Thanks to new state law, nearly half of all driver’s licenses issued to Californians in 2015 went to undocumented immigrants.
Under Assembly Bill 60, which went into effect in January 2015, any Californian who meets necessary driving requirements is eligible to receive a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status.
Applications have exceeded expectations since the bill’s implementation a year ago. Of the 1.4 million driver’s licenses issued to Californians in 2015, an estimated 605,000 went to undocumented immigrants. In order to keep up with the demand, the Department of Motor Vehicles hired 1,000 workers to staff four new processing centers.
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. The state is home to some three million undocumented immigrants, who contributed over $3 billion in local and state taxes in 2012.
The driver’s licenses do have some exclusions. Unlike California law enforcement officers, other states don’t have to accept the cards as a valid form of ID. But, the cards provide some important safety and security to California’s undocumented immigrant population.
Judith Benitez, who stood in line for a license on the first day the law went into effect, told the Los Angeles Times that she feels safer with a real form of identification.
“It was an extremely emotional time because having a [driver’s] license isn’t just any little thing,” she said. “We feel a little more protected.”
AB60 was part of a trio of pro-immigrant bills signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013, “further establishing California as a national leader on immigrant rights”:
The legislation was authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), the son of farmworkers.
Brown in August signed a trio of immigration-related measures, which included elimination of the word “alien” within California’s labor code to describe immigrants in the country illegally. The new laws also included allowing noncitizen high school students to serve as election poll workers and protecting immigrant minors in civil lawsuits.
“DMV committed to successfully implementing this new law to increase safety on California’s roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto in a statement.
“One year after AB 60 implementation there are 605,000 more drivers on the road who have passed all testing requirements and demonstrated their knowledge of California’s rules of the road.”