In the face of Congressional inaction on immigration reform, states and local governments are taking their own steps to better improve the lives of the nation’s undocumented immigration population — and there’s no better example of that than California.
12 states and Washington, D.C. currently allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive on our roads. But in terms of sheer numbers, California ranks far above all.
It’s all thanks to Assembly Bill 60, a law passed by the state’s legislature last year allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
In fact, when AB 60 went into effect earlier this year, over 6,000 immigrants applied on the first day. Three days into the law, over 46,000 had applied. And, according to new numbers from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, that number has now swelled to more than 500,000 people.
California has issued more than half a million driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally under a program that began nine months ago.
Armando Botello, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, said Friday that the milestone was reached last week.
“For us, the DMV, it is a source of great pride to have reached half a million this soon. We thought we would issue half a million applications per year and we did it in 9 months. This means the DMV work is paying off and that all drivers will be safer now,” said Botello.
The state started providing special permits in January, when a law took effect allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain it with an identification document, proof of residence, and after passing a written and a driving exam.
Because the agency does not ask about race or ethnicity, it is not known how many of the five hundred thousand applicants are Latino. However, Botello said most are Hispanic.
The record number of licenses issued came as a surprise to the agency, which expected to reach the half a million mark by the end of the year, said Botello. According to DMV estimates, there is a total of 1.4 million potential applicants in the state of California.
“We thought we would issue half a million in one year and we did it in nine months. I think it will be difficult that we reach one million in the next nine months because there are fewer people coming to the office,” the spokesman said.
The new licenses initially generated huge interest, with long lines at DMV offices in January and February.
As we and others have previously noted, Congressional lawmakers could learn a thing or two from California as it previews the demographic changes — the booming Latino, Asian, and immigrant voter groups — that are spreading nationwide:
California has created a new body of law, ranging from subsidized pediatric health care and protection against federal immigration enforcement to in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Another pending bill, with bipartisan backing, would seek federal authority to legitimize farmworkers who already are here by granting them work permits.
From the Sacramento Bee: “As California can attest, the future happens, whether you roll with it or not.”