(Sept. 28) California voters oppose granting driver's licenses and in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, though most voters support creating a path to citizenship, according to a Field Poll released today.
The findings come as Gov. Jerry Brown is considering Assembly Bill 2189, which would allow a segment of the state's 2.5 million illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses in California.
The Field Poll found that 56 percent of registered voters believe that illegal immigrants in California should not be able to get a driver's license, compared with 40 percent who said they should.
AB 2189 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, grants that possibility only to those whom the federal government has said it will not deport residents who arrived before age 16, have not committed crimes and are less than 31 years old. The poll did not ask about that specific group.
Brown last year signed bills allowing undocumented students to receive Cal Grants and other state financial aid, with an estimated $23 million to $40 million price tag. State leaders previously enabled those students to qualify for in-state tuition if they attended high school in California.
The poll found that 61 percent of California voters believe illegal immigrants should not receive the same tuition discount at state universities that legal citizens receive.
Still, a vast majority of voters 67 percent said they think the U.S. government should create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants rather than give them limited work status (14 percent) or deport them (13 percent).
"Voters basically think illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country. They don't want to uproot families," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. "However, voters are drawing a line and saying they shouldn't receive the same rights and privileges as those who are legal citizens."
Cedillo, who has spent most of his 14-year Capitol career seeking driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, said the poll results reflect how questions were phrased and a struggling economy. Cedillo wrote the bills last year extending state financial aid to those immigrants.
"If you talk to people about their housekeepers, their landscapers, the people who take care of their parents and children, they have a different attitude and respect the hard work of immigrants," Cedillo said.
He says roadways would be safer if undocumented workers obtain licenses because they would have to demonstrate driving skills and buy insurance. He also said it would be a waste to deter students from a college education.
Besides asking about tuition, the poll found that 65 percent of voters oppose the same general health or financial assistance benefits for illegal immigrants that citizens receive.
Undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving direct aid such as welfare grants, though their U.S.-born children can qualify in California. They can receive treatment in emergency rooms but do not qualify for preventive care or the new federal health care overhaul.
John Razee, a 44-year-old Rocklin landscaper, said any immigrant should go through the proper channels before receiving benefits, including driver's licenses and tuition breaks.
"If you're an illegal immigrant and can't go through the process of becoming legal, paying taxes and doing everything you're supposed to be doing, why should you get these privileges?" said Razee, a Republican.
Joanne Wilburn, a 68-year-old retired financial aid coordinator in Chico, said she would feel safer if undocumented immigrants had driver's licenses.
"At least you then have to have insurance," said Wilburn, a Democrat. "I also think it gives them a sense of responsibility."
Wilburn, who once helped Chico State students find ways to pay for college, said she was initially torn on the financial aid issue but decided illegal immigrants should have access to help. "Their parents brought them over, and, well, what are they supposed to do?" she said. "If they stay here and don't get an education, what are they going to be doing for us?"
While voters of all partisan stripes support a path to citizenship, Democrats split from Republicans and independents on access to college aid and driver's licenses.
DiCamillo said he was most fascinated by the divergence between different ethnic groups. Latino voters were far more willing than African American or Asian American voters to extend benefits to illegal immigrants.
"There aren't many issues where ethnic populations diverge in a big way," DiCamillo said. "That's a fairly uncommon poll finding."