July 2 2004

Rabbis Clash With Schwarzenegger Over His Driver’s License Proposal

In an open letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger several California rabbis say they oppose “in the strongest terms possible” his recent suggestion that a marker or identifier be placed on driver’s licenses given to undocumented immigrants.

The June 23 letter, which is signed by six rabbis, also expresses support for the bill currently being considered in the State Senate that would allow undocumented immigrants to hold California driver’s licenses if they undergo fingerprinting and background checks.

But the rabbis, all from Southern California, say Schwarzenegger’s proposal to add immigration status data to the licenses is “inappropriate at best and deeply upsetting at worst” and “will be used by some person to treat undocumented people with scorn and ethnic discrimination.”

“In the strongest terms possible, we urge you to oppose any attempt to put hateful labels on California’s driver’s licenses,” the letter says.

Responding to the rabbis’ letter the next day, Schwarzengger told the Spanish-language Univision TV network that he still believes licenses given to undocumented immigrants should have some identifying mark — either a different color mark or something identifying country of origin.

One of the rabbis, Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea in Los Angeles told Reuters and the L.A. Daily News that to place a marker on licenses would come uncomfortably close to the kind of labeling and setting apart of a specific group that Jews endured in Nazi Germany before the Holocaust.

He told Reuters that the idea reminded some of the yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to wear under Nazi rule.

He added, though, that he did not mean to equate or even compare the current debate with the situation in Germany before the holocaust.

The issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants was a point of contention in last year’s recall election.

Former Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill granting undocumented immigrants licenses last year in what many saw as a panicked effort to sway Latino voters ahead of the recall vote.

But after winning the election, Schwarzenegger repealed the bill as soon as he had the chance, saying it did not have enough security safeguards.

State Sen. Gil Cedillo from Los Angeles authored a new bill, known as SB 1160, or the Immigrant Responsibility and Security Act, as a compromise. The new bill stipulates that undocumented immigrants will be fingerprinted, have insurance and undergo a background check to get California driver’s licenses.

Although top law enforcement officials like Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton say they support the new bill and do not believe special labels are necessary, Schwarzenegger maintains that the new bill still does not go far enough to protect against the driver’s licenses being used by criminals or terrorists.

Cedillo, who said he has not yet received a counterproposal on his bill from Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office, said that he is adamantly opposed to any markers being placed on driver’s licenses to set apart undocumented immigrants.

“To place a marker on a driver’s license is to invite discrimination,” said Cedillo. “I find it personally repugnant and will not support such a plan.” He also said that Schwarzenegger promised him after the repeal of the last driver’s license law that he would not ask for a special label for undocumented immigrants.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson told the Los Angeles Daily News the governor does not see the idea of an identifying marker as discriminatory. She also said that the governor is currently focused on getting the state budget through and so has not had time to offer a specific counterproposal.

Jewish constituencies have been important in the development of Schwarzenegger’s political career, even though the Jewish vote tends to be liberal.

Although his father was a Nazi soldier, the Austria-born actor has distanced himself from that history with his long support of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, both as a donor of some $1 million, a fundraiser and as a speaker on behalf of tolerance. Schwarzenegger’s steadfast support for Israel has also won him friends among Jewish leaders.

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