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Licenses for illegal immigrants would make roads safer, LAPD chief says

February 23, 2012 |  8:55 am

LAPD Chief Beck
In publicly supporting the idea of California issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Wednesday he believes the move would help law enforcement and make roads safer.

Beck said he expected the number of hit-and-run accidents would decrease if illegal immigrants were licensed, because they would not have to fear being caught without a license at accidents.

The chief becomes one of the most prominent local figures to support the idea that state lawmakers have battled over repeatedly in the last 15 years. And Beck's stance is certain to further inflame critics who are already angry at the chief for his efforts to liberalize rules on how his officers impound the cars of unlicensed drivers.

Beck said he does not believe licenses for illegal immigrants should be identical to standard licenses. Saying "it could be a provisional license, it could be a non-resident license." He acknowledged that state officials would have to find ways to address widely held concerns that giving licenses to people who are in the country illegally could make it easier for terrorists to go undetected.

Such concerns, however, were outweighed for Beck by what he said would be improved safety on California's roads and the ability of police to identify the people they encounter. "Why wouldn't you want to put people through a rigorous testing process? Why wouldn't you want to better identify people who are going to be here?" he said.

In coming out in favor of licenses for illegal immigrants, Beck echoed his predecessor, former Chief William J. Bratton, who also voiced support for the idea. Beck signaled a willingness to use his sway as a respected law enforcement leader to lobby for changes in state law, which prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving licenses. "I want to be able to move this issue," he said.

Asked whether he would be permitted in his capacity as police chief to testify in support of the idea at a legislative hearing, Beck said he had "to follow the lead of the city's elected officials. The mayor is pretty good with me on that. I know he would support me doing that." Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did not respond to calls for comment.

In a brief interview, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich joined Beck, calling it "a matter of public safety." Issuing licenses to illegal immigrants, he said, would help ensure that people on the road were capable drivers, although he added that insurance regulations would need to be tightened to combat uninsured drivers. Trutanich said he first voiced his position on licenses last year in La Opinion.


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Photo: Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: KTLA-TV