Los Angeles, Sept. 5 (Reuters): After weeks of accusations that he was ducking controversy, Arnold Schwarzenegger seized on one of the state’s most bitterly debated issues yesterday, vowing to fight a California law granting driver’s licences to illegal immigrants.
The Democratic-controlled California Senate on Wednesday approved the legislation and sent it to governor Gray Davis, who has promised to sign it “in a heartbeat” while wooing Hispanic voters in an October 7 recall election. The measure has infuriated conservatives across California and Schwarzenegger — a Republican who has called for tighter controls on the US border with Mexico as he battles state senator Tom McClintock for the party vote — wasted no time in weighing in.
“If Gray Davis signs this bill I will lead the fight to repeal it as governor,” the Austrian-born film star, who became an American citizen in the mid-1980s, said in a statement. “I am an immigrant,” he said. “I waited for 10 years to get my American citizenship and I know first-hand how immigrants who come to this country and obey the laws have struggled to achieve their dreams. I am pro-immigrant. But we should not invite fraud or undermine law enforcement.”
Supporters of the bill, who include Schwarzenegger’s top Democratic rival, Lt Gov Cruz Bustamante, say the bill will make roads safer because it will require immigrants who already get behind the wheel without a licence to pass a California driver’s test for the first time.
They also see the legislation as part of a larger push toward the acceptance of millions of illegal immigrants in California, most working in unskilled agriculture and service jobs and living in the poorest neighbourhoods.
Opponents say the bill could allow illegal immigrants to vote, create an incentive for others to follow them across the border and allow terrorists to obtain valid state identification without background checks.