- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Gov. Gray Davis vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed many illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses.

The decision forced Mr. Davis, a Democrat, to weigh what he said were increased security risks from licensing noncitizens after the terrorist attacks last year against the urging of immigrant rights groups.

Mr. Davis had demanded a series of safeguards, including fingerprint background checks and cooperation with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, angering Hispanic groups vital to his re-election campaign.

Legislators reluctantly amended legislation to comply with the governor's concerns as they rushed to adjourn a month ago, but aides to the governor said the language still fell short of what he had requested.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, countered that the revised legislation should be enough to satisfy Mr. Davis.

The bill took on huge symbolic importance for California's large Mexican population. California highways would be safer by having all drivers trained and insured, proponents said. But besides Mr. Davis' security concerns, opponents complained that licenses would encourage illegal immigration.

Mr. Cedillo initially estimated that as many as 1 million of the state's roughly 3 million illegal immigrants would be eligible, though his staff subsequently said that number could be far lower.

Mr. Davis had until midnight Monday to act on the legislation.

The veto is important because "California is the bellwether state in the nation," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"A decision by Governor Davis to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens would have set a bad precedent that other states would certainly have followed," said Mr. Stein, whose group favors restricted immigration. "By vetoing the bills, the governor sent a message that the state most affected by rampant illegal immigration refuses to grant official recognition to people who are violating U.S. immigration law."

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