Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and I have something in common. We're both Southern California natives who grew up in the 1950s when the state deservedly earned its nickname, "Golden." Beck's from Long Beach, I'm from Santa Monica — but I'm sure our memories of California a half a century ago are similar.
Given our shared history, I'm baffled why Beck would be so foolish as to endorse driver's licenses for illegal immigrants as he did two weeks ago.
No one, not even Beck, can argue that giving aliens driver's licenses wouldn't further incentivize more illegal immigration. As it is, California offers plenty of benefits. Parents enroll their children in K-12 schools and can access emergency health and pre-natal care.
But California offers a deal sweeter than most other states. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Dream Act, which allows alien children to attend California state universities with access to taxpayer funding. Brown has also quashed E-Verify, which confirms an employees' legal working status. Without E-Verify, illegal immigrants can keep jobs that unemployed Californians might want.
Adding to the mystery of why Beck is such an impassioned illegal immigrant supporter is that his family includes five sworn law enforcement officers. Beck's father George retired in 1980 from the LAPD as deputy chief; his two sons are police officers. His sister was a detective, and his wife a K-9 narcotics drug investigator. Let's hope that at least some among them advocate for upholding the law.
Here's how Beck sees the license issue: Referring to what he calls "reality," Beck claims licensing aliens somehow leads to safer road conditions. Beck favors a "provisional" or "non-resident" license. In a farfetched example Beck offered, he speculated that a licensed driver would be less likely to flee the scene of a hit-and-run accident than one who does not have a license. This may make sense to Beck, but it doesn't to me.
With or without a license, multiple variables are at play when a driver flees: Is there a probable fatality? Is he intoxicated? Does he have outstanding warrants? Furthermore, licensed or not, illegal immigrants are the most dangerous drivers according to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Since California has the nation's highest number of aliens, it also has the most hit-and-run fatalities.
Beck's advocacy calls his judgement into question. Beck's predecessor, William J. Bratton, advocated for licenses without success. During the last 15 years, driver's license legislation has been soundly defeated multiple times. In the late 1990s, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo introduced a bill which he re-introduced so frequently he became known as "One Bill Gil." In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis' promise to sign an alien license bill lead to his recall. Davis's successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed similar legislation multiple times. Even the ultra-liberal sitting governor Jerry Brown doesn't like the idea. A history of defeat that long and pronounced should give Beck an idea of how unpopular licenses for aliens are.
Beck is neither a legislator nor a lobbyist. He's appointed to enforce the laws on the books. As part of his duties, Beck oversees nearly 10,000 officers and 3,000 civilian staff. In 2011, Los Angeles had 300 murders as well as thousands of assaults, property crimes and car crashes.
Beck has plenty to do without taking on the irresponsible and impossible task of licensing aliens. The debate about whether aliens deserve licenses wouldn't exist if they were where they should be — back home
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.