Los Angeles Times
July 1, 2004

Kerry Opposes Licenses for Migrants

By Maria L. La Ganga
Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH Sen. John F. Kerry said he opposed giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, taking a hard-line position on a controversial issue hours after he vowed to champion immigration reform during a speech to Latino leaders in Phoenix.

In comments to the Spanish-language network Telemundo late Tuesday, the Democratic presidential candidate said he thought granting licenses to those in the country illegally violated the spirit of the law.

"I think that driver's licenses are part of the legality of being here, and if you've been here a period of time we may work something out as part of that immigration process," he said in the interview after addressing the National Council of La Raza's annual conference.

"But I wouldn't give somebody who is automatically one year in here illegally all the rights and privileges of being here legally," he said. "I think that's wrong. That defeats the purposes of the law."

Addressing the Latino activist organization Tuesday afternoon, Kerry said he would introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in his first 100 days as president, creating a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding workers in the country illegally, speeding family reunification and enforcing existing laws protecting the border.

Kerry has actively courted the Latino and African American vote in recent days, and Tuesday he received standing ovations at both the La Raza conference and at a convention in Chicago of Rainbow/PUSH, the civil rights group headed by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

But Kerry's comments regarding driver's licenses could hurt his standing among Latino voters.

The debate over granting licenses to undocumented workers helped unseat Gov. Gray Davis in California's recall election last year. Davis had signed legislation making it legal for undocumented immigrants to get licenses in the months leading up to the recall. Soon after taking office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger repealed the law.

Kerry also took a tough stance in the Telemundo interview when asked his opinion about raids by immigration authorities. He said those in the country illegally but who follow the law, pay taxes and are raising a family should be able to attain citizenship. But Kerry said he had no sympathy for illegal immigrants who broke other laws.

"If you've broken the law and you don't have the situation where you have family and you've paid taxes and you're in illegal status, you're in illegal status," he said.

Kerry, a former prosecutor, added: "I've always believed the law has to mean something."