Jay Inslee supports Washington’s process for licensing drivers who haven’t proved their legal residency, while Rob McKenna wants to change it.
That was one answer from the candidates for governor during Friday’s multilingual forum at the Asian Pacific American Community Summit in the Tacoma Dome. Interpreters there translated their positions, promises and attacks into the many languages of Washington’s diverse Asian population.
Most states require drivers to provide Social Security numbers to be licensed, but Washington, New Mexico and Utah don’t. Amid worries about illegal immigrants from other states coming to Washington to replace their expiring licenses, the state Department of Licensing implemented tougher rules requiring drivers without Social Security numbers to at least prove they live in Washington. The number of licenses issued to such drivers immediately plummeted.
Saying those changes have been enough, Inslee took a clearer position than he has in the past – and one that’s at odds with Gov. Chris Gregoire, a fellow Democrat who supports a change.
“We have invested in their education,” Inslee said. “They want to go out and become doctors and lawyers and small-business people. It does not make sense to take away their driver’s license and tell them they can’t drive to the University of Washington, does it?”
Republican McKenna said Washington should toughen its law, possibly by moving to Utah’s system of giving illegal immigrants licenses that can’t be used for identification purposes.
Some immigrant-rights advocates have said even that kind of a change might persuade some undocumented residents to drive without licenses.
Still, it was one of several examples of McKenna seeking to stake out moderate positions on immigration.
He rejected Arizona’s approach, saying police don’t want to be and shouldn’t be turned into immigration officers. And he echoed Democrats like Inslee in calling for “comprehensive” changes to federal immigration law.
“We don’t need to adopt Arizona’s laws and we will not adopt those laws,” McKenna said. “We instead need to work as a state to pressure Congress to do what it’s failed to do for the past several years, which is to implement immigration reform – because the biggest problem we have in our state is not allowing enough legal immigrants to come into our state, in order to work in jobs that demand their skills.”
McKenna called for federal reform that includes “a way for young people who were brought here to be able to obtain legal residency.”
That’s the concept behind a law that has failed to pass Congress, called the Dream Act by supporters, although McKenna’s campaign said he’s not endorsing any particular piece of legislation. President Barack Obama has created a more temporary legal status for such illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.
Inslee told the audience it’s Republicans who have blocked comprehensive immigration changes in Congress.
In another partial agreement, both candidates said they support district-based elections in local government that could help minority populations gain political representation. But only Inslee fully threw his support behind a state law proposed last winter that would have made it easier for voters to mount a legal challenge to force the creation of districts.
Both Inslee and McKenna have said they support allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at state universities.
The candidates also answered questions about education, health care and human services at the debate. State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said the Asian and Pacific Islander community has made its priorities known to the candidates. The next step, “with whoever wins the election, is holding them accountable,” she said. “When (they) show you the details, it might not be so good.”