California has become the 11th state to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, and some industry professionals are wondering how it will affect business.
On October 3, Governor Jerry Brown held two signing ceremonies officially turning the bill into a law. In signing the bill, Brown said it would send a signal to the federal government that comprehensive immigration reform is needed. Supporters of the law said it would make the roads safer by allowing undocumented immigrants to receive car insurance, among other things. It enjoyed support from nearly half of assembly and senate Republicans. It goes into effect January, 2015.
But despite that level of enthusiasm, many pool contractors and service companies see it as problematic.
“Companies that have a lot of undocumented workers will [get] a benefit -- now they’ll have a driver, too,” said Alan Smith, owner of Alan Smith Pool Plastering in City of Orange, Calif. “They can use these guys where before they couldn’t legally.”
This may also open the door for single-operator service firms to start up, said Mike Geremia, president of Geremia Pools in Sacramento, Calif. and chairman of SPEC, the state industry’s legislative advocate. “It’ll affect the service industry probably right off the bat, as opposed to other portions of the industry, [because they] basically require a truck and a pole,” he said.
These professionals also just disagreed with the law philosophically.
“If you’re an illegal alien, you’re going to gravitate to those who are running their businesses as [part of the] underground economy,” said Javier Payan, president of Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, Calif. “But then you make it easier for them to get from job to job, then that’s just going to encourage that type of behavior. Companies that are playing by the rules are the ones that are mainly going to be affected by this.”
This year, there’s been a rash of states moving forward on such laws, including Connecticut, Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont. Other states that currently have similar laws are New Mexico, Utah and Washington.
It’s clearly a controversial issue. Several states, including California, have had such laws on the books in the past and revoked them. The Golden State repealed its law in 2003. Tennessee, Michigan, Maine and Hawaii also pulled legislation that had made it legal for undocumented workers to receive driver's licenses.
Some of these pool and spa company owners believe the driver's-license law is just a Band-Aid to the problem and believe the true answer is immigration reform that allows certain undocumented workers to be here legally. “I think that if you’re going to do it, do it,” Payan said. “Let’s make them legal citizens, let’s have them pay taxes, let’s have them participate in our society versus just another means to work under the cover of darkness.”
For Geremia’s part, he said his disagreement with the new driver's-license law has nothing to do with the workers themselves. “Most of them are great workers,” he said. “I have a lot of guys who came here, got their documents the right way and they’re some of the best employees I have. I’d love to have more of them -- I just want them documented.”