval of their illegal immigration status, which can lead to further illegal immigration.   It is also a national security risk if undocumented immigrants are allowed such licenses.  On a side note, those individuals who are in the process of pursuing citizenship are not considered in violation of the law.  I am specifically addressing those who are residing in the US unlawfully.   Again, I want to further reiterate that driving is a privilege not a right.   To counter the argument that extending this benefit to illegal aliens would help reduce safety concerns it would instead prove our government to be weak and laws not to be taken seriously.

Last year Senator Cedillo again presented this legislation. Governor Schwarzenegger said that he would be open to signing the bill if it contained sufficient security precautions and if the license clearly identified the holder as an illegal immigrant (UCB Study).  There is no reason whatsoever to give benefits to those breaking the law.  It can be argued that illegal immigrant driving is inevitable so we should just regulate it, but that is condoning their behavior and setting a precedent of tolerance for unlawful behavior.

The most recent way law enforcement officials are penalizing those driving without a license is by catching them at sobriety check points and then impounding their vehicle for 30 days.  To recover an impounded vehicle owners have to pay between $1,000 to $4,000 in tow, storage, and fines.   Statistics show that owner’s abandon their vehicle roughly 70% of the time.

Controversy over this policy came into being when The New York Times published the article “Sobriety Checkpoints catch Unlicensed Drivers” in February 2010. There are strong are arguments for and against this policy. Those against it insist that police are unfairly targeting the Hispanic communities, and the state is taking advantage of the underprivileged to make money through the fines associated with this policy in light of the current economic crisis. Although, in regards to any traffic violation fee this argument can be made.   They feel that punishments for non- DUI offenders may distract police from their mission of stopping those driving under the influence.   California state senator Gil Cedillo is one of the most prominent figure heads in the fight against this policy. He recently introduced a bill which would exempt undocumented residents from having their vehicle impounded if they get caught driving without a license.  His rationale is that police should be busy enforcing more important driving violations.  Presenting this kind of legislation proves his desire for special treatment of undocumented residents and rewarding illegal behavior.

It is my opinion that DUI checkpoints should continue to be used to catch unlicensed drivers in addition to DUI offenders.  It is a proven fact that unlicensed drivers reek havoc on the California roadways, as mentioned prior they have a higher percentage of causing a fatal accident as well as leaving the scene of an accident.  They are a danger and threat to all motorists.

The consequence of impounding unlicensed driver’s vehicle for 30 days I am not completely sold on as the right course of action. I understand that it immediately keeps them off the road but does not inhibit driving, just prevents them from driving their current vehicle.  When an individual is stopped for a traffic infraction or at a DUI checkpoint if they do not have a legal form of identification immigration officials should be called on the spot.   In regards to specifically targeting the Hispanic community, the checkpoints are step up the areas with the greatest amount of motorists driving under the influence. The purpose of using sobriety checkpoints to catch unlicensed drivers is to kill two birds with one stone, get drunk and unlicensed drivers off of the road to protect the safety of law abiding citizens. In support of this a poll last year states:

73% of Americans believe law enforcement officers should check immigration status during traffic stops. (Rasumasson March 2009)

This only further supports the consensus that by regularly checking individuals immigrations status when they do not have proper identification can act as a deterrent to keep undocumented residents without licenses off the road.

To gain further insight and better understand the cultural dynamics behind the issue I had the opportunity to speak with Paul Rodriguez, a celebrity comedian and one of the most influential Hispanics in America.

Paul is Mexican born American standup comedian and actor. He produced and was featured in the original “Latin Kings of Comedy.”  Comedy Central ranked him 74th of 100 greatest stand-ups of all time.  He has performed voice-over form films and TV series such as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” and “King of the Hill.”  He’s had an extensive filmography and television career and is also part owner of The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.

Many of Rodriguez’s comedy specials involved serious issues facing the Latino community and known for his charity work.  He was voted one of the most influential Hispanics in America and awarded the “Ruben Salazar Award” by the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

He is also chairman of the California Latino Water Coalition and was the driving force of the recently signed water bill that will have great impact on the residents of California. This is a bill that many organizations have been trying to make happen for over 40 years. Governor Swartnegger also appointed him to the California Water Committee.  Starting Cinco de Mayo week Paul is taking over Wayne Newton’s spot at the Tropicana is Las Vegas with his show, “The Whole Enchilada.”

I began the conversation by asking Paul what his opinion is on the reason why illegal immigrants insist on driving without a license and without insurance.

His response, which I paraphrased is as follows: There are two kinds of people in the world, those with cars and those without. Mexicans would rather pool all of their money together to buy a car then not have one at all. The mentality of Mexicans from Mexico is a car is a status symbol.  You would rather walk then take public transportation; Latinos don’t want to brag about being on the bus.  If you see my performances many of my jokes are based on stereotypes and stereotypes are based on truth.

In Mexico, it is the culture to live outside the law. It is cultural to drive without a license. I don’t think I know or have ever known anyone in Mexico to have insurance; there is no such thing as insurance in Mexico. It is not as much economics but it is the heritage of living outside the law that is passed down to the children.  In Mexico City there is an old saying, “That on one side of the street are the police and on the other side are the gangsters, it’s better to walk toward the gangsters.” There, the cops are just another person to get over.  Actually, My Uncle, once when he was pulled over by a highway patrol man gave the officer $10 because he didn’t know better. In Mexico, when you get stopped you just give the officer 10 pesos and you’re on your way.  What the illegals don’t understand is what they’re doing wrong.

Paul goes even deeper into the heart of illegal immigration issue as a culturally taught phenomenon.  He says this is not directly related to driving but is the real problem behind it all.

He says:  The heart of the issue is the way history is taught in Mexico vs. the United States.   All Mexicans are taught is that the 5 northern states are a stolen part of Mexico.  The illegals do not feel that they need to assimilate or they are doing anything wrong because they believe that it is their land. The children are taught that the border is only an obstacle to cross to re-establish their roots in their land.  They see themselves as Mexicans not Americans, and as bad as Mexico is, as bad as it treated them, they would rather be in Mexico.  This is an extremely deep feeling and mentality.  Some of my Mexican friends say I’ve sold out because I call myself an American, a coconut- brown on the outside, white on the inside.

This is an extremely dangerous situation that the US will one day have to face. The illegals are becoming an extremely powerful part of the population as their children are born here and will have voting rights. Politicians are afraid to face the issue because their careers will be over if they lose the Hispanic vote.   Even now in LA, every other radio station is a Spanish station. They feel this is still Mexico and they are going to take it back.  Americans don’t see it coming. The children are taught to resent whites because they stole their land, and they’re taught the desire to take it back. The reality is the Mexicans stole it from the Indians. It is a very deep deep mentality that there is a score to settle.

I asked Paul if he had ever talked about these issues before:

He responded:  I have never talked about them because no one wants to listen. You will not find any study or statistics on it because it’s a mentality. I hate myself for sounding like one of those minutemen but something has to be done. The real issue is not driving, it’s an invasion.