After the first year of allowing undocumented drivers to apply for a state driver’s license, around 40 percent of all new licenses issued by California went to those in the undocumented population. In 2015, 830,000 undocumented residents living in California have applied for licenses, and the state has issued 605,000 new licenses.
As reported a year ago, the move to allow undocumented residents to apply for the license was more than a year in the making, along with an additional $141 million in the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) budget. On an administrative level, implementation of the new law forced the DMV to hire 1,000 temporary employees, extend office hours and open four new processing locations. Nonetheless, it took several months to work out the kinks that came with the influx of new license applicants as many complain ed of long wait lines and few available appointments.
“This was a major undertaking and never before had the department implemented a program such as this one,” DMV spokesman Artemio Armena is quoted as saying in one report.
DMV officials said that liberalizing rules around who can obtain a driver’s license makes roads in the state safer for all drivers. This is because some studies report unlicensed drivers account for three times as many fatal crashes as licensed drivers. And because undocumented workers in the state were already driving, the argument goes, the state’s ban to give licenses to undocumented drivers was only exacerbating the problem.
Other than a notice on the back of the state-issued driver’s licenses that reads “Federal Restrictions Apply,” the licenses issued to undocumented immigrants is the same as the standard license issued to everyone else.
The law, which reverses a ban on undocumented immigrant licenses that went into effect in 1993, was adopted in 2014 when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60. On adoption of the bill, state officials estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants would apply for a driver’s license over the next three years.