December 23, 2004

Monday Gas Boycotts Attempt to Shake Governor

By Gloria Alvarez

LOS ANGELES –– One year after a boycott to protest California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s failure to sign into law a measure allowing undocumented immigrants under certain circumstances to receive a driver’s license, a group of local activists have launched another boycott to demonstrate the positive impact undocumented workers have on the state’s economy.

Last year’s boycott drew criticism from some corners of the Latino community because it called on parents to pull students out of school for a day, not to purchase anything or go to work. While supporters and boycott organizers called the event a tremendous success, critics said the boycott caused local schools already struggling with budget cuts to lose daily attendance dollars from the state and took income away from many small Latino-owned businesses, without any measurable results.

But on Monday, several Latino political organizations announced plans for a more focused economic effort - a gasoline buying boycott to pressure Gov. Schwarzenegger into signing a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

“We are calling on Californians to observe ‘Dark Mondays,’ not to buy gasoline as an expression of support for immigrants and to demand driver’s licenses for immigrants,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association.

Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to apply for driver’s licenses under California law.

Repeated attempts to reach Schwarze-negger’s office for comment were not successful.

In September, Schwarzenegger said he vetoed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses because it “does not adequately address the security concerns that my department of homeland security and I have, and I cannot support it.”

Schwarzenegger has said he supports allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses if a bill addresses the national security concerns he had with the old legislation signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. The bill’s author, state Senator Gil Cedillo noted that the bill has the toughest background and security checks of any driver’s license law in the country.

But according to MAPA’s Lopez and the ten other organizations that participated in the statewide call for “Dark Mondays,” the status of immigrants shouldn’t be a consideration whether they should be allowed to drive.

The latest incarnation of state Senator Gil Cedillo’s bill to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, came in the midst of heated debates over homeland security and the appointing of a single head of national security by the Senate and Congress. The debate, which splintered support on both sides of the political aisle, included strong disagreements over whether it should contain provisions for a single federal policy regarding the issuance of driver’s licenses, or allow the issue to remain a question of state authority. Families of many of the 9-11 victims lobbied hard for inclusion of a national driver’s licenses policy to make it more difficult for anyone in the country to get a license illegally.

The driver’s license provision was not included in the final approved legislation. Many federal officials, however, stated that the issue, along with several other immigration policies would be revisited next year when there is more time to give the complex issue a fuller hearing. Some elected Republican officials and immigration control advocacy groups have called for the issuance of a national identity card.

Given the heated nature of the debates and anti-immigrant sentiment popping up across the country, including the passage of legislation to prohibit undocumented aliens from receiving government services in Arizona, some people are privately questioning the timing of Cedillo’s latest bill and whether it can again pass in the state legislature which now has several new representatives in office who may not be as dedicated to its passage. Legislators, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez as well as Sen. Cedillo have indicated a willingness to take a closer look at additional security measures in an effort to get the bill signed by the governor.

Organizers of the “Dark Mondays” campaign hope that over time the boycott will put pressure on the governor and Lopez said he expects “a prolonged campaign” to show “a measurable amount of support for immigrants. We only started this two weeks ago and this was the first Monday we sent representatives throughout the state to build up the campaign,” said Lopez at the press conference to officially launch the boycott.

”We’ve already observed a strong sympathetic response in the Latino community,” Lopez said. “And we’ve just begun this campaign. We want to reach the broader non-Latino community to raise the consciousness of the contributions of immigrants and the necessity of resolving this vexing issue.”

Lopez said he thinks the campaign will be noted in two months.

“We want to demonstrate there is broad support throughout California for this,” Lopez said.

They oppose what they said amounts to a reward for lawbreakers, and argued that giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses would prompt more illegal immigration and allow for fraudulent use of the licenses.

A signature-gathering campaign is underway for an initiative that would ban the state government from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. A leader of the campaign said 150,000 signatures have been gathered. About 600,000 valid signatures are needed to place the initiative on the ballot. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for “Rescue California,” the political advocacy group which spearheaded the effort to recall former Governor Grey Davis and an earlier effort to gather signatures to repeal SB 60, driver’s license legislation signed by Davis, announced that they will join this latest signature gathering campaign with money and workers.

Reprinted from Eastern Group Publications, Dec 21, 2004

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