OAKLAND, Calif. — Demonstrators rallied in cities around California Aug. 26 in support of a bill giving undocumented immigrants the right to apply for driver’s licenses.

SB 1160, the Immigrant Responsibility and Security Act, introduced by state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), won legislators’ approval Aug. 27, in the final days of this year’s session. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not sign the bill because licenses would not identify the bearer as undocumented.

In Oakland — one of eight cities statewide to hold demonstrations organized by SEIU Local 1877 and local central labor councils — workers and supporters gathered at the State Office Building under signs reading, “Drivers Licenses = Safer Roads,” “Governor: Let people drive safely,” and “Remember history: Marking people is discrimination.”

Local 1877 members emphasized the importance of driver’s licenses in their day-to-day lives. “Every day when we leave for work, we know we run the risk that we may have to walk home,” said Diana Ventura, who drives some 60 miles daily to clean office buildings.

“This is a struggle for families and communities, too — it will be better for everyone in California that all drivers can get licenses and insurance,” said Alfredo Lahud. “The governor is a state worker, too, and he should acknowledge the rights of workers everywhere.”

The governor’s insistence on a distinctive mark drew sharp criticism. “‘Separate but equal’ means unequal,” declared Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council. “We’ve had this mark before in history, to the shame of the governments that imposed it,” she said, citing the U.S. targeting of Japanese Americans during World War II and the marking of Jewish people imposed by Nazi Germany.

“To have a special mark leads to discrimination, and we will not tolerate discrimination,” Lahud said.

Cities and counties supporting SB 1160 include Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Santa Monica, and Santa Clara and Santa Barbara counties. The measure also has support from a number of law enforcement agencies and associations.

Until 1994, when anti-immigrant Proposition 187 passed, California drivers were not required to prove citizenship to become licensed.

Responding to grassroots pressure, Sen. Cedillo has introduced bills to license undocumented drivers in legislative sessions over the last six years, and plans to do so again in 2005 if the governor does not sign SB 1160.

Former Gov. Gray Davis signed last year’s measure shortly before he was recalled in October 2003. Schwarzenegger successfully pressed for repeal of the bill but promised legislative Democrats he would sign an immigrant driver’s license bill this year.

In addition to requiring drivers to show a valid passport or consular ID from their country of origin, SB 1160 would require fingerprints, background checks, and adult sponsors.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.